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Feb. 9, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 7

Alumni Scene

Student unions

When undergrad marriages needed the dean’s OK

By Mark F. Bernstein ’83
Published in the February 9, 2011, issue

Suzy and John Graham '61 in 1960 and, below, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.
Courtesy Suzy and John Graham '61
Suzy and John Graham '61 in 1960 and, below, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

Love and marriage may go together like a horse and carriage, as the 1955 hit by song by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen says. But they usually don’t go together with college, too.  

Though the number of married undergraduates today is believed to be small, half a century ago, things were different — and in honor of Valentine’s Day, PAW looks back at that time.

From the end of World War II through the early 1960s, it was not un­usual for a student to get his marriage license before his diploma. All-male Princeton did not make it easy. The Undergraduate Announce­ment stated that any student who married while an undergraduate would be compelled to withdraw from the University unless given special permission to remain.  

For most young “benedicts” of the time, as they sometimes were called, that meant a trip to Nassau Hall to meet with William Lippincott ’41, the dean of students. As a 1963 PAW article tactfully put it, “The dean does not necessarily disapprove of student marriage as such, but feels this is a valuable time to point out the problems.”

“He could be intimidating, but he was also a nice guy,” recalls John Graham ’61, who faced Lippincott during his junior year. The dean granted permission and explained what he wanted in return: assurances that Graham would not neglect his studies.  

Bob Varrin ’56’s visit to see Lippin­cott — and Dean of the College Jeremiah Finch — was more stressful; he had brought his new bride, Flora, to town before obtaining permission. Finch told Varrin that he probably would have to withdraw, but Lippincott agreed to think it over. Two days later, Varrin was allowed to finish his studies.

As Robert “Hutch” Hutchison ’47 remembers, the biggest problem was not getting permission to marry, but finding a place to live afterward. He entered Princeton in 1944 and married his longtime girlfriend, Betty Ann, the following year. According to a February 1946 article in PAW, 77 of 500 veterans returning to campus were married, bringing with them 30 children. The University created temporary housing for married students in what had been freshman boarding houses on Univer­sity Place and in Upper and Lower Pyne Halls. Dorm rooms had to be modified for family living. In later years, married undergraduates found places to live around town and in the Butler Apartments (known as the “Barracks”), built in 1947.  

The eating clubs remained a focus of social life. Varrin and his wife ­regularly attended social events at his club, Tower, while Hilton Jervey ’61 and his wife, Georgia, ate at Charter Club on weekends. “I never felt that we were missing out on student life,” Varrin says.  

Most of the married Princeton students were supported during their undergraduate years by their wives and parents. The rule, as PAW noted in 1960, was: “He learns, she earns.” The Hutchisons found it impossible to get by on the $90 a month Hutch received under the GI bill, so Betty Ann got a secretarial job on Palmer Square while he held down three part-time jobs. John Graham’s wife, Suzy, taught at Princeton High School. Wives who did not have to work audited classes on campus, formed book clubs, or looked after their young children. Many joined the Wyman Club, a group of graduate-student wives that sponsored, PAW reported, “bridge, arts and crafts, sewing, knitting, and has an excellent group who sing madrigals.”  

All say they married because they fell in love and did not want to wait to start building a family. “People didn’t live together [out of wedlock],” Georgia Jervey remembers.  

Despite the challenges, the Hutchi­sons, Grahams, Varrins, and Jerveys saw those years on campus as an adventure. “I was scared at first,” recalls Betty Ann Hutchison, “but I loved Princeton from the minute I got there until graduation.”
Post Comments
2 Responses to Student unions

Walt Culin '52 Says:

2011-02-08 09:34:38

Expecting to be drafted, and with Dean Godolphin's blessing, I enlisted in the Air Force in early 1951. With Dean Finch's permission and with his help in obtaining an apartment in the veterans' housing project, I returned just before midterms in the fall of 1954 with a very pregnant wife (Northwestern '52). With the dean's approval, I was able to switch into civil engineering and graduated in 1957. I even had a '52 classmate for an instructor, and chaperoned parties at Cannon Club. I now celebrate major reunions with both classes at the same time.

Earl Kivett '69 p'90 p'03 Says:

2011-02-10 09:16:07

The framed letter on Dean Lippincott's stationery hangs on our MBR wall and reads: "Confirming our conversation of January 8, 1968, this is merely official notification that you have University permission to remain in college as a married under- graduate."
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