F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Great Writer, but a Not-So-Great Student

By Iliyah Coles ’22

Many people know about the success of the infamous writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some know that he attended Princeton University and even based his first novel, This Side of Paradise, on the Ivy League school. However, what many people don’t know is that Fitzgerald was not a star student. In fact, he wasn’t even an average student. F. Scott Fitzgerald was perhaps, in terms of academics, one of the worst students in his class. That could be one of the reasons why he decided to drop out during his junior year of college and join the army.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (named after his well-known, patriotic cousin) initially entered Princeton University with the Class of 1917. Fitzgerald had not done well academically in high school. His thoughts seemed to be always elsewhere, mostly on the girls that he spent time with. According to a 1966 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, when Fitzgerald applied to Princeton, the admissions board looked at Fitzgerald’s troubling grades and asked him why they should let him in. Fitzgerald then responded by stating that it was his seventeenth birthday. It is possible that Fitzgerald’s charming personality played a role in his acceptance. Fitzgerald himself stated in Ten Years of Princeton ’17, “Priggishness sits ill on Princeton.” Perhaps this is why he was granted admittance despite his questionable grades in high school.

Nevertheless, Fitzgerald entered the class of 1917 and arrived with big dreams. Fitzgerald became fixated with the social scenes on campus like clubs and sports. He even tried out for the football team during his freshman year, but he was cut on the first day of tryouts because he was so slim, as is indicated by a 1956 PAW article. After his football dreams were crushed, Fitzgerald focused on getting into one of the eating clubs (a substitute for Greek life at the university) and Triangle Club (the university’s biggest theater group). Fitzgerald was able to achieve these two goals and, due to his dedication to them, he found success and happiness in both. It is evident that Fitzgerald was really great at the social aspect of college, but that’s just about the only aspect he was great at.

F. Scott Fitzgerald. Photo from 1917 Nassau Herald.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 15-21

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, classes resume while war rages on,  Harvard raises money for Princeton, and more.

April 16, 1778—The Board of Trustees votes to attempt to resume classes, despite the war that interrupted them in the first place still being waged.

April 19, 1880—Sophomore Alfred M. Terriberry dies from drinking contaminated water. Several other students who drank from the same well are also ill. In response, Princeton officials promise to regularly check the purity of the wells supplying water to student lodging.

April 20, 2002—Three buses of Princeton residents, including undergraduate and graduate students from Princeton University, arrive in Washington, D.C. to join with at least 50,000 others in a rally to support the rights of Palestinians.

April 21, 1925—Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club gives the entire proceeds for its performance of “Laugh it Off” in Newark to their Princeton counterparts in support of the proposed Triangle Club Theater (later named McCarter Theater).

The star of “Laugh It Off” was Harvard’s H. E. Carillo ’26. Photo from Daily Princetonian Photographic Weekly.

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 February 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, hazing makes national headlines, McCarter Theater opens, and more.

February 18, 1878—During a particularly severe outbreak of hazing, a gunfight breaks out on Nassau Street between freshmen and sophomores, with one student being shot in the thigh. Coverage in the national Police Gazette will follow.

Full-page ad from the Daily Princetonian.

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Demystifying Mudd: Reprocessing

By Nicky Steidel ’18

This summer I have worked on reprocessing the Triangle Club Records, representing just one slice of the the holdings in Mudd Library.   

Triangle Club prides itself on being the the oldest touring collegiate original musical comedy organization in the nation” and boasts a whole cast of well-known alumni, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jimmy Stewart, José Ferrer, and Brooke Shields, among others. Historically, Triangle has garnered both praise and notoriety for its punchlines, kicklines, and male cross-dressing, although of course female students have participated since “A Different Kick” in 1968.

Mudd’s collection reflects Triangle’s longevity. It contains materials from 1883 until the present day in a variety of formats. I’ve handled everything from bound scores from the late 19th century to U-matic tapes (the forgotten predecessor of the VHS tape) to old shellac records (be careful with them, because they’ll shatter!) to a variety of musical theater ephemera (costume jewelry, set designs, even a seal embosser). Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 30-May 6

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the College of New Jersey takes a step toward becoming a university, a woman is named Dean of the College for the first time, and more.

May 1, 1989—The economics department is polling students about their experiences with sexism alongside the usual questions on course evaluations at the direction of chair Richard Quandt ’52, but students and faculty are confused about the motivations behind the survey.

May 2, 1879—The Princetonian reports that, in “One step towards a University,” “A medical Department has been started at the Halsted Observatory.”

Halsted Observatory, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD05, Image 8669.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 2-8

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the nation mourns Claiborne Pell, the Triangle Club loses their rehearsal space, and more.

January 2, 1884—Physics professor Cyrus Brackett testifies as an expert witness in a lawsuit between American Bell Telephone Company and the Peoples Telephone Company, one in a series known as the “telephone cases” in which the Supreme Court will rule on who should own the inventor’s patent to the telephone.

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Cyrus Brackett, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photograph Series (AC059), Box FAC12.

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This Week in Princeton History for December 12-18

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the debate team wins its argument over football with Harvard, a yearbook cover change draws complaint, and more.

December 12, 1896—First Lady Frances Fulsom Cleveland draws student notice as she shops for a house in Princeton for her family to move into after Grover Cleveland finishes his presidency.

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Frances Fulsom Cleveland. Grover Cleveland Collection (AC348), Box 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for December 5-11

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Hoagie Haven stops delivering sandwiches, the campus holds its first beauty contest, and more.

December 5, 1950—University employees vote on whether to participate in the Social Security plan.

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Social Security election notice, November 29, 1950. Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118), Box 128, Folder 3.

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A Lotta Kicks: 125 Years of the Triangle Club

By Jessica Serrao

Join us at the Mudd Library as we celebrate the 125th Anniversary of Princeton University’s Triangle Club with an exhibit featuring archival materials from the Triangle Club Records housed in the University Archives. The exhibit walks you through some highlights from the past century and a quarter bringing to light the extensive history of this Princeton standard. Playbills, photographs, sheet music, memorabilia, travel plans, costume sketches, and, of course, punny titles, can all be found in this exhibit, and to a much greater degree in the Triangle Club Records.

The history of the Triangle Club is long and involved, but it’s still kicking today. During the mid-nineteenth century, dramatics at Princeton began in fits and starts as it struggled to take hold within a college steeped in Presbyterian morals. By 1883, religious views softened and Triangle Club’s predecessor formed as the Princeton College Dramatic Association (PCDA). “David Garrick” was PCDA’s first production held May 10, 1883. By 1891, PCDA had joined forces with the University Glee Club to stage its first musical performance, “Po-ca-hon-tas.” It was so successful, it was performed again the next year with revisions.

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Some of the cast of “Po-ca-hon-tas,” 1891. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 93.

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Howard Edwards Gansworth and the “Indian Problem” at Princeton

For people of European descent carving out space for themselves in the present borders of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a major barrier: people already lived there. The nation did not regard this as an insurmountable hurdle, however. America tried a variety of things as it expanded westward: driving Native Americans across continually shifting borders, attempting to assimilate them into a dominant white culture, and employing a variety of approaches in between. As the United States consumed more and more territory occupied by American Indians who attempted to maintain ownership, conflicts worsened. In the late 19th century, a crisis point had been reached. In 1890 and 1891, the Lakota Sioux fought a losing battle over treaty violations and land use with the United States Army. The Ghost Dance War resulted in the deaths of dozens of combatants on both sides and hundreds of Lakota Sioux civilians during its best-known battle, the Wounded Knee Massacre. During this period, Native Americans came under particular scrutiny.

At the College of New Jersey (Princeton), opinions were mixed about this so-called “Indian Problem.” A few weeks after the Ghost Dance War ended, students debated what should be done. One claimed “that though the good Indian was not the dead Indian, yet the good Indian had not yet been found.” Samuel Semple of the Class of 1891, who was selected as the winner of the debate’s $1,000 prize, argued that the only thing to do was to adopt Richard Pratt’s program of forced assimilation, removing Native American children from their homes and sending them to boarding schools. Pratt later famously summed up his program’s rationale in this way: “All the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

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Cliosophic Society Archives (AC016), Box 84, Folder 31.

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