- Series 11: James McCosh Records
Series 11: James McCosh Records
9 boxes (3 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
Extent: 9 boxes (3 partial)
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.
James McCosh was the first president since John Witherspoon who was not an
alumnus of the College of New Jersey. Many similarities have been noted
between the two men. Both were born in Scotland and graduated from the
University of Edinburgh. Witherspoon was inaugurated in 1768, and McCosh was
inaugurated one hundred years later in 1868. They died one hundred years
apart, almost to the day, and like all presidents until Woodrow Wilson, both
McCosh was born April 1, 1811 on a farm in Ayrshire, Scotland. His father,
who died when James was nine, had decided that he should be educated for the
ministry. McCosh attended Glasgow University and then Edinburgh University.
In Edinburgh he joined debating societies, discussing such issues as
theology and the power of patronage. He sided with several others in
believing that the major landowners should not have the final say on who
became the minister of a congregation. This issue would resurface later.
Inspired by his professor, Thomas Chalmers, McCosh and other students went
to the poorer districts of Edinburgh to preach and do missionary work. He
also began to study philosophy and created the groundwork for what would
become his most noted published work , The Method of
Divine Government, Physical and Moral. Licensed to preach in
1833, his first assignment was the Abbey Chapel in Arbroath; his second at
Brechin in Forfarshire, where he met his wife, Isabella Guthrie. The two
were married in September 1845. In 1843 "The Disruption" occurred when
McCosh, along with one-third of his fellow ministers, left the security of
the established Church of Scotland to begin the Free Church of Scotland. The
rebellion was caused by the increased interference of Great Britain's
central government in church affairs, with ministers being settled in
parishes against the will of the people.
McCosh also disagreed with the lack of weight given to supernatural powers in
John Stuart Mill's System of Logic and wrote
The Method of Divine Government, Physical and
Moral in response. The work received much recognition and led to
his appointment to the chair of logic and metaphysics at Queen's College,
Belfast. He spent 16 years in Ireland, published several other works, and
became well known in the English-speaking world. He was one of the few
clergymen who agreed with the theory of evolution, albeit within limits. He
taught that it served "to increase the wonder and mystery of the process of
creation." His published lecture on this subject was The Religious Aspect of Evolution.
McCosh was offered and accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey
in 1868. He found an institution that was in need of repair after the
turbulence caused by the Civil War, and McCosh, an expert fundraiser,
undertook great improvements. He added distinguished faculty, increased the
size of the student body, developed elective courses, bought scientific
equipment, founded schools of science, philosophy, and art, added buildings,
and enhanced the campus landscape. McCosh believed that the body as well as
the mind should be cultivated, and on his arrival, he announced that he
would build a gymnasium. When the Bonner-Marquand Gymnasium was completed a
year later, it was the first college gymnasium built in the United States.
McCosh also added Chancellor Green Library (1873), the Marquand Chapel
(1881), and the Observatory (1869), among other buildings, while increasing
the treasury by three million dollars. During his presidency The Daily Princetonian, The
Tiger, and the Bric-a-Brac were
founded, and extracurricular activities that evolved into the Triangle Club,
the Glee Club, and intercollegiate football were initiated. With all these
accomplishments to his credit, it is no wonder that McCosh referred to the
College of New Jersey as "me college." His students affectionately referred
to him as "Jimmie," and his wife also took a personal interest in students
by caring for those who were ill. Four years after McCosh retired, the
trustees erected the College's first infirmary and named it in her honor.
McCosh ranks among Princeton University's most successful presidents,
setting his institution well on the path to university status.
The McCosh records are arranged topically. Materials of note during his
presidency include information about commencements, the regulation of liquor
in the town of Princeton, and his request to stop teaching while serving as
president. Pre-presidency highlights include the certificate appointing
McCosh as the first minister of the church of Brechin, a farewell letter
signed by his associates and friends in Ireland, plans for the Queen's
College Library, and invitations and programs from his inauguration. The
correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, with foreign
letters at the end of the run. Letters from McCosh with unidentifiable
addressees are filed under McCosh in chronological order. This series also
contains numerous clippings and articles of a biographical nature. Also of
interest are a large number of images, including photographs of McCosh and
the construction of his Prospect Street house.
Series 11: James McCosh Records; 1747-1995; 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.