Founded in 1891 with a gift of $10,000 from Spencer Trask of the Class of 1866, and supplemented by an additional $10,000 from his estate, for the purpose of securing the services of eminent men to deliver public lectures before the University on subjects of special interest." The vagueness of this wording is consistent with that of the Catalogue of the College of New Jersey of 1891-1892, but between 1937-1938 and 1970-1971 the policy of the Committee on Public Lectures was to "select lecturers on this foundation who will emphasize the importance of the humanities."
Lecturers have included Niels Bohr on "The Structure of the Atom" (1923-1924); Arnold J. Toynbee on "Near Eastern Affairs" (1925-1926); T. S. Eliot on "The Bible and English Literature," (1932-1933); Bertrand Russell on "Mind and Matter" (1950-1951); and Margaret Mead on "Changing American Character" (1975-1976). Trask was a successful financier and one of Thomas Edisonís original backers. He was killed in a railroad accident in 1909.
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