Contents and Arrangement

Series 14: John Grier Hibben Records, 1806-1986

22 boxes
Restrictions may apply. See Access Note.

Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Born in Peoria, Illinois April 19, 1861, John Grier Hibben was the son of the Rev. Samuel Hibben, a Union chaplain in the Civil War who died when John Grier Hibben was one year old, and Elizabeth Grier Hibben. Hibben graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1882. As a student, he was a junior orator, editor of the Bric-a- Brac, winner of the mathematical prize, sophomore honor prize, and the Class of 1861 prize. He was also valedictorian, class president, and received the J.S.K. fellowship in mathematics. Having completed a one-year post-graduate course at the University of Berlin, he attended the Princeton Theological Seminary from 1883 to 1886. During this time he temporarily took the place of Henry B. Fine, Class of 1880, as instructor in mathematics at the College of New Jersey, and he briefly taught French and German at the Lawrenceville School. Hibben was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1887 and married Jenny Davidson of Elizabeth, New Jersey the same year. They had one daughter.

A pastor in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania for four years, he had to end his ministerial career due to a throat ailment, returning to his alma mater to study philosophy. In 1891 he accepted an appointment as instructor in logic and received his Ph.D. in 1893. Promoted to assistant professor of philosophy, he became a full professor in 1907. He was named Stuart Professor of Logic and, on January 11, 1912, was elected president. Between 1896 and 1910 Hibben wrote five books about philosophy. His first was Inductive Logic, followed by The Problems of Philosophy and Introduction to the Logic of Hegel. Logic Deductive and Inductive became a widely used textbook in American colleges, and Philosophy of the Enlightenment was his most esteemed work. He went on to write A Defense of Prejudice and Other Essays in 1911 and The Higher Patriotism in 1915.

Hibben's relationship with his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, had deteriorated after Hibben sided with Wilson's opponents during the graduate college controversy. The dispute had divided the University, and the search for a successor to Wilson lasted 15 months. Once elected, Hibben immediately addressed the issue, uniting the two factions. He announced that he represented "no group or set of men, no party, no faction, no past allegiance or affiliation — but one united Princeton." He consciously sought the help of faculty who had sided with Wilson and encouraged them to continue the former president's work. Hibben was frequently described as a calm, patient, and temperate man, and these qualities undoubtedly helped him to unify the University. His task was eased when the trustees decreased Dean Andrew Fleming West's autonomy by subjecting the Graduate School to the president's authority. During the First World War, Hibben offered University resources to the federal government, including access to buildings and laboratories for army, navy, and aviation training schools and research programs. Only 60 undergraduates were not in service by the fall of 1918.

Hibben enhanced the curriculum by extending the preceptorial program to the sophomore class and, in 1923, by initiating the four course or upper-class plan of study, which gave students freedom to do independent reading in a particular subject instead of taking a fifth course. The reading was followed by a senior thesis and a comprehensive examination, an innovation that soon became a hallmark of a Princeton education. Other changes in the curriculum were achieved through the reorganization of academic departments. Hibben separated Psychology and Philosophy and divided the Department of History, Politics, and Economics into three separate units. In 1922 he limited enrollment and established a system of selective admission. In the same year, the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures was founded, and three schools were added during his presidency: Architecture in 1919, Engineering in 1921, and Public and International Affairs in 1930. In order to help freshmen adjust to campus life, Hibben created a pool of faculty advisors. He also established the Council on Undergraduate Life in 1930, allowing undergraduates to discuss problems and concerns.

During his tenure, the budget grew and enrollment increased by almost a thousand students. The faculty grew by 73 percent and received salary increases, pensions, insurance, and a minimum pay scale owing largely to Hibben's effectiveness in increasing endowments. Between January 1912 and June 1932, endowments increased from approximately five million to 24 million dollars. The number of buildings on campus doubled, including ten dormitories, which encouraged students to remain in Princeton on weekends. Other construction projects resulted in five new undergraduate dining halls, the north court quadrangle at the graduate college, six new classroom and research buildings, Palmer Stadium, Baker Rink, McCosh Infirmary, McCarter Theatre, and the University Chapel with its nave named in Hibben's honor. Yet another feature of this explosive growth, which reflected a general economic expansion, was the doubling of books in the Library.

Hibben belonged to more than 60 educational, international, and patriotic societies, and many honors were bestowed on him, including admission to the French Legion of Honor in 1919. He served on the advisory board for the American Defense Society and the National Security League, and he was a member of the Naval League of the United States, the United States Junior Naval Reserve, and the executive committee of the League to Enforce Peace. A promoter of world peace, he was decorated by a number of foreign governments and received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, Yale, Columbia, Rutgers, Lafayette, Brown, Harvard, the University of Toronto, McGill, and Princeton. One year before his death, alumni established the Hibben Loan Fund of $1,000 per year to aid deserving undergraduates. In June 1932 Hibben resigned after 20 fruitful years as president of Princeton University. Sadly, he died in an automobile accident the following year, an accident that also fatally injured his wife.

The Hibben records are divided into five subseries. Four are based on the form of the material, namely, Subject Files, Correspondence, Addresses and Publications, and General Materials, and one consists of a box of documents relating to the interim administration of Edward D. Duffield, who served as Princeton University's acting president from 1932 to 1933. A biographical sketch of Duffield accompanies the description of this subseries.


No arrangement action taken or arrangement information not recorded at the time of processing.

Collection History


No information on appraisal is available.


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.

Processing 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.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Materials generated by the office of the president are closed for 30 years from the date of their creation. Some records relating to personnel or students are closed for longer periods of time.

Conditions Governing Use

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. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. If copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers will not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with non-commercial use of materials from the Mudd Library. For materials where the copyright is not held by the University, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Series 14: John Grier Hibben Records; Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup, AC117, Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Boxes 64-80; 257-258; 260; 79A; 79B