Publication: Parents Handbook, 2005-06

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Princeton’s History

For “the Education of Youth in the Learned Languages and in the Liberal Arts and Sciences,” the Province of New Jersey granted a charter—in the name of King George II—to the College of New Jersey. Dated October 22, 1746, the charter was unique in the colonies, for it specified that “any Person of any religious Denomination whatsoever” might attend. The College’s enrollment totaled 10 young men, who met for classes in the Reverend Jonathan Dickinson’s parlor in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1756 the College moved to its new quarters, Nassau Hall, in Princeton.

Nassau Hall, named to honor King William III, Prince of Orange (of the House of Nassau), was one of the largest buildings in the colonies. For nearly half a century it housed the entire College—classrooms, dormitories, library, chapel, dining room, and kitchen. During the American Revolution it survived occupation by soldiers from both sides and today bears a cannonball scar from the Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777). The federal government recognized the historical significance of “Old Nassau” by awarding it national landmark status and by issuing an orange and black commemorative three-cent stamp in celebration of its 1956 bicentennial.

In 1780 an amended charter declared that the trustees should no longer swear allegiance to the king of England, and in 1783 the Continental Congress met in Nassau Hall, thus making it the capitol of the United States for a short time. Nine Princeton alumni attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787, more than from any other American or British institution. Not surprisingly, the College’s revised charter of 1799 called for the trustees to support the new Constitution of the United States of America.

As part of the sesquicentennial celebrations in 1896, the College of New Jersey changed its name to Princeton University and adopted as an informal motto “Princeton in the nation’s service,” the title of the keynote speech by Woodrow Wilson, then a faculty member. Six years later Wilson became Princeton’s 13th president. During his term of office (1902–10) plans for building the Graduate College were finalized, and what had been the College of New Jersey began to grow into a full-scale university.

As Princeton looked toward expansion, Wilson focused on the quality of the individual teaching and learning experience. He is credited with developing small discussion classes called preceptorials, which to this day supplement lecture courses in the humanities and social sciences.

Wilson doubled the size of the faculty, created an administrative structure, and revised the curriculum to include general studies for freshmen and sophomores and concentrated study for juniors and seniors. He proposed that the undergraduate dormitories be divided into quadrangles or “colleges” in which students would live with resident faculty masters and have their own recreational facilities. A variation on this plan became a reality in 1982 when five residential colleges were organized for freshmen and sophomores.

In 1996–97 Princeton University celebrated its 250th birthday and reemphasized its historic commitment to community service. At that time, in recognition of the increased outreach of the University and its alumni throughout the world, the informal motto was expanded to include “and in the service of all nations.”

From James Madison, Class of 1771, through Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, and continuing today, every Princeton student shares the tradition of educational excellence begun more than 250 years ago. The few books in the Dickinson parlor were the seeds for 55 miles of shelving and more than five million volumes in Firestone Library. The original quadrangle—Nassau Hall, the president’s house, and two flanking halls—has grown into a 600-acre main campus with more than 160 buildings. The “learned languages”—Latin and Greek—have been joined by many ancient and modern languages and an array of computer dialects.

Today, more than 1,200 full and part-time faculty members teach at Princeton; collectively they publish more than 2,000 scholarly documents a year. Princeton’s professors form a single faculty that teaches both undergraduate and graduate students.

Originally an institution devoted to the education of young men, Princeton became coeducational in 1969. Today, approximately 4,700 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students are enrolled here. Virtually all undergraduates and about two-thirds of graduate students live on campus.

Princeton is one of the smallest of the nation’s leading research universities. Its size permits close interaction among students and faculty members in settings ranging from introductory courses to senior theses.

The quality of Princeton’s faculty is mirrored by its students, who bring with them the promise of outstanding accomplishment both in and out of the classroom. Here your daughter or son will have an opportunity to learn from fellow students as well as the faculty in a setting that encourages personal growth, leadership development, and long-lasting feelings of community.

University Legends and Lore

Dei Sub Numine Viget. The University’s motto translates: “Under God’s power she flourishes.”

Why orange and black? When your daughter or son comes home, you may see all kinds of orange and black clothing. As early as the 1860s, Princetonians began wearing orange ribbons at athletic competitions, perhaps in reference to William III, Prince of Orange (of the House of Nassau), for whom Nassau Hall was named. When students began to write class numerals in black ink on their orange ribbons, the two colors became associated. The tradition was solidified within a decade.

The trustees adopted orange and black as Princeton’s official colors in 1896, despite a professorial plea that the true colors of the House of Nassau were orange and dark blue. But by then no one was about to change the title of the beloved song “The Orange and the Black” to “The Orange and the Blue.”

Mascot. Princeton’s mascot, the tiger, was likewise adopted at the end of the 19th century through custom rather than proclamation, ironically at about the same time the Class of 1879 donated a pair of monumental lions to guard Nassau Hall’s entrance. Throughout the 1880s football players sported wide orange and black stripes on their jerseys, stockings, and stocking caps. Sportswriters of the day referred to some of the players as tigers. A popular cheer used “Tiger!” as a rallying cry. College songs began to refer to tigers. In 1882 the senior class issued a humor magazine called the Princeton Tiger. In 1893 one of the eating clubs, the Inn, changed its name to Tiger Inn.

By the turn of the century, a pair of marble tigers bearing shields appeared on the posts of the gateway north of Little Hall; another pair appeared on the north wall of McCosh Hall in 1907. In 1911 the Class of 1879 substituted A. P. Proctor’s bronze tigers for the lions flanking the front steps of Nassau Hall.

These early tigers were undoubtedly assumed to be male. In 1969, the year coeducation was introduced, Bruce Moore’s bronze tigers for the Adams Mall between Whig and Clio Halls were created male and female. At the 1973 Yale game, the football mascot—a male student clad in a plush tiger costume and papier mâché head—was joined by a tigress with orange bows on her head and tail.

Alma Mater. “Old Nassau,” first verse:

Tune ev’ry heart and ev’ry voice,

Bid ev’ry care withdraw,

Let all with one accord rejoice,

In praise of Old Nassau.

In praise of Old Nassau we sing,

Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!

Our hearts will give, while we shall live,

Three cheers for Old Nassau.