First appearing on June 14, 1876, as a fortnightly paper, The Princetonian existed before the College of New Jersey became Princeton University, before academic departments and precepts, before eating clubs and coeducation. It has witnessed the transformation of Princeton and captured the changing campus atmosphere. These transformations have not left the ‘Prince’ untouched. In its first editorial, the ‘Prince’ declared its purpose:
“[The Prince] comes into existence, first of all, in answer to a need among us for a larger and more direct medium of discussion on the internal workings of the college… It will be our college chronicle, and will devote itself especially to domestic news and interests. Its columns will be open to the discussion of all questions of importance to our college community that from time to time arise.”
This purpose — to serve as a platform for discussion, a chronicle for campus events and an insight on the college’s internal workings — perseveres to this day. But the content, style, and voice of the ‘Prince’ have transformed with the University.
Each board of editors attempted to steer the ‘Prince’ in distinct directions. Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, who served as managing editor, encouraged coverage of athletics and extracurricular activities. He also unsuccessfully used the ‘Prince’ to promote his campaign for Valedictorian. Henry B. Fine, Class of 1880, who later became Dean of Sciences, and for whom Fine Hall was named, favored science and mathematics coverage. The ‘Prince’ reflected the interests not only of its changing editors, but also of its changing audience. In the 1890s, Princeton increasingly became a playground for the sons of the rich and famous, who saw the college as a country club and its lectures, according to historian Virginia Kays Creesy, as “an intrusion to an otherwise delightful four-year vacation.” The ‘Prince’ reflected this sentiment with its formula of 60 percent advertisements, 30 percent sports coverage, and 10 percent news, most of which was about extracurricular activities.
Growing in popularity and advertisement revenues, the fortnightly ‘Prince’ became a weekly, then a tri-weekly paper. Then, on April 11, 1892, it became The Daily Princetonian. This made it the second oldest daily college newspaper in America, after Yale News. The ‘Prince’ soon became the main source of communication on campus, serving also as a bulletin board for campus events. Faculty and club announcements and exam schedules were published in the University Notices section. For instance, on March 20, 1906, a University Notice reminded, “Baseball Practice — Will be held in the cage to-morrow afternoon at 2.30.” Even the president of Princeton had to communicate through the ‘Prince’ to reach all the students at once.
With increasing exposure, the ‘Prince’ became more professional in its format and content. In 1893, it printed its first photograph: the football team after its 6-0 victory against Yale. The ‘Prince’ soon attracted and served as the training ground for writers of enormous talent, who would later become prominent journalists and leaders. Among them were Deputy Secretary of Defense James H. Douglas, Class of 1920; Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, Class of 1920; numerous U.S. ambassadors; Time magazine co-founder John S. Martin ’23; New York Times editor John B. Oakes ’34; Donald Oberdorfer ’52 of The Washington Post; Pulitzer Prize winner Robert A. Caro ’57; Frank Deford ’61 of Sports Illustrated; and Jose M. Ferrer III ’61 of Time and founder of Neustro, to name just a few.
With the advent of coeducation in 1969 and greater admission of minorities at Princeton, the voice of the ‘Prince’ changed further. For example, in 1965, reporters of the entirely male ‘Prince’ board had published a paperback titled, “Where The Girls Are: A Social Guide to Women’s Colleges in the East.” This field-manual-like book suggested the best locations to find college women, and information on nearby restaurants and bars, and transportation. Selling not only at Princeton but also at 25 other predominantly male colleges, it was featured on the front page of the New York Times in Oct. 19, 1969. But when women joined the ‘Prince’ board, such old-boy publications became a relic of the past.
The ‘Prince’ did not merely reflect and report on the transformation of Princeton. At times, it led this progressive change. During the Great Depression, it called on eating clubs to tone down their lavish Houseparties. When banks nationwide closed in 1933, the ‘Prince’ sold and successfully redeemed scripts, which local retailers accepted. And it persistently protested against compulsory Chapel until the practice was fully abolished in 1964: “Princeton is no longer a church school; it has become a religiously heterogeneous academic community” — March 16, 1959.
It also sympathized with the underdogs, urging benevolence towards freshmen, rebuking the five students who dropped Princeton out of a refusal to share class with black auditors, and welcoming the move towards coeducation: “If a modern university is to keep apace of modern education it must educate women and that if modern women are to keep space of modern life they must be educated. Coeducation is as much Princeton’s responsibility as it is her salvation” — June 21, 1969.
Along the way, the ‘Prince’ carried perks for its writers. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Class of 1917 wrote in “This Side of Paradise,” “Amory found that writing for the Nassau Literary Magazine would get him nothing, but that being on the board of The Daily Princetonian would get any one a great deal.”
Frederic E. Fox ’39 describes how writing for the ‘Prince’ allows one to see the word through a new pair of eyes: “You begin to see a story in every person, in every building, in every day. You go around the campus with your eyes open, all of your senses on the alert. Not in a tiresome way like some police officer straining to see each offence. More like an artist seeing beauty (or ugliness) and meaning in the world.”
Writers also enjoyed the privilege of interviewing deans and other authority figures on a basis of near-equality. One student recalled, “I remember how jealous I was of the reporter who interviewed Einstein for the Prince. What a privilege! What a privilege to interview any living person, to look into the real innards. What an enriching experience this can be. It can help a reporter develop a lifelong appreciation and understanding for all humanity. What’s more valuable than that?”
Other benefits included the sense of camaraderie and competition, the late-night gatherings in the newsroom, the annual banquets, and, of course, the waffle-maker.
Behind this very daily are decades of history. What we see as news today is part of a longer story, and what we view as our daily newspaper will be to future students a living artifact, transporting them back to the campus life at our time. To give you a sense of this, allow me to share a sentence from a Sep. 22, 1876 article: “there had been one hundred and sixty applications for admission this year – a larger number than ever before.” And here is the news from Feb. 4, 2016: “The Office of Admission has received and processed a record applicant pool of 29,313 applicants for the Class of 2020, the highest in the University’s history.” One can only wonder what future pages of the ‘Prince’ will hold.
Opinion Editor’s note: If you would like to help write the next chapter of this paper’s 141-year history, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are accepting applications for the spring semester through Friday, Feb. 17.
Maha Al Fahim is a sophomore from Vancouver, BC Canada. She can be reached at email@example.com.