John Stewart ’77 came to Princeton with a few family stories in mind, thanks to his mother, who’d worked at Firestone Library, and his father, a former Princeton Alumni Weekly editor. He found a campus that was much different than the one his parents had known, and his memories of the University include the friendships he made at Princeton Inn College (now Forbes). “At the time it seemed quite isolated from the rest of the University,” he says. “When you got back there you sort of stayed put.”
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Brett Tomlinson: This month on PAW Tracks, we hear from John Stewart ’77. He came to Princeton with a few family stories in mind — thanks in part to his late father, a former Princeton Alumni Weekly editor — and found a campus that was much different than the one his parents had known.
John Stewart: My grandfather Ernest Taylor Stewart was Class of 1895 and his younger brother, Alex Stewart, was Class of 1897. Alex Stewart is more famous as the father of Jimmy Stewart, the movie actor, who was Class of 1932, as everybody knows. And my uncle, John Stewart, after whom I’m named, was Class of ’37; my father was Class of ’41. So, Princeton was in the blood, in terms of, in terms of the education. And in addition, my father came in 1946 and was the editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, which you might have heard of, from 1946 until 1951. So my parents’ first home was in Princeton. They lived in the — what they were called, what we knew them as the “Projects,” which were just torn down a couple years ago, just down Prospect, Prospect Avenue as graduate housing. My two older sisters were born in Princeton. In 1951 my father was recruited from PAW to be the first executive secretary of the American Alumni Council. So, he stayed in the alumni world. Sadly he died when I was 8 in 1963, but Princeton was a large part of growing up, the heritage.
And one of my favorite stories is that — he’s working down at the Princeton Alumni Press offices down — I can’t remember the name of that street, the old stone building, lovely stone building. And he of course, would — he had a bicycle and would spend a lot of time coming up to campus. And between — when you come up along Firestone, there’s a set of about 10 stone steps, and he got so irritated by having to carry his bike up it, that he pushed the University and they installed bicycle ramps, which are still there today and I think must be one of the earliest bicycle ramps in, certainly in Princeton’s history, if not university history. So, when I came here — and that was a family story we were told — I loved to walk down those steps and see that my father made some small difference.
My mother, when she was here, actually worked for Julian Boyd who was the librarian at Firestone at the time, and she was very, very proud of Firestone. When my father died, my mother dedicated a library carrel to my father, which has a quotation in it from Daniel Burnham: “Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s souls.”
BT: By the time Stewart arrived as a student, the campus had grown and changed significantly, and his experiences reflected this new era at the University.
JS: Princeton was very different, of course. I came in the fall of 1973. Women, of course, had been admitted three, four years before that. My class was I think about 25 percent women. But that was a huge, obviously a huge difference from what it had been like when my parents were here. I decided to sign up and live in Princeton Inn College, partly because — which is now of course, Forbes College — it had relatively recently been taken, bought by the University, I think because of coeducation and it had the advantage, because it was hotel rooms, it was — it had been a functioning hotel — it had relatively small rooms along a corridor. So, in my freshman year, every other room was — or every third room, probably, to fit the statistics, was two women and the rest was men. So, we actually had a corridor that bonded as a group of people, of men and women. It created a much more — kind of an integrated social life. There wasn’t that much pairing up, pairing off in the early days. And my mother was actually very pleased because she told me that her, my parents spent one of the nights of their honeymoon in Princeton Inn, itself, when it actually was an inn, on the way to come, to come work here. So — I’m kind of picturing my parents on their honeymoon, then being in the same place, it’s a slightly different image. But I think coeducation was probably the biggest difference from Princeton then and now.
My mother — in her parting words, as I set off to come to Princeton, she gave me one bit of advice and — when I tell this story you think you’re going to say, you know, a little bit of last minute sex education, you know, watch out for this, don’t drink too much. She didn’t — whether she was worried about that, she didn’t advise me on it. Her one bit of advice was, “Do not play bridge when you get to Princeton,” because she said that my, the game bridge — because she said that my father’s downfall when he had been here was the after, after dinner he and his friends — the early days in, in the dorms; he was in Cap and Gown his junior and senior years — after dinner he’d get up say, “Well, we’ll just play, we’ll just play one rubber of bridge,” and they would end up playing bridge for five or six hours and of course, not getting their work done. And although I knew how to play bridge and I liked playing it, I followed her advice and I never — and I never played bridge when I was at Princeton. And hence, I did actually graduate cum laude.
But what most of us did, which wasn’t quite so bad as bridge was after dinner Star Trek was on and we’d all pile into, into the little TV room and watch an hour of Star Trek, which was fine, because it was only an hour and you’d then feel like you’d had a break and then you’d go off to study in your room or in one of the study halls. And then there were great — there were various, let’s say social events at Princeton Inn because … at the time it seemed quite isolated from the rest of the University. When you got back there you sort of stayed put, and a lot of my good friends from those days are from the Princeton Inn times.
BT: Our thanks to John Stewart for sharing his memories of Princeton. Brett Tomlinson produced this episode; the music is licensed from FirstCom Music.
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