An Auspicious Beginning – “Graduation Day, 1879”

Of the many interesting documents to be discovered in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library’s Pamphlet Collection, a good place to start exploring is at the beginning with the oldest artifact in the collection; the 1879 commencement announcement for the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University.

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Looking at the two-page pamphlet, one side announces, “Appointments for Commencement”, including Valedictory and Latin and English Salutatory. The other page displays the final grades for the class of 1879. Not only was Princeton University called by a different name then, but so was Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was born Thomas Woodrow Wilson, as can be seen in the final grades page of the pamphlet. In fact, Wilson was referred to as “Tommy” in the early part of his life, before assuming the title of “Woodrow.”

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The pamphlet also reveals more than Wilson’s highly respectable 90.3 final grade point average. Wilson’s name shares the page with other Princeton graduates who would make their own mark in government. Mahlon Pitney would go on to become a member of the Supreme Court and Charles Talcott was later a U.S. Congressman from New York. However, even a random search of the names of Wilson’s classmates in this pamphlet reveals peers of Wilson who would influence many aspects of society beyond politics. Daniel Barringer became a noted geologist. Fletcher Durell, who gave the honorary oration on behalf of the mathematics department, would later write an algebra book used by school children.

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It was from this milieu that the 28th President would come. The 1879 commencement pamphlet at the Woodrow Wilson President Library serves as a reminder of that.

Post written by library volunteer Tim French.

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