The Graduate College

A Brief History

The Princeton University Graduate College was dedicated on October 22, 1913. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram in close collaboration with the first dean of the Graduate School, Andrew Fleming West, this imposing group of connected Gothic buildings was the first residential college in America devoted solely to postgraduate liberal studies. (In Princeton usage, "Graduate College" refers to the residential and dining halls, "Graduate School" to the program of instruction.)

Situated on a hill half a mile from the main campus, the buildings of the College are unified by the random walls of brown and gray Princeton stone and slate roofs of green and blue. The ensemble consists of a lofty tower whose beauty of design has been compared with that of Oxford's Magdalen tower ("by moonlight, a dream in silvery grays and whites," Dean West wrote to President Wilson); a great dining hall with hammerhead beams, an organ, and stained glass; a refectory, a library, a lounge, gardens with ivies from abroad and in its wall architectural fragments from Oxford and Cambridge; a handsome house for the dean, and a suite for the administrator in residence, formerly a faculty member known as the master of the college. The detailing is continuously interesting, with humorous depictions of student life in the form of exterior gargoyles and grotesques, and caricatures of trustees carved on the dining hall hammerheads.

The principal components of the Graduate College are memorials to founders, benefactors, or their relatives, and distinguished graduates.

Thomson College, the central quadrangle now commonly known as the Old Graduate College, is a memorial to United States Senator John R. Thomson 1817 provided by a bequest left by his widow, Mrs. J. R. Thomson Swann, the Graduate College's first benefactor.

Procter Hall, the College's formal dining hall and chief public room, admired by experts in the field as a distinguished example of collegiate gothic, was given by William Cooper Procter 1883 in memory of his parents. Once a month, Procter Hall serves as the splendid setting for the Graduate College's tradition of convening faculty, deans, and students at the High Table.

Pyne Tower, which contains the living quarters of the administrator in residence, was named for the donor, M. Taylor Pyne 1877, the chairman of the trustees' graduate school committee at the time the Graduate College was built. In the vaulted vestibule at the base of the tower there is a memorial to the Graduate College's first master in residence, archaeologist Howard Crosby Butler 1892, in the form of a translation of a Greek inscription he discovered on the Syrian desert, carved beside a fireplace: "I sojourned well, I journeyed well; and well I lie at rest. Pray for me".

Wyman House, the residence of the dean of the Graduate School, was named for Isaac C. Wyman 1848, who left the bulk of his estate to the University Graduate College.

Between Procter Hall and Wyman House, a gateway opens into the Graduate College gardens, designed by Beatrix Farrand, from which can be seen the heraldic sculptures and elaborate grotesques that decorate the west facade of Procter Hall. Their carving, according to E. Baldwin Smith, then Howard Crosby Butler Professor of the History of Architecture, "has more freedom, vigor, and originality than perhaps any other modern revival of the Gothic style.''

The 173-foot Cleveland Tower, which flanks the main entrance, was erected by public subscription of "thousands of citizens of all parties in all walks and conditions of life from all parts of the United States'' as a memorial to President Grover Cleveland, who, following his retirement from public life, was a trustee of the University and, as chairman of the trustees' graduate school committee, was deeply interested in the planning of the Graduate College. The carillon in the belfry of the tower was given in 1927 by the Class of 1892.

A quadrangle known as the North Court was added, also in 1927, with a gift from William Cooper Procter and a grant from University funds. Two additional quadrangles built northwest of the original group in 1963 were named for Procter and for three illustrious alumni of the Graduate School, the Compton brothers; they are commonly known as the New Graduate College.

Designed by R. Tait McKenzie and given by William Cooper Procter, the bronze statue of Dean West on the upper terrace of the Old GC courtyard was dedicated in the spring of 1928. Seated in the center of the original Graduate College buildings, the dean appears to be saying - as one of his contemporaries suggested it was given to him to say, in the words of his favorite Latin author, Horace - "Exegi monumentum aere perennius'' (I have built a monument more enduring than bronze).

Adapted from John D. Davies' article in: Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978); a new edition of the Companion is in preparation. A searchable version of the current edition is available online.

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