Web Exclusives: Rally 'Round the Cannon -- Princeton history
by Gregg Lange '70

President Woodrow Wilson 1879 Andrew Fleming West 1874

Squaring off a century ago over the location of the new Graduate College were University President Woodrow Wilson 1879 and Andrew Fleming West 1874, dean of the Graduate School.

April 2, 2008:

The fight of the century
A hundred years ago, a campus plan prompted a bitter split

By Gregg Lange ’70

While you were devouring in meticulous detail the colorful, beautifully illustrated booklet on the current campus development plan that you received with your issue of PAW in January – and which magically coincides with the Aspire capital campaign – you may have realized that there’s an assumption that is literally central to the concept.

You studied the plan in detail, right? You don’t want to wake up in a cold sweat some night, knowing there’ll be a test on it and you haven’t studied, right? RIGHT?

Freudian issues aside, the Current Big Glossy Planning Idea is that Frist Campus Center (Palmer Lab if you haven’t been back to campus in awhile, or the Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital if you’re a fan of TV’s House) is anointed in the plan as the center of the campus. Distances are measured from there, presumably everybody knows where it is, you can meet other folks there without fuss, there’s expensive pizza, it providentially has the word “center” right in it. In fact, it’s such a natural that Woodrow Wilson 1879 figured it out a hundred years ago.

No one, even then, questioned the wisdom of the insight. The trouble arose from the Princeton president’s intention to use it for a pet project: the new Graduate College. Unfortunately, this was a Grand Idea with one too many Grand Parents; the Grad School had a dean, and the dean had a different vision. The resulting friction (rather like calling the Russo-Japanese War a “culture clash”) played itself out over two years, dragging in everybody from the Princeton trustees to The New York Times to the New Jersey Democratic Party.

PAW announced on April 15, 1908, that the new Graduate College would be built between 1879 Hall and Prospect, essentially where Woolworth and the School of Architecture lie today. The trustees had approved it. The party line, even now, is that Wilson wished the graduate students to be an integral part of the college community; they would be a scholarly influence on the impressionable undergrads, who were a tad overfocused on football and a tad underfocused on all the still-new preceptor guys. Yadayadayada. It seems to me that this conveniently ignores the other aspect of the front lawn of Palmer/Frist: It lies directly under what was Wilson’s office window. Let us recall that the magnanimous Class of 1879, Tommy’s buddies, had given him … uh, the University… the distinctive (and cleverly named) Seventy-Nine Hall four years earlier, including the palatial suite over its arch that immediately became Wilson’s office for the duration of his presidency. His hundred-yard walk from the office to his home (Prospect) would conveniently take him directly through the proposed Grad College at least twice a day.

Now, Andrew Fleming West 1874 was the aforementioned dean of the Graduate School; his ascendance, voted directly by the trustees and not President Patton, predated Wilson’s by a year. In 1896, when Wilson was still making his professorial name, West was organizing – and raising mucho funds for – the University’s landmark Sesquicentennial, which set the tone for every Princeton convocation and P-rade to this day. His good buddies were folks like ex-president Grover Cleveland, whom he had sucked into the 1896 festivities, and well-heeled trustees like Moses Taylor Pyne (Pyne Hall, Pyne Library). For a classicist, Andy was facile with a buck. An early verse in the faculty song goes:

Here’s to Andy three-million West,
At gathering money he is the best…

After being named first dean of the Graduate School in 1900, he put together a beautifully illustrated book (where have we heard THAT before?) and went about unearthing coin for the Graduate College. His first big hit came in 1906: $275,000 – half the amount of the University’s total operating budget – from the widow of Robert Thompson 1817 to name the new College after him (eventually, the main quad and courtyard at the Graduate College would be named after Thompson). The 1908 announcement from Wilson and the trustees followed.

West, however, had his own thoughts on location; he wanted the College where it could develop “its own true life,” i.e., a mile away from Wilson. His on-the-hill-above-the-golf-course plan (beautifully illustrated) conveniently included a handsome house for the dean. The battle lines were drawn when West secured an additional $500,000 donation from William Procter 1883 (as in Procter & Gamble) for the College, if it were NOT built where Wilson wanted. So the project was deadlocked (with much very public sniping on each side) until the death in May 1910 of Isaac Wyman 1848, who left $800,000 to Princeton – and with West as the trustee of the estate. Game, set, match. Wilson caved, the trustees approved the golf course plan, and the ensuing Ralph Adams Cram collegiate gothic college opened in 1913. West was still the dean, but by then Wilson, long gone, was in the White House.

Would Wilson have been as tempted to leave Princeton and run for governor in 1910 had he not been thrashed by West? Would West, who already had turned down the presidency of MIT, have stayed at Princeton and nurtured the Grad School had he lost? On such musings are history departments perpetuated. Wilson died exhausted at age 66 in 1924, West triumphant and honored at 90 in 1943.

But hey, it’s not like this is very important to you and me, right? Well, should today’s new (beautifully illustrated) campus plan be completed as designed – unlike the prior 137 Princeton campus plans, but that’s a different tale – the only two parts of the University that won’t be within a 10-minute walk of Frist Center are:

Forrestal Campus (and who really needs fusion experiments near their dorm?) and the Grad College.

Waytogo, Dean West! There’s a later typically pointed verse of the faculty song:

Here’s to Andrew Fleming West
A Latin scholar self-confessed
He lived to see a lifetime’s hope
Constructed out of Ivory soap.

Lange '70Gregg Lange ’70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.