This Week in Princeton History for May 17-23

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Asian American Students Association denounces anti-Asian and antisemitic prejudices on campus, local residents band with students to take revenge on a traveling show, and more.

May 17, 1942—Philosophy professor Theodore M. Greene condemns tutoring as “immoral and unpatriotic.”

May 21, 1990—The Asian American Students Association denounces harmful portrayals of Chinese and Jewish people in Triangle Club’s “Easy Street” and expresses concerns about the motivations in choosing these groups for mockery. “In the future, we hope that the same ‘consideration’ shown to ‘other minorities’ will be accorded to Asian Americans as well.”

Playbill for Triangle Club’s “Easy Street,” 1989. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 281. Lyrics to “Chinese Jewish Cowboy” were particularly troubling to some audience members, with lines like “they told me I filled all their quotas/Yes, I’m a demographic planner’s dream . . ./Well who needs a real resume/When looks can deceive/Who would ever believe/That he’d get into Princeton, oy veh!” and “Where never is heard a discouraging word/When you’re Chinese, or Jewish, or gay.”

May 22, 1874—James McCosh explains why he doesn’t believe higher education should be publicly supported and should instead rely on private donations, which he believes encourages greater freedom of thought: “Would Professor White have a college a mixture of Protestantism and Popery, and partly Christian and partly Atheistic? Now, sir, we have these colleges, and let them go on; let us call forth the liberality of the people, and I believe you will get that liberality.”

May 23, 1851—Students and local residents of Princeton, disappointed in Barnum’s traveling menagerie and museum, call it a “humbug,” join forces, seize one of its wagons, and throw it into the D & R canal.

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.

Yellowface in Princeton University’s 20th-Century Triangle Club

Recently, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the history of racism at Princeton University. As we’ve worked to help those trying to research this topic, we realized that we’ve highlighted some types of racism more than others on this blog. In order to help researchers locate materials that may assist them in constructing a fuller picture of the history of white supremacy at Princeton, today’s post considers some examples of racism against Asians through the lens of yellowface in Triangle Club performances in the first half of 20th century.

Yellowface is a form of minstrelsy that mocks East Asians. It rose in popularity in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was closely linked to anti-Black prejudice. As Krystyn R. Moon has explained, both blackface minstrelsy and yellowface are uniquely American phenomena, and yellowface drew on the tropes of blackface (including physical caricature, hybridized musical styles, and deliberate mockery of accents and dialects) to convey messages about nonwhite inferiority. Blackface primed audiences to understand the underlying meaning of yellowface. Yellowface became one of many ways Americans expressed strong anti-Asian (especially anti-Chinese) sentiment in this period and emphasized the idea that Asians could never become Americans.

As was the case nationwide, blackface minstrelsy seems to have predated yellowface at Princeton. This image is taken from the 1889 Bric-a-Brac.

Alongside the examples of redface and blackface in the University Archives, we also find incidents of yellowface in Princeton’s past. White students frequently played roles of non-white characters in the Triangle Club prior to World War II. Though the most common non-white characters they played were Native Americans, there were also a handful of East Asian characters in Triangle productions. These show evidence of the minstrelsy inherent in yellowface. Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for December 23-29

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Triangle Club performs in Cincinnati, the Board of Trustees decide to meet in Princeton for the first time, and more.

December 23, 1953—Campus proctors catch Ovel Withers, a former Princeton V-12 student and Harvard graduate student, who has been committing serial burglary across the Ivy League.

December 24, 1912—On it’s longest annual tour to date, the Triangle Club performs “Once in a Hundred Years” in Cincinnati.

Publicity photo for Princeton University Triangle Club’s “Once in a Hundred Years,” 1912. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 256.

December 25, 1752—The Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey decides to hold their next meeting in Princeton rather than in Elizabeth.

December 27, 1898—Franklin Woolman D’Olier (Class of 1898) sees a boy struggling after falling through the ice in the Delaware River near Burlington, New Jersey, and rescues him. For this he will be awarded a medal from the Life Saving and Benevolent Association of 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 December 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, New Jersey’s governor pardons the marching band’s drum major, Jimmy Stewart’s singing gets positive reviews, and more.

December 16, 1981—Drum Major Stephen Teager ’82 will not appear in Princeton Municipal Court today as planned, thanks to an 11th-hour pardon by Gov. Brendan T. Byrne ’49. Teager would have faced charges of parading without a permit for causing congestion on Witherspoon Street when he led the marching band in a victory parade on November 23. “There’s no question I was guilty,” Teager says. The penalties could have earned Teager a fine of $1,100 and a jail sentence of up to 210 days.

Editorial cartoon depicting the arrest of Stephen Teager ’82, Princeton Alumni Weekly ,December 14, 1981.

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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

Ask Mr. Mudd: “Levee Song” and Princeton’s Minstrel Shows

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Is it true that the University of Texas school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” has a Princeton University connection? Where did the song come from, and why don’t Princeton students sing it anymore?

A. “The Eyes of Texas” is set to a tune best known today as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Both use a melody first published as “Levee Song” in the College of New Jersey (Princeton)’s songbook, Carmina Princetonia, in 1894. With the new lyrics as “The Eyes of Texas,” the song was first published in The University of Texas Community Songbook in 1918.


Carmina Princetonia, 1894. Princeton Music Collection (AC056), Box 2.

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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.


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

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This Week in Princeton History for May 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 first Triangle Show is performed, two freshmen kick a soccer ball to Manhattan and back, and more.

May 2, 1983—Reporters descend on Princeton University to ask current students for their reaction to the news that Brooke Shields has been admitted to the Class of 1987.

Pages from Princetonian_1983-05-04_v107_n063_0001

Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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Sue Jean Lee and the Women of Triangle Club

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.


Publicity photo for “Katherine,” 1892. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 246.

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