Series 10: John Maclean, Jr. Records

34 boxes (5 partial)

This collection is stored at Mudd Manuscript Library.

Requests will be delivered to Princeton University Archives, MUDD Reading Room .

Collection Creator: Princeton University. Office of the President..

Dates: 1752-1997.

Extent: 34 boxes (5 partial)

Languages: English.

Access Restrictions

Materials generated by the office of the president are closed for 40 years from the date of their creation. Some records relating to personnel or students are closed for longer periods of time.


John Maclean, Jr. was the eldest of six children of John Maclean, Sr. and Phoebe Bainbridge. His father was born in Glasgow, studied for the medical profession, and became a surgeon. At 24, the elder Maclean immigrated to the United States for political reasons. He was invited to take the vacant chair of natural philosophy, which included chemistry, at the College of New Jersey, becoming the institution's first professor of chemistry. He married in 1797, and John was born on March 3, 1800. Entering the College of New Jersey as a sophomore, he graduated in 1816 as the youngest in his class. He taught for a few months in Lawrenceville, New Jersey before earning a divinity degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1818 he was appointed as a tutor of Greek at the College of New Jersey, beginning a long, varied, and devoted career at his alma mater. Four years later he was elected to fill the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy, though this did not prevent him from subsequently teaching languages and literature. Maclean also served as the College's librarian from 1824 until 1849.

When James Carnahan wanted to resign as president and, later, close the College, citing falling enrollments, financial problems, and the necessity of cutting faculty salaries, Maclean convinced him to persevere. The energetic professor collected funds due the College and recruited additional faculty. Enrollment increased as a result, and Maclean was named vice president at the age of twenty-nine. In 1854 Maclean assumed the presidency. The following year Nassau Hall caught fire, forcing him to tighten the budget and raise funds from friends and alumni for the building's restoration. He contributed part of his own salary as well, and Nassau Hall was completely restored in 1860. During the Civil War Maclean and his faculty supported the Union cause, yet demonstrated understanding towards the plight of Southern students. In 1868 he resigned after half a century of service to the College of New Jersey. During his presidency he added 10 new professors to the faculty, and 895 students (an average of 64 per year) graduated.

Maclean never married. He lived on campus along with his two unwed sisters and dedicated his life to the students around him. According to published sources, Maclean often walked the campus during the night with his lantern, carrying food and a teakettle to the rooms of ailing students. The Macleans would bring particularly ill students into their own home, as well as lodging a worried relative if need be. Maclean kept a close watch on the students and was known to detect inappropriate behavior quickly, often pursuing delinquents at a run, but he was lenient when assigning penalties. He was generous with those who needed financial help and had a drawer full of watches and other items that students had pledged as payment but never redeemed. Students affectionately called him "Old Johnny" among themselves. Maclean was also involved in a plethora of associations and charities. These included religious, educational, prison reform, literary, and temperance societies. During his retirement he wrote a two-volume history of the College of New Jersey from the granting of its charter to the resignation of his predecessor. He died on August 9, 1886.

Jacob N. Beam, Class of 1896, initially organized Maclean's records in 1940. He created a useful and copious index to much of the material, dividing the collection into two groupings: letters and papers. He created a card catalog for these records, which was updated in 2001 to include the names of correspondents and dates of letters that were added to the collection after Beam's work. The card catalog is located in the lobby of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. The bulk of the records remain in Beam's order, though additional folders were added at the beginning of this series. Most of the collection relates to Maclean's tenure as president. It is divided into four subseries: General Materials, Correspondence, Subject Files, and Sermons and Addresses.


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Preferred Citation

Series 10: John Maclean, Jr. Records; 1752-1997; Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup, Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

    Title Date Container
    Subseries 10A: General Materials 1774-1997 Explore Multiple Containers
    Subseries 10B: Correspondence 1752-1898 Explore Multiple Containers
    Subseries 10C: Subject Files 1769-1920 Explore Multiple Containers
    Subseries 10D: Sermons and Addresses 1827-1886 Explore Multiple Containers

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