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.
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.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an Oscar winner dies, the University holds a winter Commencement to send students off to war more quickly, and more.
January 26, 1992—Jose Ferrer ’33 dies at the age of 80. Though best known for his Oscar-winning portrayal of the title character in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1949, he had already made an impression on Princeton. The Class of 1933 named him the “Most Entertaining” and “Wittiest” among them upon graduation. Like his friend James Stewart ’32, Ferrer was an architecture major who got his start in show business through involvement in Triangle Club.
January 27, 1934—An Ice Carnival held in Baker Rink raises $900 for charity, which is donated to the Princeton Nursery School.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Triangle Show appears on national television, the Board of Trustees votes to establish the Graduate School, and more.
December 8, 1988—The Student Friends of the Art Museum get the first look at the renovated museum’s new wing.
December 9, 1947—Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress and co-founder of the NAACP, speaks in McCosh 50 during Hanukkah, with celebratory words about the founding of the modern state of Israel.
December 10, 1950—After suspension and flagging interest in the 1940s due to World War II, Princeton’s Triangle Show revives itself with the first of what will be many annual appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.
December 13, 1900—The Board of Trustees votes to establish a Graduate School, and appoints Andrew Fleming West, Class of 1874, its first dean.
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Written by Dan Linke
Today marks the 118th anniversary of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birth and 101 years since he entered Princeton University, the place he dubbed “the pleasantest country club in America.” That phrase, a great irritant to then University President John Grier Hibben, is found in his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which chronicles Amory Blaine’s time as an undergraduate and his fascination with eating clubs, sports, social life, and Fitzgerald’s true Princeton obsession, the Triangle Club.
Fitzgerald is the sole author of all the song lyrics for three consecutive Triangle Club shows (Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!, 1914-1915; The Evil Eye, 1915-1916; and Safety First, 1916-1917), a prolific record unmatched in the Club’s nearly 125 year history. When asked “what was your major?,” it is not uncommon for Club alumni to respond with “Triangle, with a minor in Chemistry” [or English, or any other subject that they ostensibly studied]. For Fitzgerald, the answer appears to be the same, as evidenced by his grade card and his failure to graduate.
Admitted on trial, as his card notes, Fitzgerald struggled with most of his classes and was placed in the fifth (the lowest) class throughout his three years. This should encourage aspiring writers everywhere, however, given that one of the greatest 20th century American authors never received higher than a B+ (a 3, on a 1-7 scale) in his English classes, but went on to write works still read avidly almost 75 years after his death.
Images taken from Office of the Registrar Records, Box 103. Click to enlarge:
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by: Brenda Tindal
Before the pomp and circumstance of reunions and Princeton University’s 265th commencement fades into memory, it is worth noting that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Class of 1972 because in many ways, this class bore witness to the revolutionary transformations taking place across the country. These students entered college during the tumult of the civil rights and women’s movements, and the Vietnam War with its anti-war protests. Perhaps, they too, were shocked by the news of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights patriarch Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassinations. In any case, Princeton and many other universities were not immune to the changes taking place nationally; in fact, some college campuses served as theaters for such social and political unrest.
For instance, in a subtle display of resistance, the student editors of the 1972 Bric-a-Brac, Princeton’s undergraduate yearbook, deviated from its traditional format—for what appears to be the first and only time—with the issuance of a two-volume annual, in hopes that “no one will construe [their] presentation as being characteristic of any particular student or Princeton ‘type.’” To this end, they assembled images of nuns at the colleges’ athletic events; photos of the bohemian variety of long-haired, bearded, and afro wearing Princetonians; and a psychedelic iteration of Nassau Hall’s clock tower. Moreover, Robert F. Goheen, then the president of the college, concluded his term as an agent of change and arbiter of diversity, exiting Princeton with several notches under his proverbial belt, including the hiring of Carl A. Fields, the first black administrator at an Ivy League college, and the admission of women in 1969. In addition, at their commencement, the Class of 1972 observed John Hope Franklin, renowned scholar of African American history, and Alvin Ailey, choreographer and founder of one of the most noted black repertory companies in the world, receive honorary degrees from Princeton.
Missing from the 1972 commencement and this narrative of tumult and triumph is the story of Vera Marcus, the first known undergraduate African American woman to graduate from the college as a “Princetonian.” For Ms. Marcus, the latter point is particularly important. To be sure, women were part of the intellectual and social life of the college long before Marcus entered in 1969. For example, there was the founding of Evelyn College for Women in 1887; the imprint left by the wives of deans and faculty members, such as Isabella McCosh, the wife of President McCosh and beloved 19th century figure of the college; the admittance of women as graduate students in the 1960s; and the presence of young women from neighboring colleges, who participated in a year-long concentrated study in “critical languages.” However, the caveat, as Ms. Marcus explains: “what distinguishes [her] class is that [they] were admitted as Princetonians and graduated as Princetonians.”