Photographs by Ricardo Barros | Text by W. Barksdale Maynard ’88
A century ago, the sun blazed upon the dedication of Princeton’s Graduate College. Vivid with pomp and heraldry, that three-day gala in October 1913 marked a triumph for Dean Andrew Fleming West 1874, who had fought hard for the creation of this stunning neo-medieval complex and successfully urged that it be built on the golf links, a half-mile from Princeton’s undergraduate campus.
William Howard Taft, the former U.S. president and recent campaign rival to Woodrow Wilson 1879, gave the keynote speech — an emotional tribute to Grover Cleveland, a Princeton resident who was honored by the college’s 173-foot-tall Cleveland Memorial Tower. As Leopold Stokowski’s Philadelphia Orchestra played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” young Richard Cleveland ’19 pulled a halyard to unfurl an American flag atop the tower, the same one that had flown over the White House in his father’s day.
One of the most beautiful complexes ever built on an American campus, the Graduate College emerged from that infamous academic feud, West versus Wilson. The fight had erupted over the allied questions: Who should control the Graduate College? Where should it be located?
The sometimes imperious Wilson, previously Princeton’s president, had wanted it firmly under his rule, and he wanted it on campus, where graduate students would inspire undergraduates daily. But his nemesis West favored a distant site where he could create a cohesive community of graduate scholars, leading a high-minded and stimulating life free from the undergraduate horde.
West proved a canny fundraiser, undermining Wilson’s intellectual arguments with cold cash donated by well-to-do alumni, including William Cooper Procter 1883, head of Procter & Gamble, who had grown rich on Ivory soap. The trustees came down on the side of capital. Wilson, disgusted, left Princeton for politics and was in the White House the day the Graduate College was dedicated. When it opened, it housed 102 students in grand suites; today, after an expansion in the 1920s and construction of the “new GC” in the 1960s, it can accommodate about 430. A century after its opening, the Graduate College’s remote location remains unpopular with some, but no one denies that its Gothic architecture is timeless and sublime.
W. Barksdale Maynard ’88 is a lecturer at the University and author of Princeton: America’s Campus, recently named to a state list of 101 great New Jersey books.