A commemorative 3-cent stamp from 1956 celebrating the bicentennial of Nassau Hall
New Light Presbyterians founded the College of New Jersey in 1746 in order to train ministers. The college was the educational and religious capital of Scottish Presbyterian America. In 1754, trustees of the College of New Jersey suggested that, in recognition of Governor Jonathan Belcher's interest, Princeton should be named as Belcher College. Belcher replied: "What a name that would be!" In 1756, the college moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Its home in Princeton was Nassau Hall, named for the royal House of Orange-Nassau of William III of England.
Following the untimely deaths of Princeton's first five presidents, John Witherspoon became president in 1768 and remained in that office until his death in 1794. During his presidency, Witherspoon shifted the college's focus from training ministers to preparing a new generation for secular leadership in the new American nation. To this end, he tightened academic standards and solicited investment in the college. Witherspoon's presidency constituted a long period of stability for the college, interrupted by the American Revolution and particularly the Battle of Princeton, during which British soldiers briefly occupied Nassau Hall; American forces, led by George Washington, fired cannon on the building to rout them from it.
In 1812, the eighth president of the College of New Jersey, Ashbel Green (1812–23), helped establish the Princeton Theological Seminary next door. The plan to extend the theological curriculum met with "enthusiastic approval on the part of the authorities at the College of New Jersey". Today, Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary maintain separate institutions with ties that include services such as cross-registration and mutual library access.
Before the construction of Stanhope Hall in 1803, Nassau Hall was the college's sole building. The cornerstone of the building was laid on September 17, 1754. During the summer of 1783, the Continental Congress met in Nassau Hall, making Princeton the country's capital for four months. Over the centuries and through two redesigns following major fires (1802 and 1855), Nassau Hall's role shifted from an all-purpose building, comprising office, dormitory, library, and classroom space; to classroom space exclusively; to its present role as the administrative center of the University. The class of 1879 donated twin lion sculptures that flanked the entrance until 1911, when that same class replaced them with tigers. Nassau Hall's bell rang after the hall's construction; however, the fire of 1802 melted it. The bell was then recast and melted again in the fire of 1855.
A Birds-eye view of campus in 1906
James McCosh took office as the college's president in 1868 and lifted the institution out of a low period that had been brought about by the American Civil War. During his two decades of service, he overhauled the curriculum, oversaw an expansion of inquiry into the sciences, and supervised the addition of a number of buildings in the High Victorian Gothic style to the campus. McCosh Hall is named in his honor.
In 1879, the first thesis for a Doctor of Philosophy Ph.D. was submitted by James F. Williamson, Class of 1877.
In 1896, the college officially changed its name from the College of New Jersey to Princeton University to honor the town in which it resides. During this year, the college also underwent large expansion and officially became a university. In 1900, the Graduate School was established.
In 1902, Woodrow Wilson, graduate of the Class of 1879, was elected the 13th president of the university. Under Wilson, Princeton introduced the preceptorial system in 1905, a then-unique concept in the US that augmented the standard lecture method of teaching with a more personal form in which small groups of students, or precepts, could interact with a single instructor, or preceptor, in their field of interest.
In 1906, the reservoir Lake Carnegie was created by Andrew Carnegie. A collection of historical photographs of the building of the lake is housed at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library on Princeton's campus. On October 2, 1913, the Princeton University Graduate College was dedicated. In 1919 the School of Architecture was established. In 1933, Albert Einstein became a lifetime member of the Institute for Advanced Study with an office on the Princeton campus. While always independent of the university, the Institute for Advanced Study occupied offices in Jones Hall for 6 years, from its opening in 1933, until its own campus was finished and opened in 1939. This helped start an incorrect impression that it was part of the university, one that has never been completely eradicated.
Coeducation at Princeton University
In 1969, Princeton University first admitted women as undergraduates. In 1887, the university actually maintained and staffed a sister college, Evelyn College for Women, in the town of Princeton on Evelyn and Nassau streets. It was closed after roughly a decade of operation. After abortive discussions with Sarah Lawrence College to relocate the women's college to Princeton and merge it with the University in 1967, the administration decided to admit women and turned to the issue of transforming the school's operations and facilities into a female-friendly campus. The administration had barely finished these plans in April 1969 when the admissions office began mailing out its acceptance letters. Its five-year coeducation plan provided $7.8 million for the development of new facilities that would eventually house and educate 650 women students at Princeton by 1974. Ultimately, 148 women, consisting of 100 freshmen and transfer students of other years, entered Princeton on September 6, 1969 amidst much media attention. Princeton enrolled its first female graduate student, Sabra Follett Meservey, as a PhD candidate in Turkish history in 1961. A handful of undergraduate women had studied at Princeton from 1963 on, spending their junior year there to study "critical languages" in which Princeton's offerings surpassed those of their home institutions. They were considered regular students for their year on campus, but were not candidates for a Princeton degree.
As a result of a 1979 lawsuit by Sally Frank, Princeton's eating clubs were required to go coeducational in 1991, after Tiger Inn's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied. In 1987, the university changed the gendered lyrics of "Old Nassau" to reflect the school's co-educational student body. In 2009-11, Princeton professor Nannerl O. Keohane chaired a committee on undergraduate women's leadership at the university, appointed by President Shirley M. Tilghman.
Princeton and Slavery
In 2017, Princeton University unveiled a large-scale public history and digital humanities investigation into its historical involvement with slavery, following slavery studies produced by other institutions of higher education such as Brown University and Georgetown University. The Princeton & Slavery Project began in 2013, when history professor Martha A. Sandweiss and a team of undergraduate and graduate students started researching topics such as the slaveholding practices of Princeton's early presidents and trustees, the southern origins of a large proportion of Princeton students during the 18th and 19th centuries, and racial violence in Princeton during the antebellum period.
Princeton & Slavery Project published its findings online in November 2017, on a website that included more than 80 scholarly essays and a digital archive of hundreds of primary sources. The website launched in conjunction with a scholarly conference, the premiere of seven short plays based on project findings and commissioned by the McCarter Theatre, and a public art installation by American artist Titus Kaphar commemorating a slave sale that took place at the historic President's House in 1766.
In April 2018, University trustees announced that they would name two public spaces for James Collins Johnson and Betsey Stockton, enslaved people who lived and worked on Princeton's campus and whose stories were publicized by the Princeton & Slavery Project. The project has also served as a model for institutional slavery studies at the Princeton Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.