Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup
Permanent URL: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/ms35t861f
These papers were processed with the generous support of former Princeton University President Harold T. Shapiro, Charles Brothman '51, and the John Foster Dulles and Janet Avery Dulles Fund.
- Princeton University. Office of the President.
- Title and dates:
- Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup
- bulk 1830-1869
- This collection contains records relating to Princeton University presidents from Jonathan Dickinson, who served in this capacity from 1746 to 1747, to Harold W. Dodds, whose tenure spanned the period from 1933 to 1957. It brings together both primary and secondary materials pertaining to individual presidents as well as the office of the president itself. The Princeton University Presidents' Records document the lives and accomplishments of each president with varying completeness, as well as the functions of their office.
- 95.0 linear feet
- 192 archival boxes, four half-size archival boxes, 21 9 x 11 boxes, 1 15 x 12 box, 7 15 ½ x 12 boxes, 2 14 ½ x 18 ½ boxes, 1 15 x 19 box, 1 20 x 24 box, and 39 custom boxes
- Call number:
- Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.
Princeton University Archives.
Princeton, New Jersey 08540 USA
- Language(s) of materials:
- Storage note:
- This collection is stored onsite at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
The role of Princeton University's president, who is chosen by and answerable to the Board of Trustees, has evolved significantly since Jonathan Dickinson first taught a handful of students in his Elizabeth, New Jersey parsonage in 1747. By the close of Harold Dodds's tenure, more than two centuries later, the undergraduate and graduate student body had swelled to 3,584 and the faculty to 582, supported by an extensive infrastructure of libraries, laboratories, classrooms, and residential and recreational facilities. By the middle of the twentieth century, the president, once the heart and soul of a fledgling college chiefly concerned with preparing men for ministry, was charged with leading a complex multi- disciplinary and non-sectarian institution.
The presidents of Princeton University (or the College of New Jersey as it was known prior to 1896) have always served as their institution's chief executive officer. Their primary function, however, is no longer pedagogical but administrative, and even in this sphere, they now share their duties with others. Their leadership remains a critical factor in Princeton University's success, but their centrality and ubiquity have slowly diminished. In the words of Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, "Today the president of an American college, as its educational leader and chief administrative officer, is vital to its prosperity and progress, but two centuries ago he was still more important, for the entire life of the institution centered upon him." Of Aaron Burr, Sr., the College of New Jersey's second president, Wertenbaker writes: "He was president, professor, secretary, librarian, purchasing agent all in one." ( Princeton, 1746-1896)
Even when Princeton University had far outgrown its small beginnings, presidents like Francis Landey Patton carried a disproportionate burden, though by the close of the nineteenth century, this was seen as an error in judgment rather than a necessary virtue. According to David W. Hirst, "Even by standards of that day, the administrative structure of Princeton was spare to the extreme. Patton conducted college affairs from his study in Prospect. He had no personal secretary until 1895 when he assigned that position to his son, George Stevenson Patton '91, and there was no college or university secretary until the election of Charles Williston McAlpin in December 1900. Patton was assisted by only one dean for most of his term, during which he turned aside the faculty's urgent appeals to inaugurate a system of deans to accommodate the expanding institution." ( A Princeton Companion) In contrast, by 1957, when Dodds retired, the president could draw on the talents of no fewer than six deans, aided, in turn, by six assistant or associate deans.
The 15 presidents whose records can be found in this collection faced a wide range of challenges, from the warfare of the American Revolution, which left Nassau Hall in ruins, to the twentieth-century educational reforms that propelled Princeton University into the first tier of the world's universities. Their training and abilities also varied, and it is this diversity of men and issues, interacting with one another in unique ways, that have defined the office of Princeton University's president.
It has never been a self-sufficient office, even in its earliest incarnation, for presidents have always had to work in concert with the Board of Trustees and, as the latter's day-to-day involvement in the life of the institution lessened, with a corps of administrative officers as well. The will of the faculty, students, and alumni have also had an important impact on the power of presidents. Each of these groups has asserted itself at different points in history, from the rampaging students who helped to wreck the presidency of Samuel Stanhope Smith, to the faculty who agitated for Patton's removal, to the alumni who undermined Woodrow Wilson's initiatives concerning graduate education and undergraduate eating clubs. At times, however, power has been willingly shared, as the close partnership of James Carnahan and John Maclean, Jr., the College of New Jersey's ninth and tenth presidents, demonstrates.
Variety has also marked the length of presidential tenures. The combined service of Princeton University's first five presidents was under 20 years, thanks to stress and illness.
Carnahan, in contrast, headed the College of New Jersey for no fewer than 31 years, and four of the presidents represented here enjoyed tenures of between 20 and 30 years.
Familial and religious cohesion has given way to pluralism. Until Wilson assumed the presidency of Princeton University in 1902, the men who held this office were exclusively Presbyterian clergymen, and in two cases, family members succeeded one another: Burr by his father-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, and John Witherspoon by his son-in-law, Smith. It was not until 2001, however, that the gender barrier was broken with the election of Shirley Tilghman, Princeton University's first female president.
The contributions of Princeton University's presidents have varied with the times in which they lived and in proportion to their talents and resources. Their ranks have included statesmen of the stature of Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, and Wilson, who guided the United States through the First World War. They have included accomplished educators like James McCosh, whose impact was likened to "an electric shock, instantaneous, paralyzing to the opposition, and stimulating to all who were not paralyzed." They have included pioneers like Burr, who oversaw his institution's move from Newark to Princeton in 1756 and the erection of Nassau Hall. They have included gifted administrators like Dodds, who, notwithstanding the turmoil of the Great Depression and the Second World War, set a new standard of academic excellence and, as the development of the Woodrow Wilson School attests, gave his university a global outlook. And, inevitably, there were presidents who failed to sustain the burdens of their office: men like Smith, whose tenure was marred by a fire that gutted Nassau Hall in 1802 and student riots that led to mass suspensions in 1807. Indeed, Smith is one of four presidents who have been compelled to resign under pressure. The other three are Ashbel Green, Patton, and Wilson.
The series descriptions that follow provide individual profiles of Princeton University's first 15 presidents, as well as insights into the changing character of their office. As a whole they were an able group of leaders who successfully guided their institution through the social, political, and economic vagaries of two centuries. Though Latin and Greek have fallen from their position of curricular pre-eminence, though Nassau Hall is no longer the place where students study, eat, sleep, and worship, and though financial transactions are no longer entered in the president's own hand, the work of the presidents documented in this collection continues to bear fruit today. The names and tenures of these men are listed below:
Jonathan Dickinson 1747
Aaron Burr, Sr. 1748-1757
Jonathan Edwards 1758
Samuel Davies 1759-1761
Samuel Finley 1761-1766
John Witherspoon 1768-1794
Samuel Stanhope Smith 1795-1812
Ashbel Green 1812-1822
James Carnahan 1823-1854
John Maclean, Jr. 1854-1868
James McCosh 1868-1888
Francis Landey Patton 1888-1902
Woodrow Wilson 1902-1910
John Grier Hibben 1912-1932
Harold Willis Dodds 1933-1957
The content of this collection varies markedly over time. The eighteenth and early nineteenth-century presidents' records are typically secondary sources such as clippings or letters written by others, most of which long postdate the lifetimes of the men to whom they refer. In a few instances, primary material in the form of correspondence, financial records, and sermons exists. The early presidents' records are usually divided into five broad categories: biographical information, their presidency, family members, post- mortem material, and portraits. It is only with the presidency of John Maclean, Jr. that original materials such as correspondence begins to predominate, nor can any set of records be said to be voluminous save his and those of Harold Dodds. In the post-Maclean era, James McCosh's administration is the least well documented, comprising just six boxes of material, and those of Francis Landey Patton, Woodrow Wilson, and John Grier Hibben, though informative in many regards, are by no means complete.
Presidential portraits and other images have been placed at the end of the collection under the appropriate series number and are referenced in the following series descriptions. Every president is depicted, along with many of their wives, though these images are limited in number and variety until the advent of photography in the middle years of the nineteenth century. Photographs of Presidents Robert Goheen (1957-1972), William Bowen (1972-1988), and Harold Shapiro (1988-2001), whose records are presently closed and unprocessed, can be found in the box 252.
Access and Use
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.
Restrictions on Use and Copyright Information
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, users must submit the Publication and Broadcast Form. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. For materials where the copyright is not held by the University, in addition to completing this form for Princeton, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them.
Other Finding Aid(s)
The Office of the President Records: Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup forms part of the Princeton University Office of the President Records. Finding Aids for other subgroups and portions of the collection are also available online:
Acquisition and Appraisal
Provenance and Acquisition
This is an artificial collection that came to the Princeton University Archives from a variety of sources over a period of years, including the office of the president, former Secretary of the University Varnum Lansing Collins, and other donors.
Processing and Other Information
This collection was processed by Carol V. Burke and Stacey C. Peeples in 2002. Finding aid written by Carol V. Burke and Stacey C. Peeples in 2002.
Descriptive Rules Used
Finding aid content adheres to that prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard.
Machine-readable finding aid encoded in EAD 2002 by Techbooks and Cristela García-Spitz on October 06, 2006.
Language(s) of this Finding Aid
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Office of the President Records (Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds); box and, if applicable, Box and Folder Number; Princeton University Archives, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.
- Bowen, William G. -- Photographs.
- Burr, Aaron, 1716-1757 -- Contributions to education.
- Carnahan, James, 1775-1859 -- Contributions to education.
- Davies, Samuel, 1723-1761 -- Contributions to education.
- Dickinson, Jonathan, 1688-1747 -- Contributions to education.
- Dodds, Harold W. (Harold Willis), 1889-1980 -- Contributions to education.
- Duffield, Edward D. (Edward Dickinson), 1871-1938 -- Contributions to education.
- Edwards, Jonathan 1703-1758 -- Contributions to education.
- Finley, Samuel, 1715-1766 -- Contributions to education.
- Fox, Arthur E. (Arthur Eugene), 1891-1957 -- Contributions to education.
- Gemmell, Edgar M. (Edgar Mills), 1911-1990 -- Contributions to education.
- Goheen, Robert F. (Robert Francis), 1919- -- Photographs.
- Green, Ashbel, 1762-1848 -- Contributions to education.
- Hibben, John Grier, 1861-1933 -- Contributions to education.
- McCosh, James, 1811-1894 -- Contributions to education.
- Maclean. John, 1800-1886 -- Contributions to education.
- Patton, Francis L. (Francis Landey), 1843-1932 -- Contributions to education.
- Shapiro, Harold T., 1935- -- Photographs.
- Smith, Samuel Stanhope, 1750-1819 -- Contributions to education.
- Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924 -- Contibutions to education.
- Witherspoon, John, 1723-1794 -- Contributions to education.
- Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. -- Clergy.
- Princeton University Administration.
- Princeton University -- Presidents.
- College administrators -- New Jersey -- Princeton.
- Universities and colleges -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- Administration.
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