The Papers of Henry Burling Thompson, Class of 1877, (1857-1935) consist of some 500 loose pieces of correspondence (much of it incoming letters), eight letterpress copy books, and one scrapbook of printed matter relating to the Princeton Endowment Fund campaign of 1919-1920. The loose letters are dated from 1906 through 1913, and all of them pertain to Princeton matters. The eight copy books contain copies of Thompson's outgoing correspondence in about 4500 pages, about 1200 of which deal with Princeton.
On the letterpress copy books (1889-1911): The chief interest of these letters, aside from Princeton matters, is in the volumes for 1895-1904 and 1904-1906, when Thompson was deeply involved in Delaware politics; and in Wilmington local history. Although there are company and business letters in nearly all the books, they are comparatively few in number and embody nothing like a history of Thompson's Bancroft Company. Except to a biographer the family and personal letters are of scant interest. From a literary standpoint the letters are totally uninteresting; Thompson was a businessman who said what he had to say directly and in as few words as possible. There is a handwritten list of Princeton-related letters by number for each of the copybooks.
On the loose correspondence (1906-1913): The letters are entirely related to Princeton. Because Thompson chaired the Board of Trustees for a period, and was chairman of the Grounds and Buildings Committee for 20 years, the bulk of t
hem refer to iss
ues related to these offices. A number refer to Curriculum Committee matters, and a few concern personal favors or opinions requested of Thompson as a trustee. Of significant interest are the proposals for alternative dining and housing systems at Princeton (i.e. Quad and Sophomore Commons plans), which involve controversies over the value of the club system and the nature of Princeton undergraduate social life in general. These controversies were part of Wilson's "academic ideals" conflict in 1910, which encouraged his decision to resign as president. There are letters from Woodrow Wilson (8), Theodore Roosevelt (2), William Gibbs McAdoo, Edwin Denby and a single letter to Col. E. M. House.
Biographical details may be obtained from Thompson's alumni file. A life trustee, he was elected a charter trustee in 1906, and for a period chaired the Board of Trustees as well as the Endowment, Alumni Rowing, and Grounds and Buildings committees. A summary of his major posts is as follows:
Grounds and Buildings: 1907-1928
Curriculum: 1907-1925, 1928-29
Administrative: 1919-1928, 1930-31
As chairman of the Grounds and Buildings Committee from 1909-1928, Thompson saw to the construction of twenty-five campus buildings, beginning with Holder Hall and ending with the University Chapel. He was also an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects and a friend of Woodrow Wilson; his correspondence with Wilson on committee matters during Wilson's presidency at Princeton is in the files.
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Henry Burling Thompson Papers; 1889-1913, Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.