Harvard University

Princeton University – Colonial Colleges and Ivy League History

Princeton University, established in 1746, has a rich history that includes being an original member of the Ivy League and one of nine Colonial Colleges founded prior to the American revolution that created the United States of America.

The history of the Ivy League really begins with the formation of the Colonial Colleges in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Prior to the 1776 Declaration of Independence nine colleges were formed and while seven of the nine have since changed their names they all still thrive today. The nine schools that make up the Colonial Colleges are in order of establishment:

o New College (est. 1636, now Harvard University)

o The College of William and Mary (est. 1693)

o Collegiate School (est. 1701, now Yale University)

o Academy of Philadelphia (est. 1755, now University of Pennsylvania)

o College of New Jersey (est. 1746, now Princeton University)

o King’s College (est. 1754, now Columbia University)

o College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (est. 1764, now Brown University)

o Queen’s College (est. 1766, now Rutgers University)

o Dartmouth College (est. 1769)

Of the nine Colonial Colleges seven are now members of the esteemed Ivy League with the eighth member, Cornell University, being founded later on in 1865. William and Mary and Rutgers, the two Colonial Colleges that are not part of the Ivy League, transitioned to eventually become public institutions.

Although some of the Ivy League schools are over three hundred years old the term “Ivy League” was never used until 1933 and did not become official until 1954. While initially attached specifically to athletics the term Ivy League has more generally come to be associated with the eight high ranking academically focused institutions which are located in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

A sportswriter by the name of Stanley Woodward while writing for the New York Tribune made the first known reference to the phrase “ivy colleges” in an October, 1933 piece about the football season. While there is some debate as to whether Woodward borrowed the phrase from fellow Tribune sports writer Caswell Adams the details are hazy. Regardless of who coined the term it is noteworthy to recognize that the phrase Ivy League is a relatively recent moniker when compared to the age of the schools.

Princeton University, like all of the Ivy League schools (with the notable exception of the more recently established Cornell University), was founded with religious influences as was custom for the time for all schools. Originally founded under the name the College of New Jersey, present day Princeton University (modern name given in 1896) began with Presbyterian influence. Despite a public position officially stating that the school was nonsectarian the purpose of the college in its earliest years was to train ministers in the beliefs held by the Presbyterian founders.

With a pre-1750 establishment date Princeton can proudly state that it was only the fourth higher learning institution to offer classes on what is currently US soil. With a rich history that includes the attendance of three United States Presidents (James Madison, Woodrow Wilson, and John F. Kennedy) Princeton University has clearly established itself as one of the most academically successful schools in America, as is evident by the college’s recurring position atop the US News and World Reports best colleges rankings.

In today’s increasingly smaller and flatter world technological and travel advancements make the communities we live in increasingly global. Regardless of Princeton University’s history in the Colonial Colleges and Ivy League the school must look towards the future in terms of global influence to continue its tradition of excellence.

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