A Brief History of the Architecture of Nassau Hall

Nassau Hall first opened its doors on November 28, 1756. The College of New Jersey (Princeton) at that time consisted of its president, Aaron Burr, 70 students, and three tutors. Robert Smith, the carpenter-architect who would later construct Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, designed Nassau Hall with the assistance of Dr. William Shippen of Philadelphia and William Worth, a local stonemason. Construction began on July 29, 1754 on part of the 4.5 acres donated by Nathaniel and Rebeckah FitzRandolph. Smith designed the building to withstand the variable climate of New Jersey in the Georgian-Colonial style popular at the time, choosing locally quarried sandstone as building material for the 26-inch thick walls. The building has three floors and a basement, measuring 176 feet by 54 feet, with a two-story central prayer hall in the rear of the structure, measuring 32 by 40 feet. Originally, there were five entrances to the building, three in the front and two in the rear. The rooftop cupola provided an elegant final touch to a modestly constructed building. When finished in 1756, Nassau Hall was the largest stone structure in North America.

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First known image of Nassau Hall, New American Magazine, 1760. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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Can Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s Descendants Attend Princeton University for Free?

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

I read that Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s descendants get free tuition at Princeton University. Is this true?

A. According to legend, an agreement between Nathaniel FitzRandolph and the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then known) was made in 1753. In exchange for donating the land on which Nassau Hall now resides, the College agreed to pay tuition for all of his descendants to attend the institution. We have bad news for today’s FitzRandolphs, though: No such provision was incorporated into the deed of gift.

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Inscription on the FitzRandolph Gateway. Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 21.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 8-14

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Bob Dylan finds inspiration at Commencement, a sitting U.S. President visits Princeton for the first time, and more.

June 8, 1976—To raise money for various projects, the Princeton University Library auctions off an “Inverted Jenny” stamp from its collections for $170,000.

June 9, 1970—Bob Dylan receives an honorary Doctorate of Music from Princeton University, on the grounds that “Although he is now approaching the perilous age of thirty, his music remains the authentic expression of the disturbed and concerned conscience of young America.” Dylan’s experience at Princeton will later inspire the song, “Day of the Locusts.”

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Bob Dylan at Princeton University’s 1970 Commencement. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box AD31, Folder 23.

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Statistical Data Pertaining to Princeton University

With the launch of our new website, we’ve been updating a lot of our online information. Here, Anna Rubin ’15 has updated our table of statistical data pertaining to Princeton University to reflect data from the past few decades. Click to enlarge the table.

Statistical Data Pertaining to Princeton University graph

 

This Week in Princeton History for April 27-May 3

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a dorm pioneers indoor plumbing, students look for ways to protest peacefully, and more.

April 27, 1877—Witherspoon Hall is completed. It is the first dormitory in the country with indoor plumbing.

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5 West Middle, Witherspoon Hall, 1890-1891. This room was the residence of Edgar Allen Poe and Augustus Stevens Lewis, both of the Class of 1891. (Poe was the nephew of the author of the same name.) Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box LP84, Item No. 4069.

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Sue Jean Lee and the Women of Triangle Club

The first thing that usually comes to mind with reference to the history of Princeton University’s Triangle Club is probably a kick line of men in dresses. Until 1969, admission to Princeton was for men only, so putting on student plays meant men often took women’s roles, and performances usually poked fun at this fact. Triangle was a launching pad for several prominent students. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jimmy Stewart, and Jose Ferrer are among its notable members, all of whom seem to have taken the experiences the Club gave them as the foundation for their later careers, just to name a few examples.

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Publicity photo for “Katherine,” 1892. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 246.

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This Week in Princeton History for February 16-22

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.

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Photo from Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for February 9-15

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, underclassmen get a chance to read more books, the College of New Jersey changes its name, and more.

February 9, 1999—Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner Wendy Wasserstein speaks on the experiences of a female Jewish playwright and public reaction to her award-winning 1989 play, “The Heidi Chronicles,” in McCormick Hall. Wasserstein’s best-known work is probably the 1998 screenplay The Object of My Affection, starring Jennifer Aniston.

February 10, 1890—The Princetonian announces that freshmen and sophomores may now take three books out of the library at once, a privilege previously reserved for upperclassmen.

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Some of the books students might have checked out of the Princeton University library in 1890. (Photo taken in 1947.) Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP4, Item No. 66.

February 12, 1970—Princeton mathematics professor Gerard Washnitzer *50 is delivering a lecture at a seminar at the University of Pennsylvania when Robert H. Cantor opens fire on two Penn professors before turning the gun on himself. One of the Penn professors, Walter Koppelman, will die of his injuries two weeks later.

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Gerard Washnitzer, ca. 1970s. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 116.

February 13, 1896—The Board of Trustees officially change the name of the College of New Jersey to Princeton University.

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Board of Trustees Minutes (AC102), February 13, 1896.

For last week’s 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 February 2-8

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a junior saves two friends after an avalanche, Tiger Inn holds its first coed bicker, and more.

February 2, 1953—Princeton University junior John K. Ewing ’54 saves the lives of Richard H. Evans ’55 and John E. Stauffer ’54 in the aftermath of an avalanche on Mount Washington. The following May, Ewing will die tragically in another mountain climbing accident in Connecticut’s Sleeping Giant State Park, at the age of 19.

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John Kennedy Ewing IV’s Class of 1954 Freshman Herald photo (taken ca. 1950).

February 3, 1991—Tiger Inn holds its first coed Bicker.

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This group photo from the 1992 Bric-a-Brac is the first such Tiger Inn photo to include female Princetonians.

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“I Pledge My Honor”

Final exams begin at Princeton University today. Professors, Lecturers, and Assistants in Instruction (Preceptors) will not be present while students are taking them, trusting them to police themselves. In return, the students will sign their exams under this handwritten statement: I pledge my honor that I have not violated the Honor Code during this examination.

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Students taking an exam in Princeton University’s McCosh 50, ca. 1950s. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP163, Item No. 4402.

The Honor System, one of Princeton’s most distinctive traditions, was established and has been maintained almost exclusively by undergraduates. Cheating ran rampant at the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in the late nineteenth century; students saw it as a way to outwit the faculty, while professors expended a great deal of energy trying to catch cheaters. Booth Tarkington (Class of 1893) described this rivalry as a “continuous sly warfare between the professor and the student.” Crib sheets were common, as was sharing answers during tests. Students who refused to collaborate were ridiculed. Reporting fellow students to the faculty was seen as dishonorable and unthinkable for most, while professors would stalk exam rooms looking for any inconsistencies. Sometimes faculty also hired extra proctors help keep an eye on students.

Student dissatisfaction with this culture of cheating and “sly warfare” peaked in 1893, when some of the most influential juniors and seniors proposed an honor pledge. Honor systems were not uncommon at southern schools, such as the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia, and many Princeton undergraduates had gone to southern preparatory schools with prominent and successful honor systems. Senior Charles Ottley  (Class of 1893) and several juniors drew on their practical experience with the honor system at the Webb School in central Tennessee as they pushed for an honor system at Princeton.

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