This Week in Princeton History for March 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Class of 1877 takes a look at the Milky Way, a campus publication urges the institution to examine its own prejudices while continuing to fight bigotry beyond it, and more.

March 18, 1932—Campus proctors apprehend a bootlegger on campus and find 74 quarts of champagne and whiskey in his car hidden among golf bags, suitcases, and books.

March 20, 1877—The Class of 1877 has the opportunity to look at the Milky Way (the “Queen of Heaven”) through a telescope with the help of Prof. Stephen Alexander.

Stephen Alexander, ca. 1880. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series (AC058), Box FAC03.

March 22, 1999—Over 200 people gather in Princeton University Chapel for an impromptu memorial service a few hours after Matthew Weiner ’02 died suddenly of cardiac arrest during a pickup basketball game.

March 23, 1944—In Princeton’s Roundtable News, John Kemeny ’46 editorializes, “Even one of the most enlightened of groups, the students of Princeton University, is hysterical at the thought of admitting negroes, and it makes them talk about forming lynching parties and copying the Nazi party in many other ways. … It is about time that we realized that a fascist is an enemy not only in Berlin and Rome, but also in Chicago and New York.”

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 June 11-17

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a journalist notes an increase in the number of graduates who received some form of financial aid, the Board of Trustees approves admitting women to some classes “on an experimental basis,” and more.

June 11, 1933—Trinity Episcopal Church celebrates its centennial.

June 14, 1898—Writing for the Chicago Record, an unnamed journalist reports that of the 211 alumni who graduated with the Princeton University Class of 1898, 38 fully supported themselves with work and scholarships, and roughly a third of the class received some sort of scholarship. “Students who are supporting themselves are classed as ‘poor men’ as distinguished from ‘charity students.’ … The ‘poor man’ is a good fellow and usually proud, perhaps a little sensitive about his position, but he enters thoroughly into the spirit of college life.”

Visualization of data reported in the Chicago Record, June 14, 1898. Today, the University reports that 60% of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 2-8

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, smoking in class comes to an end, a woman against female suffrage speaks in Alexander Hall, and more.

October 3, 1981—A hawk crashes through a window in Firestone Library, knocking a 6-inch hole in the glass. Startled students studying near the window capture the injured bird, which will ultimately be released near Lot 21.

October 4, 1960—Students protest a new rule against smoking in class.

Cartoon from the Daily Princetonian.

October 5, 1915—Minnie Bronson of the Princeton Branch of the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage gives an address in Alexander Hall.

October 6, 1930—The Daily Princetonian receives a note in response to a subscription postcard from Wilson Aull of the Class of 1891 accusing the paper of being “a traitor to the U. S. Constitution” because of its stand on the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition). Aull declines to subscribe.

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 July 25-31

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Presbyterians worry about drinking, the campus operator has a bit less to do, and more.

July 27, 1937—William H. Smathers, who represents New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, writes a response to a letter from one of its professors, William Starr Myers, that makes headlines for its vitriol: “Your letter … convinces me that you are unfit to come in contact with youngsters and confirms my suspicion that ‘dear old Princeton’ would be a bad place to send my two boys who were born and raised in New Jersey. I would not want one of my sons to come under the influence of a mentality so small and so warped…” Myers wrote to Smathers to criticize him for voting in favor of expanding the Supreme Court to 15 justices as Franklin Delano Roosevelt had proposed.

July 29, 1897—The Prohibitionist New York Voice derides Princeton University for employing faculty who have signed a petition for a liquor license for the Princeton Inn, which they identify as the school’s “official grog shop”.

New York Voice headline

Headline from the New York Voice, July 29, 1897. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 343, Folder 2.

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Majority of James M. Beck Papers Now Available Online

We are pleased to announce the completion of another digitization project. The bulk of the papers of James M. Beck (1861-1936), who enjoyed a long career as a lawyer, author, public speaker, Solicitor General, and U.S. Congressman, are now available online through the finding aid for collection MC007. Beck served as Solicitor General from 1921-1925 and represented the Philadelphia region as a Republican Congressman from 1927-1934. Researchers interested in a variety of topics will find this collection useful. For those interested in American politics and foreign policy during Beck’s life, the collection holds many items relating to World War I and Beck’s fights against Prohibition and the New Deal. It also reflects Beck’s personal interests in American history and Shakespeare.

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James M. Beck. Photo from James M. Beck Papers (MC007), Box 11, Folder 8.

One subject the collection focuses upon is World War I. Beck’s writings on World War I were widely read. Beck defended America many times against the claims that initial neutrality in the European conflict was rooted in nationalist selfishness: “If the bones of your sons are now buried in France there are the bones of many a brave American boy who, without the protection of his flag … have gone and given their young lives as a willing sacrifice. Therefore, I say to you, men of England, if there are pinpricks, do not misjudge the American people, who have done what they did under the most trying and delicate circumstances…” (Beck, “America and the Allies,” July 5, 1916, p. 19) Later, Beck agreed that conditions had made it necessary for the United States to enter the war, but warned that the outcome of the hostilities of the era would “leave a heritage of hatred among nations” and that someday in the not too distant future Germany and Japan might join forces to fight America and its allies. (Beck, “America and the War”) Our collection contains translations of Beck’s World War I writings and speeches in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and Greek. The correspondence he received in response, from all over the world, is also in many languages. Thus, in addition to reflecting American opinions, researchers will find perspectives from diverse nations in the collection.

Another subject the collection provides insight into is the public’s impressions of domestic policies. Beck’s stand against Prohibition earned a mixed response from his constituents, with Lillian Francis Fitch writing to Beck in 1930, “It is more than difficult for me to see how any high-minded, intelligent person can … be a ‘wet’” and C. Pardo writing to praise Beck’s efforts that same year on the grounds that Prohibition “is the work largely of … busy bodies.” Beck’s strong criticism of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which authorized United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to regulate industry in an attempt to stimulate the economy during a period of severe deflation, also resulted a variety of responses. Most letters on the subject in our collection heaped praise upon Beck for his stand, but Cable Welfair urged a more cautious response to the bill: “I am not so terribly disturbed about some of the emotional legislation passed by the last Congress. Things that are said and done when one is excited must be more or less discounted. You don’t have to get a divorce from your wife because she says you are a brute. Maybe she is mistaken; or maybe you are, but can improve.”

A final substantial component of the collection concerns Beck’s private intellectual pursuits. Beck was particularly fond of Shakespeare. The collection includes his correspondence with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Joseph Quincy Adams, and materials related to his membership and presidency in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Society. Researchers will also note that Beck frequently quoted Shakespeare in his speeches. Beck spoke to a variety of audiences on a range of topics in American history as well, and was a frequent guest speaker for the Pennsylvania Society and the Sons of the Revolution. This index to his speeches will help researchers locate these items.

This Week in Princeton History for April 6-12

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Prohibition ends, the Board of Trustees urges parents not to send students money, and more.

April 6, 1771—The Rittenhouse Orrery, the most noted scientific instrument of its time, arrives in Nassau Hall, where it will prove to be a tourist attraction for travelers from across the world.

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Gillett G. Griffin, pen and ink drawing of the Rittenhouse Orrery arriving at Nassau Hall, University Library Records (AC123), Box 302.

April 9, 1802—United States President Thomas Jefferson donates one hundred dollars toward the rebuilding of Nassau Hall after a devastating fire.
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This Week in Princeton History for November 3-9

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Penn Jillette’s joke falls flat, the town decides on Prohibition, and more.

November 3, 1975—Penn Jillette (now of Penn & Teller) tries to garner publicity for his upcoming performances with the “The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society” by staging a joke attempt to jump over five Volkswagen Rabbits on a unicycle in front of Murray-Dodge Hall, where the group will later perform. The joke falls flat; 2,000 onlookers (mostly not affiliated with Princeton University) express mob outrage when he simply rides his unicycle off a ramp instead. “People were calling me a fraud, when I knew OF COURSE I was a fraud. That was the point,” Jillette later says. “I found myself playing a joke without a punch line.”

Penn Jillette Unicycle Stunt

Penn Jillette and his “Unicycle Jump” set up outside Murray-Dodge Hall. Photos from the Daily Princetonian.

November 5, 1918—Princeton voters decide whether Prohibition will continue in town after World War I is over. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ultimately renders this question moot, and national prohibition of alcohol remains in effect for approximately 14 years. When the ban is finally lifted, Princetonians will have their first legal drinks in 1933, at the Tap Room at the Nassau Inn.

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Campaign mailing, Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109), Box 354, Folder 1. Click to enlarge.

November 6, 1844—Election results for the New Jersey 3rd Congressional District are disputed on the grounds that students voted in Princeton (both from The College of New Jersey and Princeton Theological Seminary). The election was close—John Runk won by 16 votes. His opponent, Isaac G. Farlee, said that the Princeton students should not have voted; further, that since Farlee thought it could be assumed that most voted for Runk, he should win the seat instead. The House of Representatives itself ended up deciding the issue, voting that Princeton students were, indeed, legal residents of Princeton and eligible to vote in the district, setting a precedent regarding the definition of “resident.”

November 9, 1969—A fire almost completely destroys 76-year-old Whig Hall. The cause is determined to be a group of students smoking cigarettes inside at around 4:00 AM.

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Whig Hall, November 9, 1969, Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 142.

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.