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An account of how writer James Barnes, Class of 1891, got his degree

A Princetonian by James Barnes, Class of 1891
[per 1895 action voted on in 1913]
by Alan E. Oestreich ’61, M.D.

The 2000 book The Best of PAW: 100 Years of Princeton Alumni Weekly, reprints "The Fictive Princeton" by Ann Waldron from the November 4, 1998, PAW. She mentions the novel A Princetonian, published in 1896 by James Barnes "a nonalumnus who nevertheless had a working knowledge of Princeton" (page 489 of the book).

Interestingly James Barnes (1866-1936), author of several historical books (including Midshipman Farragut, 1896, and For King and Country, 1895), seems to have been an actual member of the Class of 1891, but did not originally graduate with his class. What actually happened is not clear, but the records of the Board of Trustees discussed below suggest he somehow finagled, or even earned, the right to declare himself a member of the class of 1891. Indeed, both editions of A Princetonian list him as Class of 1891.

Kristine McGee, who works at Princeton’s archives, kindly provided this fascinating item concerning Mr. Barnes from the university archives:

[handwritten]: "Board of Trustees Minutes Pasted in at the November 14, 1895 Minutes"

[typed]: "WHEREAS James Barnes, now recorded as a non-graduate of the Class of 1891, has submitted to the Secretary of the University a diploma of Master of Arts in course dated November, 1895, and in corroboration has submitted an autograph letter written by [college president] Dr. Patton and reading in part, "I assure you that the action of the Trustees in conferring the degree upon you was very gratifying to me and to all your friends in our Faculty", and

WHEREAS no record of this action appears in the minutes of the Board,

RESOLVED that the Secretary be authorized to add Mr. Barnes's name to the list of graduates of the Class of 1891, and that the Clerk be instructed to append a copy of this resolution to the minutes of the Board meeting of November 14, 1895.

At a stated meeting of the Trustees of Princeton University, held on April 12, 1923, the foregoing resolution was unanimously adopted."
[handwritten] "Wilson Farrand"

[typed] "Clerk of the Board"

In the front matter of the 1891 Bric-a-Brac, "James Barnes" is listed as one of its 8 editors.

Moreover, for anyone who wishes to investigate further into Barnes' Princeton and subsequent career, the James Barnes Papers lie in the Manuscripts Division of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of the Princeton University Library. This collection includes 2 boxes of letters (including correspondence with John Greer Hibben, F.D.R., and Booth Tarkington [class of 1893]) and a box with a copy of John Paul Jones's letterbook for 1778-1779 [which related to Barnes' interest in naval history].

A Princetonian itself has the subtitle "A Story of Undergraduate Life at the College of New Jersey." It is dedicated:

Past, Present, and Future
who has sheltered us and whose
pride and happiness are in the welfare of her children
This little book is dedicated."

The PREFACE states among other things "This story deals mostly with a time that is recent, but tempora mutantur. ... One thing will never change, the Princeton spirit. I trust that it can be felt in this tale from old Princeton in the measure that it stirs the heart of the writer."

The first edition @1896 by G. Putnam's Sons is hardback (Fig. 1) and is Illustrated with 3 black and white photographs, Old Nassau Hall, "A Gray Bent Old Man [James McCosh]", and Under the Elms. The softcover reprint edition (Fig. 2) is from 1901 in Putnam's Hudson Library series (for 500) does not include the illustrations.

Information gleaned from the 1943 edition of Who Was Who in America (Marquis, Chicago, pp57-58) is given in this paragraph. Barnes was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of a navy man. He was on the staff of Scribner's Magazine 1891-93 (following his non-graduation) and later was on the editorial staff of Harper's Weekly and the D. Appleton & Co. 1899-1901 he was a war correspondent in South Africa. Twenty two books by Barnes appeared between 1895 and 1915. Shortly before the outbreak of World War I he was head of the Princeton Aviation School and he headed the photographic division of the U. S. Army sent to France to organize American photographic work at the front. In 1933 he was president of the Naval History Society of the U. S. His home for at least many years was in Princeton, New Jersey.

Whatever the circumstances of his belated graduation from Princeton, then, James Barnes seems to have been really a member of the class of 1891, had a distinguished later career including journalism and military photography, and been a loyal "son of Princeton."

Nonetheless, one's curiosity is raised about what took place in the Board of Trustees meetings and why. The case against his being a "nonalumnus" seems overturned.

The author thanks Staff Archivist Kristine McGee of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University for assistance with archival material on James Barnes.

Alan E. Oestreich, '61, MD
340 Warren Avenue
Cincinnati OH 45220-1135