Under the Ivy
by Gregg Lange '70
October 11, 2006:
Edificia alma mater
A look at building-naming trends around campus
By Gregg Lange ’70
I recall, as a high school junior, marching across the campus in a small herd
behind a backward-walking and irrepressible Orange Key guide in my first exposure
to this seemingly medieval world. At a point near Alexander Hall, some of his
acquaintances passed by and somberly reminded him to be certain to note Dumnobble
Memorial Flagstone, or some other ludicrous imaginary icon, just around the corner.
His raucous laughter made me instantly wonder if student health care was adequate
at Princeton. But more on that later.
We love naming stuff after folks. Aside from the obvious fundraising opportunities,
it personalizes the concrete – in both senses – and serves jointly
as reminder and perspective for those of us passing through. Von Neumann Hall
and the G Wing of the Engineering Quad are adjacent; which would you rather visit
on a whim? My tour guide’s taunting buddies, however, demonstrated the
dark side of this force, namely the proliferation of named plazas, gates, towers,
and individual black squirrels until nothing remains without a plaque on it (except
G Wing, of course).
In this rarefied world of endless inscriptions and curious Latin phrases,
the Golden Rule generally prevails: Whoever gives the gold makes the rules. So
we have buildings named after not only donors but University presidents, student
drinking buddies, professors, kings of England, Cleveland, whatever. The latest
trend, exemplified by the generous Frists and Fishers and Hodeses, is to get
the whole extended family together and name something after everybody, as Princeton
classes have done more generally for years.
Many of those who donated buildings over the centuries have been women, usually
relatives of alumni, responsible for everything from Holder Hall to Alexander
Hall to Brown Hall. My personal favorite is Esther Jadwin p’28, who with
no direct connection to the University except her son, 36 years dead, left enough
at her death in 1965 to build L. Stockwell Jadwin ’28 Gym, Stanley P. Jadwin
Physics Lab (named for her husband), the new Fine Hall, the math-physics library,
So it might well surprise you to learn that at the end of the 20th century,
there were precisely two buildings at Princeton named solely after women. The
first, by a long shot, is the Isabella McCosh Infirmary, built by subscription
of alumni in 1892 (and replaced in 1925), dedicated by the trustees to the iconic
Scottish wife of iconic Scottish president James McCosh over her strenuous objections.
Daughter of a physician, she had spent much effort over the years trying to keep
the manly undergrads from dying from the dread diseases of the day, nursing them
along with tea, clean sheets, and motherly advice.
The second building, appropriately enough at the advent of coeducation in
1973, was Spelman Halls, given by Laurance Rockefeller ’32 in honor of
his late grandmother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, who founded Spelman College
in Atlanta. And that was that.
But speaking of coeducation, the new millennium has brought a breathtaking
doubling of the population to four edifices named solely for women. The third
is Whitman College, named for eBay president Meg Whitman ’77, who with
her family donated $30 million to the project. Whitman College represents a number
of bigtime benchmarks: first undergraduate college to be built from scratch;
first Princeton collegiate gothic construction since 1948; first Really Good
Idea to Hide New South; and largest donation from an alumna. (Ah, how well we
remember the moaning from the Old Alums in the ’70s, complaining bitterly
that coeducation would be the financial ruination of the University, since the
husbands of alumnae would never allow them to donate in the generous ways typical
of the Old Male Princeton.)
The subsequent fourth structure has uniqueness as well: first building named
for a 21st-century alum, first bamboo floors on campus, first P-rade arch you
can drive an Old Guard golf cart through, first dorm donor outed by The Daily
Princetonian. Emma Bloomberg ’01 Hall is a great dormitory space, and
it continues another recent wrinkle in the Name Game: a parent – in this
case, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with his family – naming
a gift for the child, as opposed to the traditional vice versa. In addition to
Jadwin Gym, this subset includes Forbes College, given by Malcolm Forbes Sr. ’41
but named for Steve Forbes ’70. Whether the dorm will prove a virtue when
Emma runs for president remains to be seen, of course.
So the few, the proud, the four ladies – Isabella, Laura, Meg, and Emma – patiently
await their compatriots in the dedicatory pantheon, along with the immortal Dumnobble
Memorial Flagstone. Stay tuned.
Gregg 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. During the Reunions P-rade, he can be found at the
reviewing stand microphone, attempting to create drama from innumerable meandering
swatches of orange and black. A
Montclair, N.J., resident, he is a management consultant to companies in the
entertainment and media industries.