Dear Mr. Mudd: Who Was Princeton’s First International Student?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Can you tell me who Princeton’s first international student was? Were there international students in the first graduating class?


As with all questions about “firsts,” this one is too complicated to answer simply with someone’s name. We are aware that our records aren’t comprehensive, so we can only provide what we have found to be our earliest records, with the understanding that we may later discover earlier records. Even knowing what our earliest records tell us, however, doesn’t make the answer straightforward.

International students, then known as foreign students, slowly became more common at Princeton after the Civil War. This image is of a student we believe to be Rioge Koe, a Japanese student in the Class of 1874, pictured here in 1873. Historical Photograph Collection, Class Photographs Series (AC181), Box MP03

We must begin by defining what we mean by an “international student.” The College of New Jersey graduated its first class of students in 1748, decades before the United States declared its independence. We cannot consider anyone who was a subject of the British Empire to be an “international student,” whether or not they were from the current geographic boundaries of the United States, when New Jersey was a British colony. From this first class in 1748, two students may have crossed the Atlantic to attend the College of New Jersey (which was in Newark until its move to Princeton in 1756, and renamed Princeton University in 1896), but no national borders: Benjamin Chestnut and Hugh Henry. Chestnut was born in England. We don’t know when he came to New Jersey. Henry may have been born in Ireland.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 10-16

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Alfred A. Woodhull enters the Class of 1856, the Princetonian asks town residents to stop looking at undergraduates, and more.

August 10, 1854—Having successfully passed the entrance exam, Alfred A. Woodhull enters the Class of 1856. He will later describe his experience as follows: “Although formidable in anticipation and rather terrifying in fact, the examination, as I look back upon it, was not well calculated to determine what one did or did not know.”

Title page of faculty minutes for the first semester of Princeton’s 1854-1855 academic year. Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118), Vol. 5.

August 11, 1962—Zimani David Kadzamira ’66 arrives in New York for orientation in a program bringing African students to American universities before starting his studies at Princeton. It is his first time outside Nyasaland (which will later be named Malawi).

August 14, 1942—In response to a Trenton Evening Times article on the concerns of the town about students in the summer session at Princeton University not wearing enough clothing (“Scanty Summer Attire of Princeton Students Raising Official Eyebrows”), the Daily Princetonian suggests “poor embarrassed townfolks” should simply stop looking at them.

August 15, 1868—The Dublin Evening Mail reports that friends in Belfast presented James McCosh with an engraved silver coffee and tea set and a gold bracelet to bring with him to America.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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