This Week in Princeton History for May 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Whig-Clio representatives meet with Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Stewart gives his last student theater performance, and more.

May 4, 1867—After Princeton’s baseball team defeats Yale 58 to 52, both teams have dinner together at Mercer Hall, parting “the best of friends after their short acquaintance.”

May 5, 1970—Nine members of Whig-Clio and two journalists from the Daily Princetonian meet with Richard Nixon’s chief foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger, at the White House. What is usually a routine 4-day annual “Project Update” has become, at the direction of organizers Christopher Godfrey ’72 and Deborah Leff ’73, a vehicle to communicate Princeton’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the purpose of the Princeton Strike to officials in Washington.

May 6, 1932—In response to its notable success earlier in the spring, which drew Mary Pickford and representatives from Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Fox to Princeton to attend performances of the play, Theatre Intime restages “Nerissa” with its original cast. Jimmy Stewart ’32 is giving what is expected to be the last acting performance of his life in the supporting role of “McNulty.”

Jimmy Stewart ’32, at right, as “McNulty” in “Nerissa,” Spring 1932. Theatre Intime Records (AC022), Box 17.

May 10, 1876—Students attend the opening of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the first official World’s Fair in the U.S., which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Arthur Bryan, Class of 1878, will later write in the class history book: “A special train was chartered to take us to and from the Centennial grounds, and early in the morning it bore us rapidly away from Princeton. … The ride back from Philadelphia afforded no opportunity for sleeping, as the noise made by singing, patriotic speeches and cat-calls prohibited every approach toward somnific obliviousness.”

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 April 27-May 3

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, James McCosh is elected president of the College, thousands turn out to witness Firestone Library open for the first time, and more.

April 27, 1980—Princeton Against Registration and the Draft (PARD) holds its second protest of Jimmy Carter’s proposal for requiring registration for selective service, in spite of the country not being at war.

April 29, 1868—The Board of Trustees elects James McCosh as president of the College of New Jersey.

James McCosh, ca. 1870s. Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC067), Box AD13.

Continue reading

Caroline Le Count’s Visit to Princeton

By April C. Armstrong *14 and Iliyah Coles ’22

Caroline Le Count, though not so well known today, was a prominent African American activist and educator in Philadelphia in the 19th century. The Philadelphia Citizen recently referred to her as “Philly’s Rosa Parks” because she worked to dismantle streetcar segregation in the city, a goal accomplished in 1867 with a new Pennsylvania law.

Flyer advertising Caroline Le Count’s February 5, 1877 appearance at Princeton’s Witherspoon St. Presbyterian Church.  Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 337, Folder 4. (Click to enlarge.)

After the Civil War, many African Americans, especially women, began refusing to comply with the segregation of public transit in Philadelphia, knowing they’d often be handled roughly when conductors ejected them. Theirs was a movement of civil disobedience that pushed for expanded civil rights for African Americans and built on the momentum of the Union’s victory over the Confederacy. When a conductor did not comply with the new law three days after its passage and would not allow Le Count to ride, yelling a racial slur as he drove past without stopping, she reported it to a police officer. After Le Count showed the officer a copy of the law, he then arrested the conductor, who had to pay a $100 fine. The law mandated not only that African Americans must be permitted to ride streetcars, but that any distinction made on the basis of race on streetcars—in seating or service—was prohibited.

After becoming the first black woman to pass the city’s teacher’s examination, Le Count began teaching at Philadelphia’s Ohio Street School in 1865. Later, sources say she became the second African American female to become principal of a public school, stepping in to serve in that post at Ohio Street School by 1868. She worked continuously to advocate for African American students, teachers, and principals. One newspaper editor said she was “a match for all the officers and members of the Board of Education combined.” After her fiancé, fellow activist Octavius V. Catto who had helped to draft the streetcar bill, was murdered on election day on October 10, 1871, the school was renamed in his honor. Le Count never married.

Le Count was a noted author and speaker. Some sources mention her entertaining her audiences with a perfect imitation of an Irish accent. Often, she spoke or recited poetry at fundraisers for African American churches. The above notice, found in our Historical Subject Files (AC109), shows that she was raising money for the African American community in Princeton as well. Though we don’t know whether any students at Princeton would have attended her 1877 performance, it is plausible that some of Princeton’s African American staff would have. Unfortunately, we have found no further information about Le Count’s visit to Princeton.