Biography and History

The 1946-1947 Princeton University Bicentennial Celebration was an en masse celebration of Princeton’s past, present and future. The campus welcomed a spectrum of guests, ranging from members of the University and its surrounding community, to representatives of several national and international academic, private, and public organizations and institutions.

The yearlong series of events began on September 22, 1946 with a sermon delivered by Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, in the University Chapel and ended with an address by President Harry S. Truman in front of Nassau Hall at the June 17, 1947 Concluding Bicentennial Convocation. The events were divided into two major parts comprising 16 conferences and 5 convocations. The events were interlinked by personnel and dates. Many participants of the conferences received honorary degrees at the Convocations.

The series of conferences were organized by Dean of the Faculty J. Douglas Brown ’28 and Whitney J. Oates ’25, with the assistance of the Princeton Faculty Committee, and extended from September 1946 through May 1947. Overseen largely by Princeton professors, the conferences covered a broad range of topics in the humanities, social and applied sciences, and engineering.

The convocations were arranged in the traditional format of past academic anniversaries, with a host of greetings, receptions, and entertainment, but on a much more elaborate scale. The festivities began on September 22, 1946 in the University Chapel with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon. At the conclusion of the service, the Archbishop was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree and the first Bicentennial Medal. The medal was designed by John R. Sinnock, medalist to the United States Treasury, and was presented to all official guests and delegates who attended the ceremonies during the year.

The Charter Day Convocation commemorated the signing of the College’s First Charter. After Dean of the Chapel Robert R. Wicks’ invocation, President Harold Dodds delivered a speech in which he recounted John Witherspoon’s influence on him and cited a passage from Witherspoon’s Civil Society. Afterwards, Dodds conferred honorary degrees to twenty-two men and one woman, most of whom participated in the first series of the Bicentennial Conferences. The Convocation came to a close with the singing of Isaac Watt’s Ninetieth Psalm, which has become a tradition at Princeton.

The Alumni Day and Spring Convocation followed the same pattern as the first two events. The Alumni Day included the second address made by President Dodds on the benefits of a liberal education. Chairman Douglas Horton gave the sermon at the luncheon and Secretary of State George C. Marshall made his first public address to a throng of alumni and special guests. During these two events a total of 54 honorary degrees were awarded.

The Bicentennial Year reached its pinnacle with the Concluding Bicentennial Convocation (June 14-17, 1947). The festivities extended into four eventful days beginning with the dedication of the Herbert Lowell Dillon Gymnasium. In the afternoon, the Princeton baseball team defeated Yale 1-0, and that evening, the Glee Club performed at McCarter Theater in the musical Going Back. Sunday’s festivities began in the University Chapel with a Service of Remembrance. In the evening, those in attendance gathered at Dillon Gymnasium to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Monday began with a Service of Dedication at the University Chapel followed by the dedication of the Harvey S. Firestone Library. That afternoon, a formal reception for visiting delegates was held in addition to other celebratory parties and dinners. Celebrations culminated on Tuesday with an invocation ceremony, which included speeches by President Dodds and President Truman. The ceremony also included a procession of academics from various American and foreign institutions and the awarding of 32 honorary degrees.

In addition to these main events, many other activities made the year memorable. From the opening of the Bicentennial, music played a significant role in celebrating the spirit of the events. Princeton’s Glee Club and Chapel Choir performed at various times for the convocations and other events, and the Pro Arte Quartet and Boston Symphony Orchestra played on campus.

Theatre Intime provided comical relief in their rendition of the 1869 Princeton-Rutgers football game. The Triangle Club also lent their talent with the annual musical, Clear the Track. Various exhibitions were on display in different locations around the Princeton University campus, neighboring Trenton, and New York City. The Louis Clark Vanuxem Lectures, Spencer Trask Lectures, and Cyrus Fogg Brackett Engineering Lectures were delivered by various honorary degree recipients, as were the six forums organized by the Student Christian Association led by six of the Bicentennial preachers.

The Bicentennial organizers included such distinguished figures as Walter E. Hope ’01, Whitney Darrow ’03, and Col. Arthur E. Fox ’13. As the Bicentennial Celebration planning grew so did the committees, to include over 200 members and more than 350 coordinators for the conferences alone. Those planners also included undergraduate and graduate students and members of the faculty, administration, and alumni. They coordinated their efforts with various national and international academic, private, and public organizations.

Source: From the finding aid for AC148

  • Bicentennial Celebration Records. 1944-1947 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC148

    The Princeton University Bicentennial Celebration was a year-long series of events that began on September 22, 1946 with a sermon delivered by Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, in the University Chapel and ended with an address by President Truman in front of Nassau Hall at the June 17, 1947 Concluding Bicentennial Convocation. The Bicentennial Celebration Records contain correspondence, writings, speeches, press-releases, pamphlets, reports, newspaper clippings, tickets, transcripts, watercolor and pencil sketches and various other materials documenting the 1946-1947 Princeton University Bicentennial Celebration.