By the numbers
The General Catalogue
Princeton NJ — University catalogs are valuable resources for those interested in documenting an institution’s history and growth.
The famed 1903-04 Princeton University Catalogue. (photo courtesy of Mudd Manuscript Library)
• The earliest known — and probably the first — edition of the General Catalogue was issued in 1770 — 24 years after the founding of the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then known); the second appeared in 1773, and the third in 1786. It is believed that no catalog was issued between 1773 and 1786 because of the College’s difficult circumstances during the Revolutionary War.
• This first version of the catalog listed all of the officers and the graduates since the College’s founding. It retained the use of Latin for headings and most given names. The cumulative roll appeared triennially from 1786 to 1886. In 1896, the first English edition of the book was published. The publication’s life culminated in 1906 with the General Catalogue of Princeton University, 1746-1906. Meanwhile, the Alumni Directory, containing the names and addresses of living alumni, first appeared in 1888.
• Another type of catalog — this one published annually — appeared in 1819. Its 12 pages consisted of a list of the current “officers and students of Nassau Hall.’’ Beginning in 1821, the catalog added a list of studies for each class and a half-page “advertisement,” giving the dates of Commencement and the fall and spring vacations. In 1829 the “advertisement” grew to three pages with a list of courses offered and brief references to admission procedures, expenses, the library and scientific apparatus.
• The catalog grew with the College and the University, increasing from 20 pages in 1843 to 667 pages in 1941. Beginning in 1942, descriptions of courses for undergraduates and other material of special interest to them were issued in a separate Undergraduate Catalogue and Directory. The Undergraduate Announcement, which today serves that purpose, first appeared in 1959. Information about graduate work was published in a separate Graduate School Announcement beginning in 1946.
• The 1903-04 Princeton University Catalogue may be the most famous edition of the publication, having had a role in the 1944 MGM motion picture, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” In the opening scenes, Lon Smith receives his Princeton catalog in the mail. Lon, the eldest child of the Smith family, plans to attend Princeton in the fall and his going away party is the excuse to invite “the boy next door” to the Smith house. Lon’s sister, Esther (played by Judy Garland), has a crush on the new neighbor and believes Lon’s party will be the perfect excuse to meet him.
Sources: “A Princeton Companion” by Alexander Leitch and the Mudd Manuscript Library Web site www.princeton.edu/mudd.