Elizabeth Menzies: Photographing Princeton

By Iliyah Coles ’22

Photography openly invites those who aren’t necessarily trained to recognize visual techniques. As one of those people, I find myself leaning on how a picture makes me feel. I’ve seen many photographs of Princeton’s campus, but it’s Elizabeth Menzies’s photographs that always draw me in. Any viewer can tell through her photography that this is the way she viewed the town she was raised in. There’s so much character in her photos, and the quirky captions she sometimes included are an added bonus.

Elizabeth Grant Cranbrook Menzies was born on June 24, 1915 in Princeton, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Professor Alan W. C. Menzies and Mary I. Menzies (formerly Dickson) of the Princeton-Kingston Road. Both were from Edinburgh, Scotland, making Elizabeth a first-generation American. After graduating from school, she became a photographer, and her work grew to be very well-known in Princeton. In fact, Menzies progressed into somewhat of a small-town celebrity. Her name was widely known across Princeton and she was even referred to as the town historian in South Jersey’s Courier-Post. Menzies was published in several magazines and newspapers, and often commissioned to take photographs of Princeton University’s campus. Below are a few of her pieces in the Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111).

“Campus View: West Campus,” 1980. Photo by Elizabeth Menzies. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD01, Image No. 7573.

“East Pyne Cafeteria,” 1954. Photo by Elizabeth Menzies. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD02, Image No. 7765.

Reading in Princeton University’s Firestone Library, 1967. Photo by Elizabeth Menzies, Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD04, Image No. 8329.

Some time into her photography career, Menzies became a member of the staff of the Index of Christian Art. In 1957, she spent several months in Europe recording Christian Iconography for the Index. Menzies also won a New Jersey Tercentenary Medal in 1964 for her picture of Albert Einstein and later received an “Author Citation” from the New Jersey Institute of Technology for her photography book, Passage Between Rivers.

Elizabeth Menzies with some of her photographs, 1978. Photo from Princeton Weekly Bulletin.

Menzies took photographs for the Princeton Alumni Weekly as well. Several were featured on covers. It is possible that she was one of the first women photographers whose work had been chosen for college football programs. Besides photography, Menzies also painted, including abstract and lacquer paintings.

One photography series Menzies did at Princeton University was called “Elimination of Cars on Campus.” She closely followed the changes in parking permissibility on Princeton grounds, taking pictures of how they affected transportation while also inserting witty humor into the captions beneath the photographs.

Nassau Inn/Peacock Inn, ca. 1964, captioned, “Visitors to the Princeton Inn had best beware, for if they obey this sign they will jump the new curb and find themselves on a new campus walk. There is no longer a driving road between Washington Road and University Place.” Photo and caption by Elizabeth Menzies. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD11.

Parking lot, ca. 1963, captioned, “With such strict policing it seemed for a moment as though the University had really gone overboard and was about to hang the flagrant offenders, but, as it turned out, these gibbets were merely to support lighting fixtures to illuminate the parking areas.” Photo and caption by Elizabeth Menzies. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD11.

She also kept close documentation of the demolition of the Art Museum in her collection called “The Art Museum and Antioch Court Album, 1964,” which we can see parallels with today, as construction for the new art museum is already underway.

Students gather to observe the demolition of the Art Museum, 1964. Photo by Elizabeth Menzies. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD17.

Menzies was even hired to take pictures of the dedication of the Dulles Reading Room, where President Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie Eisenhower, were both in attendance.

Adlai Stevenson, Allen W. Dulles, Arthur H. Dean, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Robert Goheen, and Janet Avery Dulles in Firestone Library, 1962. Photo by Elizabeth Menzies. Princeton University Library Records (AC123), Box 383.

Menzies’s work was so pervasive throughout the town she became a household name. With the advent of social media, we don’t see as many small-town celebrities anymore, especially not ones whose work lived on years after their passing. When we visualize Princeton now, we often picture it through Menzies’ lens–a warm-hearted, people-centered version of the town she held close to her heart.



Ancestry Library

Faculty and Professional Staff Files (AC107)

Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111)

Milton Halsey Thomas Papers (C0706)

Papers of Princeton

Princeton University Library Records (AC123)

Princeton University Press Records (C0728)

ProQuest Historical Newspapers

Robert Judson Clark Papers (AC208)

This Week in Princeton History for June 14-20

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Mills Tariff Bill is debated, the Prince offers a guide to “scarce” women’s restrooms, and more.

June 14, 1928—A member of the Class of 1913 is struck by lightning and dies just before joining classmates at an outdoor reunion dinner near Palmer Stadium.

June 18, 1843—Charles Godfrey Leland writes to his father to defend Princeton students against accusations of disrespecting President John Tyler during Tyler’s recent visit to campus, saying press reports exaggerated the incident. “It is true that they did hiss Tyler, but not much.”

June 19, 1888—Students debate the Mills Tariff Bill, which has split the Democratic Party and become the central issue of the 1888 presidential election.

June 20, 1970—For the sake of incoming female undergraduates, the Daily Princetonian’s Special Class of 1974 issue includes a list of women’s restrooms on campus, “a commodity last year’s coeds found scarce.”

Restroom in Palmer Physical Laboratory, ca. 1960s. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD06, Image No. 8713.

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 12-18

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, women’s tennis plays its first game, violence breaks out over fashion, and more.

April 12, 1971—Women’s tennis plays its first game, defeating Penn 5-to-1.

Photos of women playing tennis from Princeton University’s 1971 Bric-a-Brac.

April 14, 1947—As the New Jersey telephone workers strike enters its second week, picketers are seen in town with signs reading “Neither Ma Bell or Pa Driscoll can enslave us.” Although the University switchboard operators are not involved, because they are employees of Princeton University rather than the telephone company, this does mean that no calls can be made to anyone off campus except in cases of emergency.

April 16, 1931—The Undergraduate Council unanimously condemns some students who have been seen wearing denim overalls, because they look too much like beer suits. “Yesterday’s spectacle of a few Juniors and a few Freshmen wearing light blue and dark blue overalls respectively…constituted an attempt to break down a privileged tradition of many years standing which belonged exclusively to the Senior Class.” Some of the underclassmen have also bought matching denim jackets. The store that sold the clothes to the students has been threatened, but owners vow to sell overalls and jackets to whomever they like in spite of the threats. Violence has broken out on campus, with seniors attacking underclassmen wearing denim on Prospect Street. The juniors are calling their outfits “Applejackets.”

This ad, which appeared in the April 16, 1931 issue of the Daily Princetonian, suggests how seriously the owners of the store that sold denim overalls to underclassmen took the threats they’d received from members of the Class of 1931.

April 17, 2001—Princeton president Harold Shapiro urges Chinese president Jiang Zemin to release Shaomin Li *88. Li was detained by Chinese security forces on February 25 and has not yet been charged with a crime.

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.

Ivy Hall Library and Higher Education for Princeton Women in the 1870s

As Princeton University celebrates 50 years of undergraduate women, it is worth looking back a bit farther to examine how women pursued higher education in town prior to the mid-twentieth century. A variety of options have been available to Princeton’s women over the century that preceded the first female undergraduate admission in 1969. Some of the earliest records we have found relate to another largely forgotten chapter in Princeton’s history: its law school.

After the College of New Jersey (as the institution was known until assuming the name Princeton University in 1896) established a law school in 1846, benefactor Judge Richard Stockton Field built a brownstone building for its use, but the study of law at Princeton was short-lived. The law school dissolved in 1855, and the building that had housed it became a railroad and canal office.

Ivy Hall, ca. 1870s. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP52, Image No. 1837.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 8-14

In this week’s installment of our returning series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first female leader takes the helm of the Association of Black Collegians, the Princetonian takes issue with fashion choices in chapel, and more.

October 8, 1971—Princeton’s Association of Black Collegians has a new coordinator: Deborah Jackson ’74, the first woman to hold the organization’s top leadership role.

October 10, 1987—In response to the increasing spread of AIDS among heterosexuals, the Advisory Council to Princeton’s Health Services approves the sale of condoms at McCosh Health Center. Condoms were never previously available at the clinic, but Princeton is the last institution in the Ivy League not making them available to its students.

October 11, 1889—Since many Princeton students seem to be more lax about their clothing in Sunday chapel these days, the Princetonian notes that some attendees’ “sense of propriety has been severely shocked” and urges greater attention to apparel. “Nothing is too good for that occasion, and if a man’s own sense of decency is hardened to wearing sweaters and other such negligé everyday garments at Sunday chapel he should certainly have the good taste to refrain for the sake of others who may feel differently on the subject.”

October 12, 1933—A rally for the Communist candidate for mayor of Princeton, Thomas MacNally, turns violent when onlookers pelt speakers with eggs, cabbage, and other unidentified objects. The local police will insist that Princeton University students are responsible for throwing food, though others, including the University proctors, will deny this.

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.

“She Flourishes:” Chapters in the History of Princeton Women.

Mudd Manuscript Library’s new exhibition features women at Princeton, from the days of Evelyn College (1887-1897), mainly attended by daughters of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary professors, to the appointment of Shirley Tilghman as the first woman president of Princeton University in 2001. For the first time our exhibit is accompanied by historical film footage from the archives. This compilation of segments from films and videos, most of which was featured previously in The Reel Mudd, is shown here.

The footage covers forty years of history of Princeton women, from the admission of Sabra Meservey as the first woman at the Graduate School in 1961 to Shirley Tilghman’s presidency. Subjects covered include the introduction of coeduation, student activism and Sally Frank, and activities of the Women’s Center and SHARE (Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education).

The compilation opens with footage of the Class of 1939’s junior prom in 1938 (taken from its Class film), which was attended by 606 women (all listed by name in the Daily Prince). Women only entered academic life at Princeton in 1961, when Sabra Meservey was admitted at to the Graduate School. The footage at 0:37 shows Meservey’s humorous account of her initial conversation with President Robert Goheen, who ultimately oversaw the introduction of undergraduate coeducation in 1969, and wanted to use Meservey as a “test case” at the Graduate School. (For the full story, see the the blog about the Celebration of Coeducation at the Graduate School.)

The only filmed recollections about the early years of coeducation were found on the documentary Looking Back: Reflections of Black Princeton Alumni (1:32), created on the occasion of Princeton’s 250th anniversary in 1996. The changes on campus did not please everybody. In 1974 Princeton icon Frederick Fox ’39 reached out to disgruntled alumni in the film A Walk in the Springtime, pointing out, perhaps tongue in cheek, that Nassau Hall’s two bronze tigers were male and female (3:19). In the following fragment, taken from the short Academy award winning film Princeton, A Search For Answers (1973), women feature prominently (3:55).

The last fragments feature woman activism and the gains of the women’s movement of the 1970s and the 1980s. Two fragments were taken from the Class of 1986’s Video Yearbook: a speech from Sally Frank ’80, who sued the last three all-male eating clubs (4:18), and a Women’s Center sit-in in May 1, 1986 (4:45). The last two fragments have not been featured yet in The Reel Mudd but will be shortly. The first is a sketch from “Sex on a Saturday Night,” a theater performance for freshmen about sexual harassment, presented by SHARE (5:11), The film ends with the inauguration of Shirley Tilghman (5:11) in 2001, taken from the documentary “Robert F. Goheen ’40, *48; Reflections of a President” (2006).

The exhibit “She Flourishes:” Chapters in the History of Princeton Women may be visited during Mudd Library’s opening hours on weekdays between 9.00 am and 4.45 pm. from now until the end of August 2012.