This Week in Princeton History for December 5-11

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, the junior class selects a speaker for a campus event, a concerned writer condemns political activity among students, and more.

December 5, 1860—The Chapel has a new organ “instead of the old one which has grated upon the feelings of all for the last long while.” Made by Ernest Hartwick of Newark, the new organ came at a price of about $1,000 (about $36,000 in 2022 dollars).

December 6, 1887—The Class of 1889 selects W. James George as its orator for the 1888 Washington’s Birthday celebration. George will use the opportunity to denounce monopolies, socialism, and intemperance in an address entitled “National Dangers.”

College of New Jersey (Princeton) Washington’s Birthday celebration program, 1888. Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records (AC200).

December 7, 1772—A writer in the New York Gazette expresses concern that John Witherspoon’s leadership of the College of New Jersey will improperly influence the students in a manner “like those in Boston…a Disgrace to all Order and Government.” Students should not engage in politics, the writer feels.

The Students in their public Exhibitions have very often entered deeply into the Party Politics and Contentions of England, both in former and latter Times, and in such manner as to give the greatest Offence to many who were present.

December 8, 1935—A steer named Tippy flees his home at G. F. Updike’s barn and leads police on what will ultimately be a 10-day chase through Princeton’s town and college campus. Updike will later say, “He’s the fastest, nastiest animal I have ever seen on four legs—just a streak of well-oiled lightning.”

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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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 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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Washington’s Birthday at Princeton

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.

1897 Washington's Birthday Program
Cover of the 1897 Washington’s Birthday Program,
Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records

The character of the holiday’s celebration changed significantly over time. The first Princeton observance of the first president’s birthday was noted in the February 1794 minutes of the Cliosophic Society. Clio’s observation of the occasion included an oration by Brother Gamma, a.k.a. Henry Kollock ’1794, which includes few details other than that it was received “to the great satisfaction of all.” The tradition seems to have been revived decades later, as the Archives’ Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records (AC200) contain event programs from the years 1873 to 1909.


Washington’s Birthday Parade, 1889
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.

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