Contents and Arrangement

Series 15: Harold Willis Dodds Records, 1896-2007

147 boxes
Restrictions may apply. See Access Note.

Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

At 43, Harold W. Dodds was Princeton University's third youngest president. He was also the second layman to hold this office, following Woodrow Wilson; however, both men were sons of Presbyterian ministers. Born June 28, 1889 in Utica, Pennsylvania, Dodds was the son of Alice A. Dunn and Dr. Samuel Dodds, professor of Bible at Grove City College and professor emeritus of biblical doctrine at Wooster College. The couple had three sons: LeRoy, Harold, and John, all of whom went on to earn doctorates.

Harold graduated from Grove City College in 1909 with Phi Beta Kappa honors, taught high school Latin and English for two years, and received his M.A. from Princeton University in 1914 and his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1917. In the same year he attempted to enlist in the Army but was rejected due to poor vision. On December 25, 1917, Dodds married Margaret Murray of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In 1918 Dodds wrote Procedure in State Legislatures. He worked for the United States Food Administration during World War I and became assistant professor of political science at Western Reserve University from 1919 to 1920. Deciding to apply political science in a practical manner, Dodds left the University to become secretary of the National Municipal League and editor of its magazine, the National Municipal Review. He later served as the League's president from 1934 to 1937. In 1925 Dodds acted as an adviser to the Tacna- Arica Plebiscitary Commission, chaired by General John J. Pershing, which attempted to arrange a plebiscite to end Chile and Peru's dispute over the towns of Tacna and Arica. He also drafted Nicaragua's Electoral Law of 1923 and helped supervise its 1928 elections. In 1935 he arbitrated an electoral dispute in Cuba. Dodds was also a lecturer at Purdue, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and New York Universities prior to joining the faculty of Princeton University in 1925.

At Princeton Dodds taught municipal government and public administration. He became a full professor of political science in 1927, and in 1930, he was named chairman of the administration committee of the School of Public and International Affairs. Dodds and his colleagues conducted a financial and administrative survey of the New Jersey government at the request of Governor A. Harry Moore. It was known as the Princeton Survey, and some proposals were enacted into law.

Dodds was elected president of Princeton University in 1933. He served during the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar period of adjustment, a time of strain for both the University and its president. During the Second World War Princeton University instituted an accelerated program of study to meet wartime requirements. As of December 15, 1941 the Special War Supplement was issued to students, giving them the option to change their programs and elect new emergency courses such as navigation and cryptanalysis. By January 1942 75 percent of students, with the exception of seniors, participated. In 1940 Dodds established a University Committee on National Defense, and the Army, Navy, and Marines stationed hundreds of their reserves on campus for training, causing the number of students to fluctuate widely from month to month. A large percentage of undergraduates who left for service returned after the war, attributable, in part, to the fact that Dodds kept in touch with the absent students and set up the Princeton Program for Servicemen in order to facilitate the continuation of their education. In 1943 the State Department asked Dodds to lead the American delegation to the Bermuda Anglo-American Conference to discuss the problem of refugees.

Princeton University's Bicentennial celebration occurred during the Dodds administration from 1946 to 1947. The celebration included a host of scholarly conferences and three major convocations that renewed scholastic ties after the war. In addition, Bicentennial Preceptorships were established, giving one year of free research time to the most promising assistant professors.

Dodds was noted for his skill at promoting intelligent young faculty and attracting top scholars from other institutions. He received good advice from deans and departmental chairmen and supported them in securing candidates. One of the professors whom Dodds promoted was Robert Goheen, his successor. New departments and programs were created during the Dodds administration, including Music, the Office of Population Research, the Creative Arts Program, Religion, Aeronautical Engineering, and Near Eastern Studies. The Woodrow Wilson School and sponsored research programs were expanded.

New buildings constructed during Dodds's tenure included Firestone Library (1948), Dillon Gymnasium (1947), Class of 1915 Dormitory (1949), Woodrow Wilson Hall, now Corwin Hall (1952), Hayes Engineering Laboratory (1951), and a new building to house Project Matterhorn for the study of plasma physics. Pyne Library was converted to administrative office space, and Chancellor Green became the Student Center. Housing for faculty, graduate students, and staff increased by 312 units. The James Forrestal Research Center was established in 1951 with the acquisition of 825 acres formerly occupied by the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

Under Dodds income and expenses increased significantly. Thirty endowed professorships were established. The Higgins Trust, shared with Yale, Harvard, and Columbia Universities, increased funds for the sciences. In 1941 Annual Giving by alumni began with contributions totaling $80,000, and by 1957 the amount given annually had increased to $1,281,000. Undergraduate enrollment increased from 2309 in 1933 to 2948 in 1956, and the faculty grew from 327 to 582 in the same period. The largest growth occurred in Graduate School enrollment, which jumped from 293 to 636, due in part to an influx of foreign students.

Dodds grew with the demands of his position, armed with an optimistic attitude towards new problems, a sense of humor, and quiet confidence. He believed that any expert should put knowledge to practical use, noting that "an academic social scientist is improved by some contact with reality." He also championed a liberal arts focus in response to educational trends after World War II, though he also held that a liberal education "should be an education for use." Dodds stressed the importance of religion in a university setting and argued that "there is no avenue to truth which neglects the place of religion as the fountain of those human values which sustain and energize both individuals and a free society."

Dodds was a Republican and a Presbyterian. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Corporation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the General Education Board. In addition, he was one of nine members of the President's Advisory Commission on Universal Training. He was also a director of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the American Philosophical Society.

On June 19, 1957 Dodds retired, but he remained active. He chaired the James Madison Memorial Commission, which was formed to plan the building of the Madison Library of the Library of Congress. In 1958 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching awarded him a grant that led to his book, The Academic President — Educator or Caretaker? He was also chairman of the Board of Trustees of a corporation established to operate Miss Fine's School and the Princeton Country Day School as one entity called the Princeton Day Schools.

Dodds died October 25, 1980 at the age of 91 in a retirement community in Hightstown, New Jersey. Additional biographical information can be found in a commemorative issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly from December 1, 1980 in box 196, folder 8.

The Dodds records are divided into six subseries: Correspondence, Speeches and Writings, Subject Files, Arthur E. Fox, Edgar M. Gemmell, and General Materials. Together they constitute the largest body of material in this collection of presidential records and, in fact, are roughly three times the size of all the other series put together. This is attributable, in part, to the growth of Princeton University and the increasing complexity of its administration, but sound clerical practices, including a systematic filing system, also played an important role. It should be noted that the division between correspondence (Subseries 1) and subject files (subseries 3) is not absolute and that a significant amount of personal and family correspondence can be found under the latter heading.


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 copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. For instances beyond Fair Use, if copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of materials from the Princeton University Archives.

For instances beyond Fair Use where the copyright is not held by the University, while permission from the Library is not required, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact 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 15: Harold Willis Dodds 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 81-225; 255-256