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Princeton’s Class of 1880 v. the Class of 1881

By Carter Mulroe ’20

The freshman vs. sophomore rivalry is one of Princeton’s oldest customs, dating at least as far back to 1760 when a code of unofficial laws stated that “every freshman sent on an errand shall go and do it quickly and faithfully and return.” This was what Princeton once called “horsing,” now known as hazing. Horsing may have begun at Harvard in 1734 when freshmen were not allowed “to laugh in a senior’s face, or to intrude into his company or speak saucily to him or to ask him an impertinent question.” Typically, horsing at Princeton included making the freshmen run to class, sing songs, and other mild sophomore demands. One of the horsing games at Princeton that lives on today in a modified form is the cane spree. The cane spree once consisted of a full-on battle between the freshmen and sophomores in which the sophomores attempted to wrestle and take the canes away from the freshmen. However, it got too dangerous, so in 1876, the Princetonian later explained, “three pairs of ‘spreers’ were selected—light, middle, and heavyweight—and the contest was held on the present arena between Witherspoon and Alexander.” The background behind the cane spree was that there was an unofficial rule enforced by the upperclassmen that didn’t allow freshman to carry canes on campus.  The moment the freshmen stepped on Princeton’s campus, they were expected to show respect to their sophomore elders and embrace the hazing that came along with it. However, the rivalry between the freshmen and sophomores often started before the freshman class was even enrolled at Princeton. This was especially true between the Classes of 1880 and 1881.

At the time, candidates for admission to Princeton took an entrance exam on campus towards the end of the academic year prior to their matriculation. James Noteman Anderson (Class of 1880) collected newspaper clippings in his scrapbook that say that it was a common practice for the outgoing freshmen to sit outside the examination hall and heckle the incoming freshmen hopefuls before their examination. The rising sophomores usually all yelled out chants such “Left, Right, Left, Right” in unison as the incoming freshmen approached the examination hall. However, in 1877, when a number of the members of the Class of 1880 engaged in “disorderly and ungentlemanly conduct toward the Candidates for admission to College” near the home of the president, James McCosh, disrupting the exams “for several hours,” the faculty voted to suspend 32 of them for the rest of the semester.

In response to the suspension of the 32 students, the rest of the members of the Class of 1880 congregated for a grand demonstration and heckled every passerby on campus. Furious at the actions of the students, the Board of Trustees decided to suspend the entire Class of 1880 for the rest of the semester. As far as we know, this is the first and last time in Princeton’s history where an entire class was suspended. The next day, the outgoing freshmen met on the northwest corner of campus and carried a large violin case, draped with a black sheet to make it look like a coffin. This was a tradition that was usually performed by the sophomore class, which makes it odd for the Class of 1880 to do this while they were still freshmen. The black sheet was labeled with “1880” in large white numbers. The outgoing freshmen chanted and sang songs as they marched through campus, without much worry about their suspension.

This image from a page in James Noteman Anderson’s scrapbook shows his class (the Class of 1880) marching through campus with a fake coffin. Scrapbook Collection (AC026), Box 77.

Much more intense hazing began when the incoming freshman were actually enrolled as students. On the night of February 18, 1878, the Class of 1881 decided that the Class of 1880 had taken things too far. Louis Jay Lang, a freshman, had been invited to dinner in the room of two sophomores, Albert Hoffman Atterbury and Jacob Berdine Carter. However, the moment Lang walked into their room, he noticed 6 other men dressed in white robes. He had fallen into a trap. Lang reported that he was tied up and tortured by the men. He said that his head was rubbed with sandpaper, his body pricked with pins, and cold water poured down his back. In addition, while he was bound to the chair he was whipped and made to whistle and also sing and recite Greek poetry before he was released slightly after midnight. Clarence Linn, Class of 1880 historian, claimed that they simply tied Lang up and made him sign a paper apologizing for boasting that the sophomores were weak and lacked both muscle and nerve. The severity of the event, as reported by Lang, and the fact that it was during the second semester (usually hazing remained confined to the first semester) angered many of the freshmen. A few agitated freshmen decided that it was necessary to take action and punish both Atterbury and Carter for their actions.

This newspaper clipping shows common hazing tactics at Princeton ca. 1885. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 379, Folder 11.

On the night of February 18, a few days after Lang’s hazing, 10 freshmen wearing masks headed up to the room of Atterbury and Carter (the two were roommates) in preparation for their revenge. The freshmen’s names were Richard Hutchins, Henry Mcalpin Jr., Horace Mcdermont, Francis Loney, Harry Matthews, Edward Matthews, Thomas Bradford, Powell Bradley, John Shaw and Warren Flick. The freshmen referred to themselves as the “Ku-Klux” and many of them were members of the Alpha Sigma Chi secret society. It is unclear why they referred to themselves as the “Ku-Klux,” since there seems to be no connection with the Ku Klux Klan. However, other organizations in the South used the Greek word for “circle,” kyklos, as part of their name in the 19th century, such as the University of North Carolina’s Kuklos Adelphon, which predated the KKK.

Newspaper clipping depicting hazing at Princeton, 1878. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 379, Folder 11.

The 10 members of the Class of 1881 went into the sophomores’ room, tied the two up, and attacked them. The freshmen paddled the sophomores while attempting to make Atterbury and Carter sign a paper apologizing for their actions and ultimately submitting to the freshmen. The Princetonian reported that the two refused, so the freshmen shaved their heads “in a most grotesque manner smearing the remaining top knot with mucilage.”

Princeton’s hazing outbreak was a topic of national discussion in 1878. This ad for the Police Gazette appeared in the Princetonian on February 7, 1878.

After the freshmen realized they would not get the sophomores to give in to their demands, they all fled into the night, leaving both Carter and Atterbury tied up. However, Atterbury soon freed himself and then his roommate before chasing after the freshmen. The two members of the Class of 1880 grabbed their revolvers and sprinted down Nassau Street to find the freshmen. Atterbury and Carter claimed their revolvers were loaded with blank cartridges when they fired two shots, but the freshmen stated that they heard the bullets whizz past their heads. The freshmen, attempting to defend themselves, fired back at the two sophomores in front of the University Hotel, striking Atterbury in the groin which resulted in an injury that was not life-threatening.

Albert Hoffman Atterbury, Class of 1880. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box SP07.

These events led to the suspension of the 10 freshmen and 8 sophomores, including both Carter and Atterbury, who was still being treated for his wound. The sophomore class was furious that the 10 freshmen treated their fellow classmates so harshly and decided it was their turn for revenge. A few days later, the sophomores received word that the suspended freshmen were heading to Princeton Junction to go back to their homes. Practically the whole sophomore class (about 85 sophomores, as the Class of 1881 remembered it) decided to skip mandatory chapel and head to the Princeton Junction train station to meet the freshmen and avenge their fellow classmates. Fortunately the freshmen, armed with their clubs and revolvers, were escorted by a campus proctor, Matt Goldie. Goldie was a very large and intimidating man, holding the title of New Jersey heavyweight champion. He rushed the freshmen into the women’s waiting room at Princeton Junction and stood out front protecting the door. Faced by the many sophomores he screamed out, “I’ll brain the first man that attempts to enter here.” This threat held off the sophomores for a little while; however, when the train arrived, it was finally time for the freshmen to face their elders. The trainmen helped form a sort of line and Goldie rushed the freshmen from the waiting room onto the train. There were numerous items thrown at the freshmen, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt. Thankfully none of the freshmen were seriously injured from the projectiles. The Prince stated that if the freshmen were injured from the projectiles, it was likely that the revolvers would have been used, and more bloodshed would have occurred.

The events both on campus and at Princeton Junction resulted in the suspension and expulsion of many students. The New York Times reported that 8 sophomores were expelled in relation to the hazing of Lang, 10 freshmen suspended for their retaliation, 2 other freshmen suspended for hazing related incidents, and finally 30 sophomores suspended for the incident at the train station. In total, 50 students were disciplined, which helped weaken the chain of the hazing tradition. While hazing still continued between the freshmen and sophomores, this series of events remains one of the most dramatic examples of “horsing” ever to occur at the institution.


Board of Trustees Records (AC120)

Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058)

Historical Subject Files (AC109)

Lynn, Clarence. A History of the Class of ‘80. Jersey City: Evening Journal Print, 1880.

McAlpin, Henry. The Messenger: A History of the class of 1881 of Princeton College. New York: Holden, 1881.

McCosh, James. Twenty Years of Princeton College. New York: Scribners, 1888.

Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118)

Papers of Princeton

Scrapbook Collection (AC026)


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