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This Week in Princeton History for May 10-16

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the debate team loses to Harvard on immigration restrictions, the grading system is radically changed, and more.

May 10, 1947—In the Chicago Defender, W. E. B. Du Bois reports that Princeton University had written to him in 1910: “Princeton University has never had graduates of Negro descent.”

At the time W. E. B. DuBois received that letter, Princeton had several African American graduates, including I. W. L. Roundtree, Graduate Class of 1895. Clipping from the Trenton Evening Times.

May 11, 1898—Princeton’s debate team loses to Harvard on the question of whether immigration to the United States should be further restricted. Princeton’s team has argued that it should not be, on the basis that immigrants are needed for economic growth, so-called “undesirable” immigrants do not actually end up dependent on charity and living in slums despite popular perception, and often immigrants do menial jobs that American citizens are unwilling to do.

May 12, 1969—The faculty approve radical changes to the grading system in use at Princeton University, moving from a 1-7 scale that ranked students against one another to a letter grading system more in keeping with that of other institutions.

Grade card from a member of the Class of 1939 (name redacted). Note the beginnings of +/- grading in the spring of 1936. At the time, 17 different grades were possible. The A-F grading scale brought the possible number of grades down to 11. (Click to enlarge.) Office of the Registrar Records (AC116), Box 120.

May 16, 1920—Student behavior in Chapel on this day draws widespread condemnation after a group of students begin coughing loudly when the Dean of Yale Divinity School’s sermon runs long.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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