This Week in Princeton History for March 14-20

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students organize a Glee Club, betting on football makes the news, and more.

March 16, 1866—Students join with the community to observe a day of fasting, prayer, and confession. All business and schools are closed, and farmers have come in for miles to join in the services held at the First Church. In announcing the fast day, the Princeton Standard explained the intent: “It is hoped that the revival of religion in the College may be extended to the people of the town.”

March 17, 1885—Internationally acclaimed singer Emma Cecilia Thursby performs in University Hall. The Daily Princetonian will pronounce the concert “one of the best treats of the season.”

March 18, 1874—Noting that “the lack of one has been seriously felt during the past few years,” a group of students organize a Glee Club.

Program from Princeton College Glee Club concert, June 26, 1875. Music Performance at Princeton Collection (AC205), Box 3.

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Caught Between Tradition and Transformation: Princeton University’s Black Athletes in 1985

Princeton University is an institution self-consciously steeped in tradition, sometimes to an extent that even relatively recent innovations can feel like they’ve been going on for centuries. Yet it has also tried to break free of traditions that have not served it well, like discriminatory admissions policies. Holding these things in tension with one another is at times difficult. Today, we look back at a prior generation’s reflections on what it meant to get caught in the middle between tradition and transformation.

On December 12, 1985, Pat Thompson and Sean O’Sullivan considered the awkward position of Black athletes on campus for the Daily Princetonian’s “Thursday Magazine” feature. They interviewed four athletes: John Thompson ’88, Butch Climmons ’86, Jim Anderson ’86, and Debbi Saint Phard ’87. In opening a conversation about race on campus through the lens of Black athletes, they brought attention to some of the ongoing problems Princeton faced regarding systemic racism, though this was not a term they used. However, not everyone who entered the discussion thought about racism as part of a system, rather than a flaw within individuals.

Princeton University’s varsity football team, September 1985. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 165.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 30-December 6

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Henry Ward Beecher celebrates the football team’s defeat, Patrick Stewart lectures on campus, and more.

December 1, 1883—While preaching to his congregation in Brooklyn, Henry Ward Beecher says, “I stood yesterday to see Yale and Princeton at football. I always did hate Princeton, but I took notice there was not a coward on either side, although I thank God that Yale beat [them].”

December 2, 1811—John Randolph (Class of 1791) writes of his experiences at Princeton when he and his brother were both students:

[Samuel Stanhope Smith] called us into his library and interrogated us about our Indian descent—we knew nothing more than that we derived it through our grand-mother, whom it suited him to make the daughter of Pocahontas, in order that we might be in defiance of time and fact in the fourth descent from her. He gave us, about that time, a copy of his essay [on race], which now lies before me, with my marginal notes. I cannot think of Princeton (where my ardor for learning was first damped) with any sort of patience.


December 5, 1995—Patrick Stewart lectures on acting in Shakespeare’s plays at 185 Nassau. Because so many of the general public have lined up to see him, few students are able to attend, provoking discussions of ways to ensure students have the opportunity to have priority admission to high profile lectures. The venue, which seats 220, was chosen because Stewart does not like to use microphones and does not want to strain his voice.

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December 6, 1970—More than 90% of the membership of Tower Club vote in favor of allowing women to bicker (i.e., apply for membership). Treasurer Norris H. Bokum ’71 explains, “There was no valid reason to vary membership on the basis of sex.”

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 25-December 1

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the football team defeats Dartmouth in hurricane force winds, a student writes home to complain about the food, and more.

November 25, 1950—Despite 108-mile winds at kickoff, Princeton and Dartmouth still play their championship game in Princeton’s Palmer Stadium. About 5,000 fans attempt to watch the game in person, but an estimated 25,000 ticket holders simply stay home to wait out the storm. Most of those who do attend seek refuge in the dormitories.

The 1951 Bric-a-Brac‘s report on the 1950 Princeton-Dartmouth football game.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 5-11

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, college football gets its start, town and gown celebrate the end of World War I, and more.

November 5, 2001—A hazmat team comes to the Woodrow Wilson School to remove a suspicious letter mailed from Canada. Despite mentions of “anthrax” and “dark winter” (believed to refer to a nuclear attack), it will ultimately be determined to be one of many hoaxes plaguing the campus in the wake of Amerithrax.

November 6, 1869—Rutgers defeats Princeton 6 to 4 in the first intercollegiate game of football. The Nassau Lit notes, “The game played was very different from the one to which we are accustomed; and, consequently, a good deal of confusion was created in our ranks.”

This Sports Illustrated advertisement appeared in the issue of Rutgers Athletic News for the Rutgers-Princeton centennial match on September 27, 1969. Athletic Programs Collection (AC042), Box 8, Folder 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 29-November 4

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Art Museum reopens in a modernized environment, the football team’s stunning victory over Penn sparks a riot, and more.

October 29, 1966—The Princeton University Art Museum reopens in its new home in a new McCormick Hall.

The new McCormick Hall was built on the site of the old McCormick Hall and Art Museum extension. The 1880 building, pictured here, was advanced for the 19th century but no longer a suitable home for Princeton’s collections. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box SP05, Image No. 1216.

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An American University: An Audio Portrait of Princeton in 1946

By: Abbie Minard ’20

Abbie Minard ’20 is a history concentrator with a primary interest in early American history. On campus, she is a research associate at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, music director and a DJ at WPRB, artistic director of the TapCats (tap dancing group), and a member of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra. She is also a poet with a love for dada and experimental performance.

As a part the exhibition, Learning to Fight and Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War, we digitized a half hour BBC radio broadcast from 1946 that featured Princeton University for an audio portrait of university life in the United States.  The program, titled “An American University,” was one half of a radio exchange program with Oxford on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

The audio included in the segment was recorded in November and December as Princeton celebrated its bicentennial anniversary.  It features a wide array of Princeton voices, covering university history, academics, residential, and social life, with spotlights on the football team and the glee club, whose musical interludes are interspersed throughout the program.

We selected photographs from our collections to accompany the audio for this video.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 14-20

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, football rivalry with Yale begins, an African American graduate breaks through a color barrier, and more.

November 14, 1969—Charles Conrad, Jr. ’53 is in command of the Apollo 12 mission, the second mission in which humans will travel to the moon, when it launches today. He carries four Princeton University flags with him.

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Flag taken to the moon by Charles Conrad, Jr. ’53. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

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This Week in Princeton History for November 7-13

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a member of the Class of 1903 casts his vote, students burn the American flag in protest, and more.

November 7, 1955—Today’s issue of Life features Princeton mascot Michael A. Briggs ’57.

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The Princeton University cheerleading squad with Michael A. Briggs ’57 as the tiger, ca. 1955. Photo from 1956 Bric-a-Brac.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 31-November 6

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the football team scores a historic win, the campus mourns a favorite squirrel, and more.

November 1, 1877—The Princetonian complains that everyone is annoyed “by the too boisterous singing of Freshmen” on the north end of campus.

November 3, 1888—In one of their highest scoring games in history, Princeton’s football team defeats Johns Hopkins University 104-0.

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The College of New Jersey (Princeton) football team, 1888. Photo from 1891 Bric-a-Brac.

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