Located in the central stacks of the library, on the third floor, all the way back toward the office of Principia Collections, is a valuable piece of our community’s history: Songs of Principia. This particular edition features an inscription to the founder of Principia, Mary Kimball Morgan, and was presented to her the year it was printed by the Alumni Association.
The songbook, first published in 1916, was the gift of the senior class of 1914. In it, you will find familiar standards such as the “Principia Hymn” (“Principia, we sing thy Praise…”) and “The Gold and Blue” (“Now, all together, with voices ringing clear…”), both written by Principia alumni Adelaide Fill and Winnifred Hubbell. These songs appear virtually unchanged from how they are sung today at major assemblies and sports events on both campuses.
The reader will also find songs in a lighter vein that are not well known, but perhaps should be revived by an adventurous musician in the future: “The Man Who has Plenty of Good Peanuts,” “Oh, Who will Smoke my Meerschaum Pipe,’” and “Nelly was a Lady.” Among other songs that Principians were singing in 1916 were Stephen Foster’s minstrel melodies, often excluded or changed according to social standards in modern songbooks. Imagine a football game accompanied by a brass band playing “The Gold and Blue” followed by “Old Black Joe” or “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground.”
We often think of Principia’s past as a time of stricter censorship, a time when the press was limited by the control of political and religious ideologies. It is interesting to note, however, that no Christian Science hymns appear in Songs of Principia, and the “Star-Spangled Banner” is the only overtly-political song included. Despite being compiled by the class of 1914 in cooperation with the Principia Alumni Association, the book contains songs about lucky horseshoes, meerschaum pipes, and forty-nine bottles on the wall. Simply put, this student-directed publication is a collection of songs students in 1916 liked to sing—the songs do not serve as political propaganda, nor do they mention the cause of Christian Science. One can hardly imagine Mary Kimball Morgan sitting at her desk stamping each suggested song with a big, red “APPROVED” or “DISAPPROVED.”
Compiled almost 20 years before the founding of the four-year college, Songs of Principia prepared musically-minded students for other colleges by including a wide array of songs from colleges and universities all around America. The school songs of Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Northwestern, University of Michigan, Rutgers, and more appear as the last chapter in the songbook. By the time the College was open for admission and music-makers were finding themselves on the campus in Elsah, no separate song was chosen to represent the College, and to this day we continue to sing on both campuses the “Principia Hymn” first published in Songs of Principia. It is unfortunate that the only memorable contributions to the canon of our school’s music was the vocally acrobatic Centennial Hymn (kudos to any singer with the ability to grind that one out) and the catchy number sung by our mostly-naked friends in Rackham West (“Oom ya ya, oom ya ya, etc. ad infinitum”).
Next year marks 100 years from the first publication of “The Gold and Blue” and the “Principia Hymn,” songs that continue to be sung and enjoyed by Principians — the “greatest hits” of our school. But if you are looking for something fun and unusual to play on the piano, I recommend checking out Songs of Principia from the library and leading your friends in a moving rendition of “The Man Who has Plenty of Good Peanuts.” Celebrating our musical heritage can create an amazing bond between the present and the past, and will keep these songs alive for the future.