This Week in Princeton History for February 27-March 5

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Colonial Club’s financial pressures force its closure, women march on Washington, and more.

February 28, 1946—Princeton University announces that women will live in student housing on campus for the first time, opening Brown Hall to married veterans after providing only single-gender accommodations at the institution for 200 years.

Couples arriving at Brown Hall, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP166, Image No. 6055.

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the Fight Against Japanese American Internment

This Sunday marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the mass expulsion of Japanese Americans from the west coast of the United States. Specifically, the order allowed the Secretary of War to designate certain regions as “military areas” from which anyone could be expelled at the discretion of the Secretary or his commanders. The order, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt about ten weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was defended by the federal government as a wartime protection measure.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Arthur Garfield Hays echoed the opinion of others in the organization when he initially wrote to a peer about his tendency to approve the actions of the government during crises; however, he soon after came to the conclusion that “we are safer in the long run if the government recognizes constitutional limitations, even in time of war.” Despite similar debates between board members, the ACLU quickly responded to the executive order by issuing several statements to Roosevelt and to John L. DeWitt, the commanding general of the Western Defense Command. The ACLU’s statements condemned Executive Order 9066 as discriminatory, pointing not only to the blatant prejudice against Japanese Americans, but also to the legal inequality that the order bolstered. In particular, the ACLU referred to the fact that the House Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration (also known as the Tolan Committee), which conducted hearings in February and March 1942, recommended that German and Italian “alien residents” be afforded the chance to attest their loyalty to the United States before civilian boards– a recommendation that the committee did not extend to Japanese Americans.

First page of an ACLU letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt in reaction to Executive Order 9066. American Civil Liberties Union Records (MC001), Subgroup 1, Volume 2394.

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Integrating Princeton University: Robert Joseph Rivers ’53

As we have previously pointed out, Princeton’s first African American undergraduates were not purposefully admitted: they were instead brought as part of a Navy training program during World War II. In 1945, Trustee Laurence G. Payson wrote to fellow member of the Class of 1916 John McFerran Barr to explain the presence of black students in response to apparent objections. “When the personnel [for the Navy unit] arrived its members included, unbeknownst to us in advance, four negroes.” Meanwhile, a law requiring tax-exempt institutions not to discriminate on the basis of race had recently passed in New Jersey. “If Princeton were to stand against the negroes who were admitted under the Navy War-time ROTC the Trustees would be in a very difficult spot.” He explained that future African American applications for admission would be evaluated by administrators at Nassau Hall (i.e., the Office of the President) rather than by the Office of Admission, then headed by Dean Radcliffe Heermance. (Heermance had revoked one black student’s offer of admission in the 1930s when he showed up to register for classes and his race became apparent.) In spite of Princeton’s wariness of challenge to its traditions, one young local African American resident found the presence of black students at the prestigious university inspirational in its seeming promise of new possibilities.

James Everett Ward ’47 and Arthur Jewell Wilson ’47 outside Laughlin Hall, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP215, Image No. 5644.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 15-21

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, final exams ask about America’s future, a sophomore wins an unusual contest involving a bus, and more.

August 15, 1945—Future Dean of the Princeton University Chapel Ernest Gordon is freed after 40 months as a prisoner of war in the Japanese Kwai River camps.

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Ernest Gordon, undated. Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel Records (AC144), Box 35.

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“Womanhood on Tiger Territory”: The First Women to Live in Princeton University Dormitories

We have previously written about the first women to take a class at Princeton University, unseating nearly two centuries of tradition. Today, we’re highlighting what our collections tell us about another group of women who changed Princeton’s established patterns as the first to live in campus dorms, another result of World War II’s radical changes to nearly every corner of American life.

During the war, many students left before graduating to enter military service. Completing their degrees posed challenges for both Princeton and its students. James M. Donnelly, Jr. ’43 wrote to administrator C. William Edwards on August 25, 1945. He hoped to return to Princeton, but there were special considerations. “I am also married and hope to bring my wife to Princeton when I return. However, the procedure I must follow to procure housing, with University aid, is also unclear.”

This wasn’t unclear only to Donnelly. Despite a commitment to allow its students to complete educations disrupted by war, the surge of returning veterans presented huge logistical problems for Princeton. Like Donnelly, many had married; some also had children. But residential colleges are not generally equipped to handle a large population of married undergraduates, and Princeton was no exception. This was, they anticipated, only a temporary problem, but nonetheless an urgent one.

One way Princeton responded to this new housing crisis was to build apartments, but these weren’t ready in time for Donnelly and many others. Thus, Princeton decided to have couples move into Brown Hall and a few other campus locations. For the first time in 200 years, women would live in dormitories at Princeton. If the students accepted these cramped accommodations, Princeton would allow them to return before the new Butler Apartments were constructed. A letter sent to one veteran by the Department of Grounds and Buildings warned, “None of the accommodations offered are at all satisfactory or desirable and very few have private baths or cooking facilities. Those which do are used for assignment to couples with a child.” Despite such ominous words, a significant number of veterans and their wives decided to come back to Princeton anyway.

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Couples arriving at Brown Hall, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP166, Image No. 6055.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 11-17

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the logistics of emancipation are debated, plans for a School of Science are approved, and more.

July 11, 1944—Robert S. Ward ’42, a forward artillery observer, is killed in action in France.

July 12, 1968—The Committee on the Education of Women at Princeton gives its final report to the Board of Trustees, urging that the University “move as quickly as possible to implement coeducation…”

July 13, 1792—Students at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) debate this question: “Is not the emancipation of slaves, without preparing them by proper education to be good citizens[,] inconsistent with humanity & sound policy?” (Source)

July 15, 1864—In recognition of the changing needs of the student body, the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) approve a plan to establish a second course of study at Princeton within a special School of Science. This marks the first time that undergraduate education at Princeton will not require the same coursework of all students regardless of their future careers.

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Interior of the School of Science, 1881. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP81, Image No. 3283.

For last week’s 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 July 4-10

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a new mandatory fitness program begins, a professor’s research revises a 50-year-old theory, and more.

July 4, 1938—A record-setting crowd of 25,000 turns out to view a fireworks display in Palmer Stadium that includes exploding renderings of a man on a flying trapeze, Nassau Hall, George Washington, and the emblem of the American Legion.

July 5, 1764—The Pennsylvania Journal reports that popular evangelist George Whitefield is at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) while making his way from New York to Philadelphia.

July 6, 1942—A new mandatory fitness program designed to ensure all Princeton University students are physically prepared for war service begins.

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Students run an obstacle course at Princeton University ca. 1941-1945. Official United States Navy photograph, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP214, Image No. 5630.

July 10, 1998—Science reports on Princeton University chemistry professor Warren Warren’s recent discovery of flawed assumptions in the 50-year-old theory underlying nuclear magnetic resonance spectoscopy (NMR), the technology used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. This work will lead to the use of new types of contrast in MRI scans and clearer images.

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Warren Warren and research associate Sangdoo Ahn with NMR spectrometer, 1998. Photo from Princeton Weekly Bulletin.

For last week’s 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 16-22

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Thomas Mann says he has found a new home, a miniseries about a professor premieres, and more.

May 16, 1959—In today’s issue of Nation, Princeton University’s resident psychiatrist, Louis E. Reik, writes of Cold War tensions among the undergraduate population, “the problem of whether the individual’s aggressive energies will be expressed in useful or destructive ways has never before cast such a deep and terrible shadow over human life. … That the days of unbridled individualism are gone is a lesson that, at bottom, no high-spirited young man wants to learn.”

May 17, 1927—The results of the Nassau Herald’s poll of graduating seniors are released. Isaac Hall is selected as the “Greatest Woman-Hater” of the Class of 1927.

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Photo from 1927 Nassau Herald.

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Princeton University During World War II

By April C. Armstrong *14 and Allie Lichterman ’16

In October 1939, as the Nazi war machine crushed Poland, Princeton University’s newly admitted freshman Class of 1943 voted Adolf Hitler the “greatest living being.” A year later, the next freshman class concurred with this decision. These votes reflect the widespread American apathy toward the Nazi threat prior to the United States entering the conflict.

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Margaret Dodds, diary entry for December 7, 1941 (presumably misdated here). Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 179, Folder 8.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 28-October 4

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a prominent feminist urges Princetonians to support women’s suffrage, dorm residents struggle to keep warm, and more.

September 29, 1915—On the same day as President Woodrow Wilson is in town but refusing to answer reporters’ questions about whether or not he supports female suffrage, Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale, author of What Women Want: An Interpretation of the Feminist Movement, gives an address in Alexander Hall calling for American women to be given the right to vote.

September 30, 1939—Ralph Wood, a modern languages instructor at Princeton, arrives at Jersey City after a harrowing 18-day journey across the Atlantic with 200 other people on board a boat that normally holds 12, having fled Germany during the outbreak of hostilities that will soon be known as World War II.

October 1, 1976—Although the heat would normally have been turned on in the dorms in accordance with New Jersey law at the beginning of October, instead students read an announcement letting them know that it will be delayed until October 11 due to a national energy crisis. As temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night, students begin bundling up to keep warm.

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A student bundled against the indoor chill at Princeton University, ca. Fall 1976. Photo from 1978 Bric-a-Brac.

October 4, 1997—At least 15 Princeton students join approximately 500,000 evangelical men at an all-male prayer rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the “Promise Keepers” organization.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.