This Week in Princeton History for May 9-15

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Lyndon B. Johnson asks Princeton intellectuals to “cool it,” students mourn the death of a classmate, and more.

May 9, 1807—The New York Weekly Inspector identifies the recent rebellion at Princeton as part of larger trends in American society:

The conduct of students on this occasion, although extremely reprehensible, is perfectly consistent with the tenets of our quack politicians, our sticklers for human perfectibility. The same mental epidemic which has crazed Europe, and is extending its baleful ravages throughout the civilized world, has contaminated these young rights-of-boy politicians.

May 11, 1966—After receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws at a special ceremony at Princeton University’s new Woodrow Wilson School building, Lyndon B. Johnson asks an audience of over 3,000 for support of his policies in Vietnam while antiwar protesters carry placards outside. “The responsible intellectual,” Johnson says, should “‘cool it’, to bring what my generation called ‘not heat but light’ to public affairs.”

May 13, 1977—The Daily Princetonian reports that the mathematics department has admitted a 15-year-old Ph.D. student, Eric R. Jablow *83.

May 15, 1870—The sudden death of George Wilson Pillow, Class of 1871, has “cast a deep gloom over the college.”

George Wilson Pillow, Class of 1871. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box SP02.

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 13-19

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, an NAACP official’s lecture meets with a polarized reception, Jean Shepherd first appears on campus, and more.

December 13, 1813—John Randolph (Class of 1791) accuses John Witherspoon of having embezzled money from him when he was a student and derides the education he was given at Princeton: “burning with the thirst of knowledge (which I was not permitted to slake at the fountain of Nassau)… I can truly say, that except from my mother, who taught me to read, I never learned any thing [sic] from one of my preceptors.”

December 16, 1948—NAACP secretary Walter White lectures to about 400 Princeton students on the detrimental effect of racial segregation and discrimination. Opponents to the efforts of Princeton’s Liberal Union, who sponsored the talk, throw snowballs with rocks through the windows. White will later write about the audience: “There was a sternness on their faces which was stirring to see. What had been for some of them an abstract principle of academic democracy had been jelled by the puerile act of a few into a holy crusade.”

December 17, 1956—Nationally-known humorist disc jockey Jean Shepherd speaks to his followers in McCosh 46, further inspiring the fledgling “Milling Movement,” supported by a group of fans who refer to themselves as the “Night People.” This is Shepherd’s first performance in Princeton, but will not be his last: he will appear more than 30 times over the next 40 years.

Jean Shepherd and Frank King ’71, WPRB, April 3, 1970. WPRB Records (AC306), Box 10.

December 19, 1967—Princeton politics professor William W. Lockwood makes waves along with 13 other eminent scholars who issue a statement on this day printed in newspapers from the New York Times to the San Francisco Examiner asserting that their support of the Vietnam War represents “the moderate segment of the academic community” who “must now be heard, lest other voices be mistaken for majority sentiment.”

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 January 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the cost of attendance is estimated at $250-$300 per year, a sophomore has an unfortunate experience with a squirrel, and more.

January 5, 1972—The Anthropology faculty vote to adopt a statement opposing the return of the ROTC to Princeton. “ROTC has nothing in common with the humanitarian values stressed by the university, within the curriculum or outside it.”

January 6, 1830– The Augusta Chronicle prints cost comparisons for different colleges, noting that for a Philadelphia parent to send a student to Harvard or Yale it would cost about $300 per year, but $250 per year for Princeton because of the reduced traveling expenses. Parents in Georgia should expect a Princeton education to cost about $300 per year in total.

January 8, 1889—The Washington’s Birthday debate question is announced: “Resolved, That the Annexation of Canada would be detrimental to the United States.”

Program for Washington’s Birthday Exercises, College of New Jersey (“Princeton College”), February 22, 1889. Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records (AC200).f

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This Week in Princeton History for July 13-19

After an unscheduled but unavoidable delay, we are returning with our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni. In this week’s installment, a rising sophomore is unable to avoid being drafted despite his opposition to the Vietnam War, a recent graduate’s senior thesis provides suggestions for improving bridge safety in town, and more.

July 13, 1972—Brian K. Kemple ’75, unable to escape the draft by any legal means, is compulsorily inducted into the U.S. Army. Kemple, who will train to be a Russian-language interpreter, is opposed to the Vietnam War.

July 14, 1964—A new local ordinance banning the purchase of alcoholic beverages for minors means Princeton University will no longer throw a beer party for the underclassmen who participate in the Cane Spree.

July 15, 1991—Janet McKay *74 becomes president of Mills College.

July 16, 1985—Elizabeth Jones ’83 is vindicated: Though no immediate action followed after she sent her senior thesis to the Mercer County engineer, the Harrison Street bridge is now closed for repairs. Jones, a civil engineering major, had inspected the bridge and found a broken support strut, rusted bracing, and other hazards that rendered the entire structure dangerous.

Harrison Street Bridge, ca. 1910s. Historical Postcard Collection (AC045).

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 May 11-17

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an angry bystander punches a graduate student protester, a professor arrives in Athens after drifting 100 miles at sea, and more.

May 11, 1966—Nearly 400 protesters demonstrate their opposition to the American involvement in the Vietnam War during U. S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to Princeton University. (Johnson is present for the dedication of the Woodrow Wilson School.) A bystander reportedly expresses disagreement with the protesters by punching a graduate student involved.

Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Whig-Clio representatives meet with Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Stewart gives his last student theater performance, and more.

May 4, 1867—After Princeton’s baseball team defeats Yale 58 to 52, both teams have dinner together at Mercer Hall, parting “the best of friends after their short acquaintance.”

May 5, 1970—Nine members of Whig-Clio and two journalists from the Daily Princetonian meet with Richard Nixon’s chief foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger, at the White House. What is usually a routine 4-day annual “Project Update” has become, at the direction of organizers Christopher Godfrey ’72 and Deborah Leff ’73, a vehicle to communicate Princeton’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the purpose of the Princeton Strike to officials in Washington.

May 6, 1932—In response to its notable success earlier in the spring, which drew Mary Pickford and representatives from Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Fox to Princeton to attend performances of the play, Theatre Intime restages “Nerissa” with its original cast. Jimmy Stewart ’32 is giving what is expected to be the last acting performance of his life in the supporting role of “McNulty.”

Jimmy Stewart ’32, at right, as “McNulty” in “Nerissa,” Spring 1932. Theatre Intime Records (AC022), Box 17.

May 10, 1876—Students attend the opening of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the first official World’s Fair in the U.S., which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Arthur Bryan, Class of 1878, will later write in the class history book: “A special train was chartered to take us to and from the Centennial grounds, and early in the morning it bore us rapidly away from Princeton. … The ride back from Philadelphia afforded no opportunity for sleeping, as the noise made by singing, patriotic speeches and cat-calls prohibited every approach toward somnific obliviousness.”

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.

Dear Mr. Mudd: War, Epidemics, and Suspended Classes at Princeton

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Has Princeton University ever had to close the campus before? Or have a lot of students been displaced and had to leave and/or study at home for some other reason in the past?

A. In 2020, Princeton University suspended residential instruction after Spring Break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was probably the first time anyone within the Princeton community could remember something much like this happening, but within the full history of Princeton, it was not unprecedented. Due to war or epidemic, Princeton has ceased normal operations several times.


1776-1777: Revolutionary War

The earliest records we have found related to students leaving campus because of a threat are from 1776. On November 29, 1776, John Witherspoon called the students of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) together to formally dismiss them so they could flee the rapidly approaching British army. Taking only what they could carry with them and leaving the rest to become spoils of war, the students said good-bye to one another and left campus.

Nassau Hall, New American Magazine, 1760. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

 


1832: Cholera

The first illness to have caused campus to close that we know of was a global cholera pandemic. Classes ended early and Commencement was called off. The Board of Trustees recorded this in their minutes for their September 25, 1832 meeting:

Excerpt from the Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), September 25, 1832. (See transcript below.) Board of Trustees Records (A120), Volume 3.

The Committee appointed to attend the examination of the Senior Class Reported, that by reason of the alarm occasioned by the threatened approach of Pestilence, it became impossible to keep any of the College Classes together, in consequence of which the examination was omitted.

The minutes of the Faculty for August 7, 1832 and September 12, 1832 give more details of what happened:

Excerpt from the Minutes of the Faculty of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), Summer Session 1832 (see transcript below). Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118), Volume 3.

[August 7]

Agreeably to a resolution of the Faculty a printed letter was sent to the parents & guardians of the students informing them that, in consequence of the dispersion of nearly all the students, the Exercises of College have been suspended, & that, whenever it shall be deemed to be safe & expedient for the students to return, due notice will be given.

 

[September 12]

By order of the Faculty, letters were sent to the parents & guardians of the students, giving them notice that the next session of College will commence on Thursday the 11th of October next.

Degrees were awarded to the Class of 1832 in absentia.


1861-1865: Civil War

We’ve previously told you about the significant number of students who left Princeton in 1861 after the outbreak of the Civil War. Although classes were still being offered on campus, some students, like Josias Hawkins of the Class of 1861, had to complete their degrees at home.


1871: Smallpox

Panic among parents after a student was diagnosed with smallpox in 1871 promoted James McCosh to end the school year two weeks early. The Nassau Literary Review observed

Everybody feared, or pretended to fear everybody else, and ‘vaccination’ and ‘small pox’ were the principal topics.


1880: Typhoid

In 1880, a typhoid (“enteric fever”) epidemic killed 10 (out of the total 473) students at Princeton, which among other things meant that the semester ended a few weeks early. From April through July, about 40 Princeton residents fell ill with what public health officials later deemed to have been typhoid. The cause was apparently a combination of contaminated well water and improper drainage of sewage from campus buildings and boarding houses.


1916: Polio

The start of classes was delayed until October 10 in 1916 in an effort to curb a particularly deadly polio epidemic. Five days after the late start of classes, a 17-year-old freshman who had entered that week as part of the class of 1920, Eric Brünnow, died of polio. This was the only case of polio among student body and among the families of faculty and staff. Although the infirmary’s physicians traced the point of infection to Brünnow’s travels that summer (including a trip to New York), rather than having been contracted locally, the campus naturally felt a strong sense of alarm.The Princeton Alumni Weekly attributed a drop in freshman enrollment, down 14% from the previous year, to widespread concerns about the polio epidemic.


1970: Vietnam War

In 1970, following the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, the University suspended final exams in May as part of an overall university protest strike, and students were allowed to complete their work the following October.

A large group of people, some holding flags. In the foreground, a man is wearing a t-shirt with "STRIKE" written over a closed fist on the back.

Strike Rally at Princeton, May 1970. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP095, Image. No. 1942.

 


Though wars and epidemics have shut Princeton down several times over the past centuries, Princeton weathered others by significantly adjusting operations. Classes went on during the flu pandemics of 1918 and 1957 and World War I and World War II, but daily life on campus was radically different for those who were here then. In an institution with a history as long as ours, it is perhaps more surprising that significant disruptions have been as uncommon as they have been.

Sources:

Board of Trustees Records (AC120)

Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Health of the State of New Jersey, 1880. Camden: Sinnickson Chew, 1881.

Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118)

Papers of Princeton

 

For further reading:

Armstrong, April. “1957 Epidemics at Princeton.”

Armstrong, April C. “‘The Present Unsettled State of Our Country’: Princeton and the Civil War.”

Armstrong, April C. “The Year Princeton University Delayed the Start of Classes until October 10.”

Armstrong, April C. and Allie Lichterman. “Princeton University During World War II.”

Bernstein, Mark F. “Why Princeton Was Spared.” Princeton Alumni Weekly, December 17, 2008.

Shen, Spencer. “Princeton University During World War I.”

van Rossum, Helene. “The Princeton Strike, 1970.”

This Week in Princeton History for April 29-May 5

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, 80% of students skip class in protest, the Princetonian interviews Phillis Schlafly, and more.

April 30, 1999—The Graduate School receives a record number of applications in its first year accepting online submissions.

May 1, 1970—Roughly 80% of students skip class as part of a massive general strike in protest of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia that takes over campus activities.

Many students attended a protest at Mather Sundial rather than attending classes on May 1, 1970. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP94, Image No. 1910.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, competing protests take place on Nassau Street, dormitory phones get voicemail, and more.

March 4, 1965—Competing groups of students, faculty, families, and other locals march in Palmer Square, one group to protest escalation of America’s military intervention in Vietnam and the other to support it. The group supporting military intervention ends their demonstration by laying down their protest signs and singing “Old Nassau,” while opponents gather signatures for a petition asking for an end to the bombing.

Image from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 8-14

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a graduate becomes governor of Georgia, the first gymnasium opens, and more.

January 8, 1999—Six cases of alcohol poisoning and other incidents attendant to the event will lead University President Harold Shapiro to ban the Nude Olympics, which occur for the last time at Princeton on this night.

Daily Princetonian cartoon depicting press attention at the Nude Olympics, 1991. For more about the history of this event and why it no longer occurs, please see our previous blog.

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