This Week in Princeton History for August 23-29

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, dog-powered butter churns are available locally, Princeton University celebrates an alum’s achievement in a new way, and more.

August 23, 2011—Princeton University’s website announces a ban on freshman rush for Greek organizations.

August 27, 1835—James Petrie and Donald McCay invite interested residents of Princeton to order dog-powered butter churns from them.

August 28, 1861—A group of students and local residents gather to pay their respects to Major-General David Hunter, who is on his way to Illinois and still recovering from injuries sustained at the First Battle of Bull Run. The crowd sings the national anthem to him.

August 29, 1965—The flag of Princeton University is raised atop Nassau Hall at 10:00AM in honor of Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr.’s safe return to the planet after the Gemini 5 mission. Princeton’s flag is rarely flown. Other occasions when one might see a flag atop Nassau Hall are Commencement, or at half-staff upon the death of a faculty member and the annual memorial of deceased alumni.

When Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53 made it to the moon, he had this Princeton flag with him. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

Dear Mr. Mudd: Why Do You Have a Piece of a Railroad Track in the Library?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Why do you have a “cross section of railroad” in your Memorabilia Collection (AC053)?

 

In 1855, for the second time in its near-century of existence, Nassau Hall suffered a devastating fire. At the time, Nassau Hall still served in part as one of Princeton’s dormitories. An undergraduate had gone to Maclean House and a burning log fell out of a stove in his room. As the structure ignited, flames lit up the sky for miles around. The interior of the building was almost entirely destroyed, with even the college bell, which had survived the 1802 fire, left in pieces among the ruins. Fortunately for those of us interested in documenting the institution’s history, faculty and students rushed papers, artwork, and other valuable property to safety before the flames fully engulfed the building. Aside from one student who fell and broke his leg, no one was hurt.

F. Childs lithograph of Nassau Hall, ca. 1860. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 19-25

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, local stations “dim out” to help the state prepare for nuclear attack, the Board of Trustees decides on building materials for Nassau Hall, and more.

July 19, 1875—Maine’s Portland Daily Press reassures spectators of the Saratoga boat race that George D. Parmly of the Princeton crew does not have epilepsy, but just fainted from exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

July 20, 1956—The local regular radio and television stations pause for a “dim-out” as part of “Operation Alert 1956” by the New Jersey Civil Defense. The only broadcasts will be on civil defense wavelengths. This communications test is part of the state’s preparations for the possibility of nuclear attack.

July 22, 1754—The Board of Trustees vote that “the College be built of Brick if good Brick can be made at Princeton & if Sand can be got reasonably cheap.” Ultimately, Nassau Hall will be made of stone.

Nassau Hall as it appeared in New American Magazine, March 1760. Local quarries supplied stone for many of Princeton’s buildings over the centuries. Nassau Hall was built of local sandstone. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

July 23, 1825—Students attend a meeting of the New Jersey Colonization Society.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for March 15-21

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, 100 Princetonians picket a local bank for ties to apartheid, an unexpected loss of housing causes financial stress, and more.

March 16, 1816—A trunk is discovered open on the lawn of Nassau Hall with $3,000 stolen from it (about $46,000 in 2020 dollars, adjusted for inflation). The trunk belongs to a traveler on his way to New York who was robbed at the local Rowley’s Inn.

March 17, 1977—More than 100 students picket the Princeton Bank and Trust on Nassau Street for more than 90 minutes to demand an end to sales of Krugerrand, a South African gold coin. Sales of the coin help support apartheid, and students want to raise awareness of such entanglements locally, beyond the university’s investments. Emery Witt, a pharmacist next door, is frustrated that the picketing seems to be hurting his own business, but says he is pleased that students are expressing themselves.

Princeton University students picket Princeton Bank and Trust, March 17, 1977. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

March 18, 1997—Ashley Stevenson ’99 and Dan Morris ’98 marry each other at a Spring Break wedding in Salt Lake City, Utah.

March 20, 1843—Charles Godfrey Leland writes to his father to ask for money to cover his expenses after he has unexpectedly lost his room in town and none are available on campus:

The next and greatest question is, what shall I do next session for board—the only way to get a room in College is to take a room and buy the furniture, for every room in College is now occupied and will be still more so next session. Fonte, however, intends going out of College and will give his room (one of the very best) to any one who will buy his furniture (which, with the exception of the carpet, is the same that George Boker had)—for 30 or 40 dollars—which is very cheap. I have promised him I would let him know by the end of this week whether I would take his room or not.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for March 8-14

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, many feel the CPUC’s response to homophobic violence is unsatisfactory, a graduate student vows to sue the town for his disenfranchisement, and more.

March 8, 1802—The Philadelphia Gazette reports that, due to a recent fire in Nassau Hall, classes at Princeton will be suspended until next May or June.

March 9, 1976—Students are not satisfied with the compromise measure passed by the Council on the Princeton University Community that calls for an affirmation of university policies of non-discrimination and protection of freedom of expression but does not address suppression of free expression through violence or affirm non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The CPUC’s action is taken in response to recent targeted acts against the Gay Alliance of Princeton.

Prospect, an alumni magazine dedicated to repudiating Princeton’s late-20th century transformation into a more inclusive community, covered the controversy over the Gay Alliance of Princeton in its March 15, 1976 issue.

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Dear Mr. Mudd: Did Enslaved People Live in Princeton’s Dormitories?

This post is the first in a two-part series.

 

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Rumor has it the dorms at Princeton were designed to allow students to bring enslaved people with them to live in adjoining rooms and serve them. Is this true?

 

Though one often hears a rumor about enslaved people accompanying students to campus and living in dorms with them, there is quite a bit of evidence that this could not have taken place, and we have never found any evidence that indicates that it did. Indeed, as is detailed below, any building currently used as a dormitory was constructed after slavery was illegal in the United States. The rumor’s persistence despite this probably reflects the legacy of the social hierarchies of prior generations of Princetonians. In this first of a two-part answer, I will outline the evidence for why this is not factually correct. Next week, I will provide more context for the emotional truth about histories of oppression on campus held within this myth.

There were enslaved people present on Princeton’s campus; this is well-established and interested researchers can find a wealth of information on the Princeton and Slavery website. Nonetheless, the only enslaved people known to live on campus lived in the President’s house, not in student dormitories, and were legally considered the private property of the institution’s presidents. Slavery was not fully outlawed in New Jersey until the Civil War, and Princeton itself was friendly to Southern ideas about race, enrolling many students from slaveholding families. There was also a need for what was then termed “servants” and what we know today as staff in a wide range of roles who provide meals and maintain and clean campus buildings. However, the individual students would not have brought enslaved persons with them, and having personal attendants living alongside them was prohibited.

It was the role of the Steward to ensure adequate staffing in service roles on campus, as Jonathan Baldwin’s contract spelled out in 1768, and students paid a fee for the college servants to make their beds and sweep their rooms unless they agreed to handle these matters themselves. Meanwhile, outside this specific service provided to them in their housing contracts, students were required to clean their own rooms and shoes. The Board of Trustees formally approved this rule in 1757, at their first meeting ever held in Nassau Hall, the first building that functioned as a dormitory as well as a chapel, library, refectory, and recitation hall.

Image of Nassau Hall, 1764. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 5-11

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, women gather to discuss sexism on campus, a new kind of roof is being installed for Nassau Hall, and more.

October 5, 1978—Female students and staff hold an exclusive meeting to discuss sexism on campus. Barring men from the meeting is controversial, but the women say this is necessary, “because a lot of women feel uncomfortable saying things in front of men that they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable saying in front of women.” At the meeting, women complain about inadequate medical care, discriminatory employment practices, and professors who penalize female students for refusing their sexual advances.

Marsha Rosenthal ’76 collected a variety of material on women’s issues while she was a student at Princeton University. This pamphlet, published by Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood in 1973, is among the reading material apparently available to Princetonians in the 1970s and is evidence of the concerns of the community.  Marsha Rosenthal Course Materials and Student Activism Materials (AC409), Box 2.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 14-20

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, John Maclean defends the expulsion of students, Quadrangle Club opens, and more.

September 15, 1870—James McCosh interrupts a brawl between sophomores and freshmen on Nassau Street over canes with a shout of, “Disperse, young men, or the bailiffs will be after you.”

September 16, 1861—John Maclean writes to the editor of the New York Evening Post to explain the unpopular decision to expel some students from Princeton for attacking another student who had expressed sympathy for the Confederacy: The faculty “will not permit the utterance of sentiments denunciatory of those who are engaged in efforts to maintain the integrity of the national government; nor will they allow of any public expression of sympathy with those who are endeavoring to destroy the government,” but “it must be evident that the Faculty could not permit his fellow-students to take the law in their own hands…”

Pencil drawing of the parade local residents gave for the three students dismissed in the “Pumping Incident,” September 1861. Pyne-Henry Collection (AC125), Box 1, Folder 18.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 31-September 6

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, alumnae celebrate the completion of a cross-country fundraising bike ride with a dip in the Fountain of Freedom, an invoice is paid for Nassau Hall’s weather vane, and more.

August 31, 1989—A champagne reception at the Princeton Public Library greets five Princeton University alumnae who bicycled across the country as a fundraiser for the Literacy Volunteers of America and Princeton’s women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams. After the reception, the women jump into the Fountain of Freedom near Robertson Hall. Altogether, they have raised more than $25,000.

September 1, 1941—After months of negotiations, Classics professor Shirley H. Weber and his wife arrive in Princeton, having left Athens about five weeks ago. He brings information about how the Greeks have been weathering the Axis occupation: “The Greek people wait and hope with a religious fervor for the ultimate victory of the British.”

Nassau Hall, 1860. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP66, Image No. 2629.

September 2, 1856—Charles S. Olden, Treasurer of the College of New Jersey, pays an invoice from Bottom and Tiffany for $1,270.05 for the installation of a weather vane on the Nassau Hall cupola.

September 4, 1931—The Princeton Herald reports that the Great Depression is beginning to cause hardships for Princeton University students, quoting Student Employment manager Richard W. Warfield ’30: “the problem will be serious during the coming academic year…Undergraduate budgets which were not reduced at all last year will be cut this year and a great many more men will be forced to help support themselves.”

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for September 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a longstanding but dangerous tradition comes to an end, a sophomore writes to his mother about attending Aaron Burr’s funeral, and more.

September 19, 1990—Students nab the Nassau Hall clapper for the last time.

It’s unclear exactly when the tradition of stealing the clapper began, but documentation indicates it was sometime in the 1860s. More than merely a nuisance to staff who had to keep replacing the clapper, scaling the bell tower was a dangerous feat that occasionally resulted in injuries when students fell from the tower and then off the roof onto the ground. In 1991, administrators decided to remove the clapper indefinitely. Today, Nassau Hall’s bell rings only on special occasions, such as Commencement, after which the clapper is again removed. The students pictured above were members of the Class of 1952 who stole the clapper in 1948. Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box MP199, Image No. 5278.

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