Margaret M. Grubiak
Department of Architectural History
University of Virginia
The Friends of the Princeton University Library research grant has been an absolute highlight in researching my dissertation in architectural history. In the spring of 2004, I spent three weeks at the Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library, the longest of any of my visits to nine different archival repositories. Princeton University is a central part of my dissertation, which seeks to understand how the built environment reflected attitudes toward religion in the early twentieth century as science gained a stronger foothold in the academic mission and as educators sought to retain a sense of community within a growing university. During my time in the archives, I focused on the discussions surrounding the construction of the Princeton University Chapel (1928) as well as Princeton's larger building program from 1890 to 1930.
The Mudd Manuscript Library holds a wealth of information and collections related to Princeton University's history. In addition to the library's excellent finding aids, I also referred to Paul Kemeny's book,
Princeton in the Nation's Service: Religious Ideals and Educational Practice, 1868-1928
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), which includes a history of the university in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and essential references to the university's archival records. The Historical Subject Files in the Grounds and Buildings collection provided a collection of material on various buildings, and the Oversized Collection yielded architectural drawings of Princeton's buildings, many of which remain unpublished. Also extremely useful to my research was the Historical Photograph Collection, an extensive visual record of Princeton's history. Together, these collections provided a detailed factual and contemporary history of Princeton's early twentieth century structures.
Most important to understanding the context of the Princeton University Chapel were the university publications held at Mudd. The library's complete and indexed collection of the Princeton Alumni Weeklygave voice to the controversy surrounding the construction of a neo-Gothic chapel for a historically Protestant institution. Alumni letters, correspondence from Princeton University architect Ralph Adams Cram, and reports of the chapel's opening celebrations added another dimension to the archival record. I also had the pleasure of reading the student humor magazine, The
whose wry commentary and fantastic cartoons were yet another way to understand the chapel through the eyes of its intended audience, the Princeton students. Though the records of John Grier Hibben, who was president during the Princeton University Chapel's construction, are sparse, I was able to understand his views on the chapel and on religion in the university through the annually published presidential reports.
As these collections reveal, Princeton, like most of larger universities of the early twentieth century, sought to retain the centrality of religion in its academic mission even as religious traditions like compulsory chapel came under attack. For President Hibben and others, it was imperative to build a chapel after the burning of Marquand Chapel in 1920 to express the importance of religion to Princeton. However, the kind of chapel Princeton was to build did not meet with unanimous support. For Hibben and architect Ralph Adams Cram, creating Princeton's monumental religious building in the Gothic image fell in line with the 1890s decision to create an Oxbridge-like campus for Princeton. But for others, particularly older alumni, a fourteenth-century, Pre-Reformation inspired church was too much of a contradiction of Princeton's Protestant past. A more nuanced motivation for building such a sumptuous chapel was the desire to attract undergraduates to worship. The new chapel provided a powerful
emotional appeal to the enduring significance of religion, even within an education increasingly dominated by empirical research. Architecturally and visually, the Princeton University Chapel was to proclaim its importance to the university and to foster the spiritual and moral life of Princetonians.
I must also echo gratitude for the staff at the Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Ever courteous, prompt, and extremely helpful with their knowledge of the collections, the Princeton University Library staff were essential in guiding me to the right resources. I have also treasured the collegial spirit of the other library fellows and the enduring friendships I have made with some of these fellows. I could not have asked for a better research experience.