This Week in Princeton History for January 8-14

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a graduate becomes governor of Georgia, the first gymnasium opens, and more.

January 8, 1999—Six cases of alcohol poisoning and other incidents attendant to the event will lead University President Harold Shapiro to ban the Nude Olympics, which occur for the last time at Princeton on this night.

Daily Princetonian cartoon depicting press attention at the Nude Olympics, 1991. For more about the history of this event and why it no longer occurs, please see our previous blog.

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Streaking and the Nude Olympics

In the 1960s and 1970s, streaking became a common prank for students to play on college campuses across America, reaching its zenith of popularity around the mid-1970s.  Princeton was no exception. In fact, the school held onto naked running in public much longer than others; the last major such event at Princeton occurred in 1999.

The most famous individual streaker at Princeton was probably the “Red Baron.” No student has been definitively identified as the Baron, but during a three-year period in the late 1960s, many exams and athletic events were visited by a nude Caucasian male running down aisles and through stands wearing nothing but red accessories, such as hats, scarves, or a cape. Princeton’s classes and events were interrupted by other naked visitors sporadically in the 1970s. Outdoor running was also popular, especially among certain athletic teams who would jog nude around campus following practices.

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Streakers interrupt an organic chemistry class at Princeton University, 1975. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 12-18

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, final exams prove stressful, the Nude Olympics meet their end, and more.

January 12, 1941—A pre-finals blackout distresses residents of five Princeton dormitories. The next morning, the Daily Princetonian will report: “After hesitatingly peering skyward to assure themselves that no Nazi bombers were heaving over the horizon, they swore that even in London they didn’t have to take exams the day following a blackout.”

January 13, 1893—In response to widespread cheating that many fear diminishes the accomplishments of those who do their own work, College of New Jersey (Princeton University) students call for an honor system. The Honor Code will be adopted and first used on an English Literature exam on January 26.

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Philip Ellicott Barringer ’38’s final exam in History 314 (The Renaissance and the Reformation), Spring 1938. Note the Honor Pledge’s now-outdated wording. Course Examinations Collection (AC054), Box 22. (Access to students’ academic records is governed by this policy.)

January 14, 1969—To protest the concept of grades, 27 Princeton philosophy majors go on “strike,” refusing to sign their final exams. Several other students in Philosophy 300 reportedly follow their lead in solidarity. Their effort to rid Princeton of grades ultimately fails, and the students will all identify their exams and accept the grades assigned by their professors several weeks later.

January 15, 1999—The New York Times reports that the Nude Olympics will likely not continue at Princeton after the year’s event resulted in the hospitalization of five students. The tradition, which evolved during the 1970s streaking fad and has been discouraged by the administration for years, consists of the sophomore class running laps in the nude around the Holder Courtyard after each year’s first snowfall. The Times article quotes Peter Dutton ’91: “Can’t undergraduates run naked in a restrained and dignified manner anymore?” (Ultimately, 1999’s Olympics will be the last naked frolic in the snow for Princeton’s undergraduates.)

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 1974 cartoon from the Daily Princetonian. Video of the 1986 Nude Olympics can be found here.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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Princeton traditions, old and new: the Class of 1986’s “video yearbook”

The Class of 1986 was a ‘historic’ class, so the freshmen were told: they were the first to begin their Princeton years in the new social system of the residential colleges. According to their Class History in the Nassau Herald, however, the students carried on as the generations before them. “We worked hard and we partied hard. This blend of continuity and change, of tradition and transition, would characterize our four year stay at Old Nassau.” The ‘video yearbook’ featured here, in itself a reminder of the “class films” of the 1920s and 1930s, is an expression of that experience. A fast-paced arrangement of videotaped snippets capturing campus events and student life, the 26 minute film is a celebration of both old and new.

The video yearbook, produced by “Ground Floor Video,” a group of students under the direction of Glenn Picher ’86, was filmed during the class’ junior and senior year. Meant as a complement to the print yearbook, according to the Prince, the film contains selections from some thirty to forty hours of videotape, accompanied by original music composed by Peter Curtiss ’86 (other music credits can be found at 25:55). The film is divided into seven chapters: Student Life (1:03), Academics (5:33), Sports (7:08), Holidays (10:39), Campus issues (15:09), Spring (17:15), and Graduation weekend (20:50).

The sports and spring scenes, along with the Graduation weekend events were already traditional elements in the class films of the 1920s. Incoming freshmen were introduced to other Princeton traditions in the Special Class of 1986 issue of the Daily Princetonian. Some of those traditions are captured in the “video yearbook” featured here. They include the bonfire on Cannon Green after a major sports victory–in this case the football team’s “Big Three Title,” the first since 1967 (9:44, compare with the bonfire of the Class of 1923); House Parties (19:29; compare with the class film of the Class of 1939); and “Arch Sing” (12:48), reminiscent of the tradition of “Senior Singing” as seen in the Class of 1928 footage. The footage in the  “Graduation Weekend” (20:50), capturing the P-rade, the breaking of the pipes on Cannon Green, and the commencement ceremonies is very similar to the films from six decades previous depicting the graduation of the Classes of 1921 and 1928.

Additionally, more recent traditions featured here include the “Nude Olympics (12:00), and the party activities of “blow pong” (3:35 and 4:47), and what is assumed to be the “Trees and Trolls,” the annual rumble between the over 6 ft tall and the shorter members of the then still all-male eating club, the Tiger Inn (4:23). Both activities were accompanied by copious amounts of beer. During 1986’s freshmen year the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21, making senior year the first year that most students could legally drink alcohol.

Of particular interest for the topic of “traditions” is the address of Sally Frank ’80 at the Woodrow Wilson School on November 20, 1985 (16:28). Earlier that year, Sally Frank had won her lawsuit against the all-male eating clubs of Cottage, Ivy, and Tiger Inn, which she had filed in 1979 after they refused her a chance to bicker due to her gender. Additional issues addressed in the section ‘Campus protests’ include the blockade of the entrance to Nassau Hall on May 23, 1985 to protest Princeton’s  investments policies with respect to South Africa (15:09) and the Women’s Center sit-in of May 1, 1986 (16:52).

Within the video a few other faces have been identified as the following.

  • English professor John Fleming is shown lecturing (5:39)
  • The late art historian John R. Martin (5:56)
  • President Bill Bowen (6:32, appears again 19:05).
  • The late art professor Jerry Buchanan critiques a student’s work (5:42).
  • Harold Medina ’09 is seen riding in a golf cart (21:20)
  • Dr. Ruth Westheimer makes a brief appearance (22:41)

This VHS tape is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 1324).