With the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections just around the corner, we’ve been having fun answering the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s #ElectionCollection challenges on Twitter. The timing also seemed right to put some of our elections-related memorabilia on display here at Mudd. Our lobby exhibit case now holds a variety of elections-related materials from diverse collections in the Princeton University Archives and the Public Policy Papers, with a date range spanning nearly a century from William McKinley’s 1896 campaign to Bill Clinton’s in 1992.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, James Brown performs, Jimmy Stewart ’32 reflects on his college days, and more.
February 16, 1996—James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” performs in Dillon Gymnasium.
Is there any truth to the story that a commercial for Adlai Stevenson’s campaign interrupted an episode of “I Love Lucy” and cost him the 1952 election?
This story has appeared in various books and articles, but none has a verifiable citation.
For example, in the book “Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia” author Michael Karol asks the question “Is it possible the Democrats lost an election because of the (viewers) dedication? He writes that a Canadian website states that the Stevenson campaign was bombarded with hate mail when it bought a half hour campaign ad that preempted the popular show (p. 277). Another variation of the story has Stevenson receiving a telegram from a disgruntled Lucy fan that read: “I love Lucy, but I hate you.”
However, no Stevenson biography mentions this incident, nor is there any reportage of it in newspapers at the time. A search within the Adai Stevenson Papers held at Mudd Manuscript Library contains records documenting his 1952 radio and TV commercial purchases. They reveal that Stevenson’s campaign ran four types of ads: 20-second spots, 30 minute spots, five minute condensations, and 15 minute condensations. Presumably the condensations were reduced versions of the 30 minute spots. The evidence of this is found in multiple documents but the most succinct summary is in an undated telegram from Jay Sheridan to G. Rudiak found in Box 244, Folder 8. But the real stake in the heart for this myth is a listing of the campaigns media purchases for Fall 1952. While it shows a number of CBS-TV purchases on Monday nights, none were near the 8 p.m. time slot when “I Love Lucy” aired.
Given the lack of contemporary evidence (all the stories about the telegram date from well past the end of the campaign), and that the nature of the story fits with a common pattern in urban myths (smart guy gets his comeuppance for being ignorant about something commonly understood), we declare:
The 1912 U.S. presidential election was a turning point for progressivism, both for the nation and for Woodrow Wilson. An exhibition now open at the Princeton University Library illustrates this remarkable election and the life of the man who won it.
Drawn from the University Archives and the Public Policy Collection at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, the exhibition follows Wilson’s career as scholar, university president, governor of New Jersey, and newly elected president of the United States to tell the story of how his ideas were formed and changed in service of the nation. In addition, the exhibition features rare Wilson memorabilia loaned by Anthony W. Atkiss, a member of Princeton’s class of 1961.
“The Election for Woodrow Wilson’s America” is free and open to the public, and is on display in Firestone Library’s Milberg Gallery now through the end of December 2012.
The 1912 election was a four-way race between a conservative incumbent, William Howard Taft, a socialist, Eugene Debs, and two progressives, former president Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson. Growing concern about the concentration of wealth and influence among the power elite and pressing questions about taxation, the welfare of farmers, banking regulation, and labor rights made it almost inevitable that a progressive candidate would take the White House.
“The exhibition is filled with some exceptional items, including love letters Wilson wrote to his first wife, the complete text of Wilson’s first inaugural address, the top hat he wore while campaigning for the presidency, a good number of original political cartoons from the era, and a tremendous variety of pins, buttons, pennants, and other campaign memorabilia, generously loaned to us by Mr. Atkiss,” said Dan Linke, the head of Mudd Library, who co-curated the exhibition with Maureen Callahan, a project archivist at Mudd.
According to Callahan, Wilson represented the model citizen-scholar that Princeton strove to produce throughout the 20th century. Cosmopolitan, serious, and reformist, he had studied the structures that make political change happen and was willing to leverage his influence to affect them. As Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910, Wilson transformed the university into a far more scholarly place than it had been when he was a student. Motivated by ambition and a sincere desire to serve, Wilson took on the political party system and local monopolies as governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913, and this work helped catapult him to the presidency.
“The Election for Woodrow Wilson’s America” is currently open from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Starting Sept. 4, it will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday until Dec. 28, 2012. The exhibition is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. A curator’s tour of the exhibition will be held Oct. 28, 2012, at 3 p.m.