The Evolution of the Seminary in the Twentieth Century and Beyond
A Historical Tour of Princeton Theological Seminary
By Michael J. Paulus,
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- Princeton, the College of New Jersey, and
- The Establishment of the Seminary at
- The Expansion of the Seminary in the
- The Evolution of the Seminary in the Twentieth Century and Beyond
The Evolution of the Seminary in the Twentieth Century and Beyond
By the beginning of the twentieth century, America and its institutions had matured. At
its sesquicentennial in 1896, the College of New Jersey changed its name to Princeton
University, signaling its intention to develop beyond a liberal arts college into a
research university. The Seminary had grown into a school with 12 professors and about
150 regular and advanced students. To create a more efficient administration of the
Seminary, Francis L. Patton, who had just retired from the presidency of Princeton
University, was called as the Seminary’s first president. As a suitable home for its
president, the Seminary purchased Springdale, which had been built around 1850. Patton,
in an argument with Harvard president Charles Eliot in the 1880s over the nature of
theological education, had argued that theological seminaries were not merely concerned
with theological education and research but with ministerial education for the church.
Whatever changes would occur in American academic culture, the Seminary’s first loyalty
would be to the church.
Benjamin B. Warfield
Charles Hodge’s most gifted student and successor, Benjamin B. Warfield, died in 1921.
Warfield’s death marked the end of what has been called Old Princeton and the Princeton
Theology, which was characterized by a biblical Calvinism, Reformed piety, and
evidentialist apologetics. In 1929, after much internal turmoil, the governing structure
of Seminary was reorganized and a group of dissatisfied professors and students, led by
J. Gresham Machen, left to establish Westminster Theological Seminary.
this tumultuous period at the Seminary, which reflected broader changes occurring in the
Presbyterian Church and American culture, the Seminary campus remained largely
unchanged. One notable exception was the construction of Payne Hall, which was built in
1922 with funds from the Payne family. The first student group organized at the Seminary
was the Society of Inquiry on Missions, which was formed to cultivate student interest
in missions. Payne Hall, representing the Seminary's support of global missions,
provided housing for missionaries on furlough.
In 1936, Scotsman John A. Mackay became the Seminary’s third president. Under his
leadership the Seminary began grow and change in many significant ways. The General
Assembly of 1941 recommended that graduate schools of Christian Education be established
for women at seminaries. The following year the Tennent College of Christian Education,
which had opened in Philadelphia in 1907 to train women for lay leadership roles in the
church, conveyed its assets to the Seminary in exchange for the Seminary’s pledge to
carry on the work of the school at the graduate level.
To accommodate this expansion of its curriculum, the Seminary acquired in 1943 the campus
of the Hun Preparatory School, now called the Tennent Campus, which included buildings
for classrooms, dormitory rooms, and a gymnasium. Although a few women had matriculated
at the Seminary earlier in the twentieth century, in 1944 women began to regularly
attend the Seminary. (1944 was also the year in which the Seminary awarded its first
doctorate degree, as part of a program that was begun in 1940.) Mackay’s next major
project was the development of a Campus Center. The Mackay Campus Center opened in 1952
to replace Seminary eating clubs, which had supplanted the Seminary's apparently
inadequate refectory. Mackay’s intention was to create a stronger sense of community at
the Seminary by providing a common space where an increasingly diverse student body
could meet and dine together.
The two Lenox Libraries were razed to make room for the Robert E. Speer Library, which
opened in 1957. Mackay named the building after his close friend Robert E. Speer, former
Seminary trustee and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church’s Board of Foreign
Missions. When it opened, Speer Library was a model research facility. It provided ample
space for library resources and services and contained a number of seminar rooms. Over
the main entrance of Speer Library were two columns of seals symbolizing important
Christian truths. The first image, at the top of the left column, is the creative hand
of God, signifying the divine initiative; the last image, at the bottom of the right
column, is John Calvin’s dedicated heart, signifying the human response to God.
James I. McCord
In 1959, James I. McCord became the Seminary’s fourth president. McCord was committed to
the advancement of theological education and research. One outcome of this commitment
was the establishment of the Center of Continuing
Education. The first continuing education seminars were held in Adams House
(named after Dean Arthur M. Adams), which was purchased by the Seminary in 1962. Erdman
Hall, the former site of the home of Professor Charles Erdman, was built as a dormitory
in 1981 and then renovated in 2000 to provide state-of-the art facilities for continuing
McCord also established the Center of Theological Inquiry, in 1978, to support advanced
research in theology. The CTI was modeled on the Institute for Advanced Study, which
was founded in Princeton in 1930 as the first residential research institute for
scholars in United States. Luce Hall was built for the CTI in 1984.
As early as the 1950s, the Seminary had been seeking better accommodations for married
students. In 1965, McCord purchased an apartment development on what is now the
Seminary’s West Windsor Campus. In 1979, the Seminary received a $16 million bequest and
the mortgage on the property was paid off. The apartments are now named after the
philanthropist’s mother, Charlotte Rachel Wilson, and the philanthropist’s name was
given to the adjacent Charlotte Newcombe Social and Study Center, which opened in 1982.
Also located at the West Windsor Campus are the Seminary Pool (which opened in 1991),
the Witherspoon Apartments (which opened in 1998), and the Dupree Center for Children (a
child care center, which opened in 1995 at the CN Center).
In 1983, Thomas Gillespie became the fifth president of the Seminary. Under his
leadership, the Seminary continued to grow. Templeton Hall was completed in 1989 and
contains administrative offices, preaching labs, and state-of-the-art media facilities.
It is named after Sir John Templeton, who established the Templeton Fund and the
Templeton Prize in Religion. Templeton became a trustee of the Seminary in 1951, and
under his guidance the Seminary’s endowment grew substantially. The Henry Luce III
Library, named after a former Seminary trustee and chairman of the Luce Foundation,
opened in 1994 to further support research at the Seminary. Luce Library houses a
repository for the archives of the Seminary and for manuscripts, rare books, and special
Scheide Hall and Miller Chapel
During his tenure, president Gillespie raised over $30 million for the renovation of
older campus buildings. In 2000 Miller Chapel was renovated for the fourth time. Scheide
Hall, a new building which opened in the same year, is named after a generous trustee
emeritus of the Seminary, William H. Scheide. Scheide Hall houses the offices of the
chapel staff and provides rehearsal space for the Seminary choirs.
In 2004, Princeton Seminary called Iain Torrance, former Moderator of the General
Assembly of the Church of Scotland and younger son of the noted Scottish theologian,
Thomas F. Torrance, as its sixth President. Accomplishments during his administration
included a thorough review of the Seminary's programs and expanded emphasis on the
mission of the Seminary in the face of ongoing changes in global Christianity and
interfaith relations. Major physical changes on the campus included a renovation of the
Seminary Library and of the student housing in the Charlotte Rachel Wilson Complex.
For a brief narrative history of Princeton Seminary from its beginnings through 1992,
William K. Selden, Princeton Theological Seminary: A Narrative
History, available in the Theological Commons.