What: For more than a century, colorful pins have adorned the chests of Reunion-goers, signaling membership in those very special clubs called “classes.” 

“Goin’ Back” has been a habit at least since Princeton’s centennial anniversary of 1847, when the Alumni Association of Nassau Hall encouraged “old grads” to return – and to give generously to the perennially struggling college. Under the tent on Cannon Green that day sat the original Old Guard, one a wizened member of the Class of 1770.

Later, a canny President James McCosh pitted classes against each other for ­fundraising. He garnered cash for an essay prize from returning Fifty-Nine in 1869, a clock for the Nassau Hall tower from Sixty-Six in 1876. 

By the early 20th century, the time of most of the pins shown above, fund­raising among the 7,000 living alumni had been elevated to an art form. The classes of 1877 and 1879 gave dormitories. Ten classes donated Patton Hall in 1905, each paying for a separate entry. No fewer than 66 classes gave money for a gym. 

Supervising architect Ralph Adams Cram was delighted, writing: “The ‘Princeton spirit’ seems to do one thing, at least, and that is to loosen the purse-strings of every alumnus.” 

Where: Princeton Memorabilia, Princeton University Archives