This Week in Princeton History for March 27-April 2

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, eastern colleges convene to discuss the future of African Americans, a new invention draws interest, and more.

March 27, 1972—A petition to end coeducation is circulating among undergraduates, the Daily Princetonian reports, quoting one student: “I think college should be an ivory tower, and adding girls isn’t necessary.”

March 28, 1871—After one student is diagnosed with smallpox, panic on campus and among parents of current students prompts College of New Jersey (Princeton) president James McCosh to end the term two weeks early. He sends the students home.

March 30, 1967—150 delegates representing 65 Eastern colleges convene at Princeton University for the first conference of its kind to discuss “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate.”

Robert F. Goheen (center) with student attendees of “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate” conference, March 30, 1967. Office of the President Records (AC193), Box 456, Folder 7.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 10-16

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Princetonian says they can’t drink the water, the first “Gay Jeans Day” causes controversy, and more.

October 10, 1878—The Princetonian warns the administration in an editorial that the shortage of potable water on campus will likely drive students to drink things that are “stronger than water.”

October 11, 1989—Princeton’s first “Gay Jeans Day,” which encourages students to wear jeans to show support for gay rights, provokes controversy on campus.

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Flyer advertising Gay Jeans Day, 1989. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance Records (AC037), Box 1, Folder 5.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 23-29

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Blair Tower clock gets a sophomore makeover, students give Grover Cleveland a birthday present, and more.

March 23, 1899—Poet John Whitcomb Riley, whose best known work, “Little Orphant [sic] Annie,” has continued to inspire numerous other artists, gives a poetry reading in Alexander Hall.

March 24, 1985—A group of sophomores decorate the Blair Tower clock’s face with Mickey Mouse.

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Photo from Daily Princetonian.

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“We May Be Unable to Give You an Admission Decision”: The Women of the Princeton University Class of 1970

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Photo from Nassau Herald (1970).

In 2013, 26,642 people applied to the Princeton University Class of 2018. Princeton made offers of admission to 1,983 of these applicants, an acceptance rate of 7.4%. Though many find this competitiveness discouraging, clearly a significant number choose to try their odds anyway. Yet how many applications can one imagine Princeton would get if the school announced that they might end up rejecting all of those who applied? This was the dilemma faced by female students in the winter of 1969: whether to apply to a university unsure if it would admit a single woman.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an alum takes the school flag to the moon, Ella Fitzgerald performs, and more.

November 17, 1983—Diplomats from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Great Britain are in Alexander Hall to commemorate the bicentennial of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended America’s Revolutionary War. Princeton is chosen because the Continental Congress resided here in 1783.

November 19, 1969—Astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. ’53, third man to walk on the moon and Commander of the Apollo XII mission, brings a Princeton flag to the moon’s Ocean of Storms. Princeton President Robert F. Goheen observes that this is “a noble summit for the Orange and Black,” and Dean of the Faculty J. Douglas Brown orders Princeton’s rarely-flown flag to be raised atop Nassau Hall in honor of the occasion. The flag is typically flown only for Commencement exercises, or at half-staff upon the death of a faculty member.

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Princeton University’s flag, back from the moon and signed by Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53, Commander of NASA’s Apollo XII. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

November 20, 1936—A teenager from  Harlem performs at Princeton for the first time as the featured vocalist at a dance in the old gymnasium. At the 1990 Commencement exercises nearly 54 years later, Princeton will award the woman—Ella Fitzgerald—an honorary Doctorate of Music.

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Ella Fitzgerald with University president Harold Shapiro at Princeton’s 1990 Commencement. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 170.

November 21, 1933—A self-described “most desirable, good-looking northern girl, unfortunately stranded in the South” writes to the Daily Princetonian asking for a “most desirable, good-looking northern Princetonian” with whom to correspond. “Hurry up before I weaken,” she says. “I am in demand here.”

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.

History of Women at Princeton University

Written by Vanessa Snowden

For much of its history, Princeton University had the reputation of being an “old-boys’ school.” Starting in the fall of 1969, Princeton became co-educational, and nine women transferred into the Class of 1970, with slightly greater numbers in the two subsequent classes. Women who matriculated as freshmen in 1969 graduated in the Class of 1973, the first undergraduate class that included women for all four undergraduate years. However, the first steps towards co-education came as early as 1887, with the founding of Evelyn College. From its inception, this women’s institution was associated with Princeton University, and it was hoped that the link would be similar to the Radcliffe and Harvard University relationship. Unfortunately, Evelyn College closed in 1897, due to financial problems and a lack of support from Princeton.

For the next half-century, women instead made their presence known in unofficial positions. Wives and daughters of Princeton faculty and administrators succeeded in exerting significant influence on campus life as advocates for students as well as assistants in research. Isabella Guthrie McCosh, wife of James McCosh, the 11th president of Princeton, was deeply involved in protecting the health and welfare of Princeton students. As a result of her unflagging dedication, the campus infirmary was built and named in her honor.

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“Reminiscences of Mrs. McCosh,” June 1935. Auxiliary to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary Records (AC175), Box 2.

Women were also important forces in the academic world. Margaret Farrand Thorp, wife of English professor, Willard Thorp, often assisted with her husband’s research while simultaneously producing her own independent work. Fittingly, she wrote a book entitled Female Persuasion: Six Strong-Minded Women, which was published in 1949. Speaking of her lot as a female at Princeton, Thorp once quipped, “We who practice the pleasant profession of faculty wife are often amused by Princeton University’s apparent hostility to the feminine sex. Hostility is probably too strong a word. The situation is, rather, that for the University, the feminine sex does not exist.” (See William K. Selden, Women of Princeton, p. 33.)
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This Week in Princeton History for September 29-October 5

For last week’s installment in our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its students and alumni, click here.

For the week of September 29-October 5:

Students express their love for Great Britain, a segregationist governor draws protest, smoking is banned in class, and more.

September 29, 1762—Students put on a play entitled “The Military Glory of Great Britain” at the close of the annual Commencement ceremony in Nassau Hall. The play praises Britain for its superiority over France and Spain.

October 1, 1963—3500 people attend an hour-long rally to protest segregationist governor of Mississippi Ross Barnett’s visit to Princeton.

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Letter from Douglas D. Pedersen to Robert F. Goheen, Office of the President Records (AC#193), Box 425, Folder 2.

October 2, 1876—College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) President James McCosh announces that the New Testament will be studied in English (King James Version) rather than Greek.

October 4, 1960—Effective immediately, smoking is banned in Princeton’s classrooms and lecture halls. The rule does not apply to faculty offices or preceptorials, University President Robert F. Goheen ’40 explains, because “there is at least the hope that ash trays will be used.”

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Engineering Professor Philip Kissam (Class of 1919) smokes a pipe. Photo from 1960 Bric-a-Brac.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.