Biography and History

Robert (Bob) Francis Goheen was born on August 15, 1919, in Vengurla, India, where his father, Robert H.H. Goheen, a doctor, and his mother Anne Goheen-Ewing, a teacher, were Presbyterian missionaries. In 1934, Goheen moved to the United States to finish his high school education at the Lawrenceville School, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Graduating with honors after two years, he entered Princeton University as member of the Class of 1940. Princeton was a logical choice: his brother, Richard '36, had just graduated from Princeton, and their grandfather, Joseph M. Goheen, also a Presbyterian missionary in India, was a member of the Class of 1872.

Goheen was an all-around Princetonian. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, as well as an avid soccer player on the varsity team. Other memberships included the political and debating club Whig-Clio, the Quadrangle Eating Club, of which he was president, and the Inter-Club Committee. In 1940 he graduated in the Special Program in Humanities and Classics. His senior thesis was about the nature and object of tragedy, an interest he would continue to pursue academically. Upon graduation, he received the M. Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, the highest general distinction conferred upon an undergraduate.

Goheen started as a graduate student at Princeton University in September 1940, holding a Junior Fellowship in Classics for the academic year. His graduate studies, however, were interrupted by the Second World War. Goheen joined the army in October 1941, three months after marrying Margaret M. Skelly of Wilmington, Delaware. Although he joined the Infantry as a Second Lieutenant, he was first employed at the Military Intelligence Service of the War Department in Washington, DC. In April 1943 he joined the First Cavalry Division. He served oversees as a research analyst until July 1945, supervising the preparation of strategic intelligence reports on the Pacific Islands; during his last year as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

When he returned to civilian life, Goheen, now a father of two, was one of the first four recipients of a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, established at Princeton to enable war veterans to consider a career in teaching. Complementing this, the Department of Classics employed him as a part-time preceptor and tutor. Goheen received his MA in 1947 and PhD 1948. His dissertation The Imagery of Sophocles' Antigone (a Study of Poetic Language and Structure) was published by Princeton University Press in 1951.

Goheen continued teaching as an instructor in Classics until his appointment as assistant professor of Classics in 1950. When he was elected President of Princeton University in December 1956, he would be the youngest president in Princeton's history since the eighteenth century. He had only just started to establish a reputation as a classicist, holding a bicentennial preceptorship in 1951-1954, which enabled him to spend a year at the American Academy in Rome.

One reason Goheen was elected President was his experience as National Director of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program, a half-time position, which he combined with half-time teaching in 1953-1956. The program had grown since 1945, when Goheen had been a Woodrow Wilson fellow himself. Sponsored by the American Association of Universities and receiving substantial funding from many foundations, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program paved the way for Goheen's presidency as well as his post-presidential career in the area of foundations and philanthropy.

When Goheen retired as President in 1972, he could look back upon fifteen years in which he led Princeton University through a process of growth and change. During his presidency the University had substantially increased its physical plant, as well as its student enrollment, faculty, and staff, while alumni contributions more than doubled, and the annual budget quadrupled. Faced with the social and political challenges of the Sixties, Goheen encouraged student involvement in decision-making processes and initiated active recruitment of minorities and, in 1969, the admission of women, which was particularly criticized by conservative alumni.

After the American invasion of Cambodia, student protests culminated in a general strike; Goheen himself spoke to the assembly of students, faculty and staff on May 4, 1970. Many attributed the wisdom and flexibility of Goheen's administration for avoiding the violence and civil unrest that afflicted campuses nationwide.

After announcing his retirement in 1972, Goheen had many options to choose from; he accepted the position of President of the Council on Foundations in New York. Founded in 1949, the foundation, with a board of 35 people, provided program consultation for its five hundred member foundations. Goheen stated he was convinced that private philanthropy in general and charitable foundations in particular were "critical elements in the diversity, openness and innovative character of the American society."

In January 1977 Goheen became president of the $160 million Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, established to improve conditions for dispossessed children, the institutionalized poor, and the developing world. Less than five months later, however, President Jimmy Carter appointed him U.S. Ambassador to India, the country where he had lived the first fifteen years of his life.

As an Ambassador, Goheen became immersed in nuclear issues. India had detonateded its first nuclear device in 1974, eleven years after the United States had signed a 30-year contract to deliver enriched uranium fuel to generate nuclear power. President Carter wanted Goheen to secure India's commitment to stop testing and start a dialogue with the U.S. On January 3, 1978, two months before Congress passed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, Prime Minister Moraji Desai and Jimmy Carter signed a joint declaration aiming to reduce the threat of nuclear war and to bridge the gap between rich and poor nations.

Goheen held the Ambassadorship until December 1980, when he returned to Princeton to become Senior Fellow of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School. He also worked for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, directing the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship Program in the Humanities.

Thus, almost forty years after a Woodrow Wilson fellowship enabled his own career as a scholar and teacher, Goheen was back in the humanities. Senior humanists were "hungry," according to him, to encourage the ablest young people to "continue in the humanities and not be deflected, as so many have been recently, into law, business, and other professions." Goheen had been one of the founders of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina in 1978, and had served as a trustee. Twenty years later he was honored for his role with the establishment of the annual Robert and Margaret S. Goheen Fellowship at the Center.

Amongst the many honors for his service to the humanities are the Robert F. Goheen Professorship in the Humanities at Princeton (1986) and the annual Robert F. Goheen Prize in Classical Studies (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 1992).

Source: From the finding aid for MC204

  • Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup. 1746-1999 (inclusive), 1830-1869 (bulk).

    Call Number: AC117

    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.

  • Office of the President Records: Robert F. Goheen Subgroup. 1924-1988 (inclusive), 1957-1972 (bulk).

    Call Number: AC193

    The records of the Office of President Goheen contain the files of the President's Office during the administration of President Robert F. Goheen (1957-1972). The collection contains eighteen series, which consist of correspondence and memoranda, reports, speeches, publications, and related materials, which were created or received by Robert Goheen and other members of the President's office.

  • The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Project Editor's Records. 1943-1974 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC218

    The Thomas Jefferson Papers Project was conceived of in 1943 by Princeton University history professor Julian P. Boyd, who was serving at the time as the historian of the Thomas Jefferson Bicentennial Commission. Contained in the records is correspondence with Princeton presidents Harold T. Dodds and Robert F. Goheen, who were active advisors in the early years of the project. Also included are financial records, including Boyd's original cost estimations for the project. Other materials consist of an initial project proposal, annual reports, directives on handling of materials, typography, and editing procedures, and some photographs.

  • Donald Worner Griffin Papers. 1924-1991 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC242

    Donald Worner Griffin was a member of the Princeton class of 1923. Griffin was recognized frequently by University administration as being instrumental in revitalizing alumni ties in the years after World War II, as well as helping shape the modern state of Princeton alumni relations. Consists of the personal correspondence and clippings of Donald Worner Griffin.

  • Pyne Honor Prize Records. 1930-1969 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC251

    The Pyne Honor Prize, established in 1922 in honor of Moses Taylor Pyne '77, is the highest distinction conferred on an undergraduate student at Princeton University. The collection documents the annual awarding of the Pyne Honor Prize from 1939-1960. Within each year's file is correspondence, biographical and academic information about the recipients, and award statements.

  • Princeton University Presidents Oral History Collection. 2004-2009 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC318

    The Princeton University Presidents Oral History Project consists of two projects undertaken by the Princeton University Archives in conjunction with the Office of the Secretary to document the recollections and reminiscences of Princeton University's 16th president and seventeenth Presidents Robert F. Goheen and William G. Bowen. Consists of taped interviews with former Princeton Presidents Robert F. Goheen William G. Bowen and accompanying transcripts, as well as a Goheen video retrospective titled 'Reflections of a President' produced for a 2006 Princeton University Library exhibit.

  • Robert F. Goheen Papers. 1939-2008 (inclusive), 1939-2000 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC204

    The Robert F. Goheen Papers contain records that Robert F. Goheen kept mainly before and after he was president of Princeton University (1957-1972). They include files Goheen kept as a graduate student, instructor and professor in Princeton University’s Department of Classics for the period 1939-1957. The collection also contains U.S. army records for 1942-1945, when Goheen had interrupted his studies for service in the Second World War, and for 1945-1956, when he served in the Officers Reserve Corps. The majority of the files concern Goheen’s post-presidential years, when he was Chair of the Council on Foundations (1972-1977), Ambassador to India (1977-1980), and Director of the Mellon Fellowships in the Humanities (1981-1998), as well as Senior Fellow Public and International Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. In addition, the collection contains some speech notes Goheen kept and some photographs of Goheen from his tenure as President of Princeton University.

  • Robert F. Goheen Papers. 1939-2008 (inclusive), 1939-2000 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC204

    The Robert F. Goheen Papers contain records that Robert F. Goheen kept mainly before and after he was president of Princeton University (1957-1972). They include files Goheen kept as a graduate student, instructor and professor in Princeton University’s Department of Classics for the period 1939-1957. The collection also contains U.S. army records for 1942-1945, when Goheen had interrupted his studies for service in the Second World War, and for 1945-1956, when he served in the Officers Reserve Corps. The majority of the files concern Goheen’s post-presidential years, when he was Chair of the Council on Foundations (1972-1977), Ambassador to India (1977-1980), and Director of the Mellon Fellowships in the Humanities (1981-1998), as well as Senior Fellow Public and International Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. In addition, the collection contains some speech notes Goheen kept and some photographs of Goheen from his tenure as President of Princeton University.