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.
Generally ignored or barely noted by Princetonians today, Washington’s Birthday was one of the most important campus events during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The day was marked in a variety of ways such as athletic contests, musical entertainment, and plays. The celebration was capped off by an oratorical contest, where each class selected a representative to compete for a cash prize, usually sponsored by the Nassau Literary Magazine.
Cover of the 1897 Washington’s Birthday Program, Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records
Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, Box SP1
For much of its lifespan, the celebration appears to have been raucous, emphasizing a spirit of class rivalry, especially between freshmen and sophomores. Inter-class hazing was frequent, and an element of humor permeated each program, especially in the oration delivered by the senior class speaker, who was permitted to digress from the patriotic speeches expected of the other three classes.