Web Exclusives: 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, and more.

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.


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. 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.