A Brief History of Latinx Students at Princeton, 1880s-1990s

Although we are always continuously learning and expect to have more to say on this topic in the future, in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month we are presenting this brief history of Latinx students at Princeton University prior to this century.

It’s never clear who the “first” person of a given demographic might be, but here are some early records we have for Latinx students:

Pedro Rioseco, Class of 1888. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box SP12.

  • Pedro Rioseco, Class of 1888, was born in Cuba, where his father had been a cigar manufacturer. Rioseco attended secondary school at Fewsmith’s Academy in Philadelphia. At Princeton, he helped start a Spanish class and was known as Peter.
  • Harold Medina, the son of a Mexican immigrant father and a mother of Dutch and Swiss descent who banned Spanish from their home, came to Princeton in 1905 to join the Class of 1909. Medina struggled to fit in at first, but eventually found a robust social world on campus, joining the fencing, gun, and water polo teams and securing a position on the editorial board of the Princeton Tiger. Medina later had a long career as a federal judge as an appointee of the Truman administration, ultimately sitting on the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1951-1980.
  • A Puerto Rican student, José Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón, better known as  José Ferrer, was a member of the Class of 1933. He was born in San Juan, but his family moved to New York in 1914. At Princeton, Ferrer was involved in a few different aspects of show business. He directed an orchestra that played for student dances, the Pied Pipers, and Triangle Club gave him some further training for his future career as an entertainer. Ferrer became famous for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway and later on film, for which he won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, making him the first Latinx recipient of an Oscar. In 1985, Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Arts.

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A Hope and A Hypothesis: The Curious Case of the Sonia Sotomayor ’76 Interview

Briana Christophers ‘17, a rising senior at Princeton University, made a discovery in the University Archives that solved a mystery we archivists didn’t know existed. In March, Briana visited us at the Mudd Manuscript Library, a visit arranged by Mudd’s Assistant University Archivist for Technical Services, Alexis Antracoli, in response to a petition Briana helped author and circulate through the Latinx Collective. Alexis coordinated the visit to respond directly to the petition’s section about the lack of Latinx presence and history at Princeton. In that section, the Collective stated the following needs, to:

1) Compile information on the contributions of students of color to this campus and beyond.

2) Organize the Mudd Manuscript Library resources related to students of color and the Third World Center/Carl A. Fields Center.

3) Collect information from alumni to create a permanent Students of Color at Princeton archive.

Thus, the purpose of Briana’s visit—which I attended as did my colleague, Lynn Durgin—was to affirm the truth behind the Collective’s observation, brainstorm about different ways for the Archives to do better, and allow Briana a chance to comb through the sparse records we do have pertaining to the history of Latinx students at Princeton. In the course of her perusing the Historical Subject Files, Briana stumbled upon something that few current undergraduate students have ever seen before: a 3.5’’ floppy disk.

3.5-inch floppy disk found by Briana Christophers '2017.

3.5-inch floppy disk found by Briana Christophers ’17 in AC109, Historical Subject Files.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 3-9

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a graduate secures her spot on the Supreme Court, multiple fights break out in Nassau Hall at the same time, and more.

August 4, 1979—The University retires its IBM 370-158 and IBM 360-91 in favor of a new IBM 3033, a much faster processor with 4 MB of memory and a price tag of $3.45 million (approximately $11.35 million in 2015 currency). It is predicted to save operating costs in the long term.

August 6, 2009—The U.S. Senate confirms the appointment of Princeton alum Sonia Sotomayor ’76, making her the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court.

Sonia_Sotomayor_'76

Sonia Sotomayor ’76’s Nassau Herald (senior yearbook) photo.

August 7, 1805—What the faculty refer to as a “considerable disturbance” occurs in Nassau Hall. A later investigation will find, among other things, that a sophomore “had insulted one of his fellow students, without any provocation, by giving him some drink which he afterward told him contained some nastiness,” and “this was the beginning of the noise.” In a seemingly unrelated incident, another fight breaks out simultaneously when a sophomore begins kicking a large jug down the hallways.

August 8, 1843—The start of the first term is changed from November to August and opens with about 50 students.

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.

From the Archives: Princeton and the Supreme Court

Journalists and pundits are noting that Elena Kagan’s

confirmation to the Supreme Court last week marks the first time three women have served concurrently on

the high court. However, Kagan’s confirmation marks another historic

occasion — the first time in 168 years that three Princetonians have shared

the bench.

While 2010’s trio consists of Samuel Alito ‘ 72, Sonia

Sotomayor ’76, and Elena Kagan ’81, the 1842 trio consisted of Smith Thompson

‘1788, Peter V. Daniel ‘1805, and James Moore Wayne ‘1808.

justices1842_web

Justices Thompson

‘1788 (Undergraduate Alumni Records), Daniel ‘1805 (Dickinson University’s House Divided Project), and Wayne ‘1808 (Library of Congress).

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