Pyne, Moses Taylor

Pyne, Moses Taylor (1855-1921), gave to his Alma Mater so generously of himself and his means that it was once said of him (by Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Sir Arthur Shipley) that he did more for Princeton than any other man had done for any college.

A man of great inherited wealth, accumulated originally by his maternal grandfather, Moses Taylor (first president of the National City Bank of New York and the principal stockholder in the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company), Pyne devoted most of his adult life, and much of his fortune, to helping Princeton grow from a college into a university. During his thirty-six years on the Board of Trustees he did not miss a single meeting.

A member of the famous Class of 1877, Pyne acquired at Princeton a lasting taste for Latin and Greek. A year after receiving his LL.B. at Columbia Law School in 1879, he married Margaretta Stockton, a great-great-granddaughter of Richard Stockton 1748, and became general counsel for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company. In 1891 he resigned from this office in order to give more time to his other interests, especially Princeton.

Pyne was elected to the Princeton Board of Trustees in 1884, when he was twenty-eight. His election was engineered by President McCosh, who told Pyne's classmate, Henry Fairfield Osborn, that the Board was ``full of old dotards'' and that it badly needed ``a fine young man'' like Pyne.

His first concern was to organize the alumni in support of the College. He collected, and stimulated others to collect, information about alumni, which resulted in rich archival material and comprehensive address lists -- a formative contribution to the present-day University Archives and Bureau of Alumni Records. With his classmate, Professor William Libbey, Jr., he prepared and published in 1888 the first edition of the modern Alumni Directory. He was one of the founders and first presidents of the Princeton Club of New York and helped establish other alumni associations throughout the country. In 1900 he took a leading part in the adoption of the plan for electing alumni trustees, and in the founding of the Alumni Weekly, serving as first chairman of its executive committee. In 1905 he was one of the organizers of the Committee of Fifty, the original forerunner of the Alumni Council. His classmate, Henry Fairfield Osborn, said Pyne ``virtually created the modern alumni spirit'' at Princeton.

As chairman of the trustees' committee on grounds and buildings, Pyne exerted a strong influence in favor of the use, originally suggested by Dean West, of collegiate Gothic for the buildings which were erected at the time of the Sesquicentennial in 1896. Two of these he himself built and gave to the University; they were named Upper and Lower Pyne in his honor. Another was the Pyne Library, which he persuaded his mother to give.

Later, as chairman of the trustees' committee on finance, Pyne sought the necessary funds to finance President Wilson's preceptorial system and dipped into his own pocket yearly to meet whatever deficit remained. To provide housing for the influx of the original preceptors and other new faculty members, he acquired the necessary land and built twenty-three houses in the Broadmead section of town. These he rented at modest charges during his lifetime and bequeathed to the University on his death.

At the same time Pyne took a deep interest in furthering Dean West's plans for the development of a residential graduate college. In 1905 he acquired Merwick, a mansion on Bayard Lane, which he made available to the University rent-free as a residence hall for graduate students, pending the erection of the Graduate College. When President Wilson proposed the Quad Plan for undergraduates in 1907, Pyne favored an experimental approach, but opposed its total adoption at that time because of the trustees' prior commitment to provide a residential graduate college.

After ex-president Grover Cleveland's death in 1908, Pyne gave up the finance committee chairmanship to take Cleveland's place as chairman of the committee on the graduate school. In this capacity he sided with Dean West's proposal to locate the graduate college at a distance from the main campus -- in opposition to Wilson's wish to have it integrated with the undergraduate college.

On reunion day in 1910, in recognition of Pyne s twenty-five years of extraordinary service as trustee, the alumni presented him with a handwrought gold cup, eighteen inches high, its body ornamented with tiger lilies, its cover surmounted by a tiger resting on a base of four University shields. President Wilson, who made the presentation, told Pyne: ``It has been in no small part through the stimulation of your example that hundreds of Princeton men have learned how to translate their affection into action.'' Pyne replied that when he thought of men like James McCosh and Grover Cleveland, he could only say, ``What have I done that you should thus honor me? Non sum dignus, amici.''

After Wilson's resignation in the fall of 1910, Pyne was urged by his friends to accept the presidency of the University, but he refused because he felt he could be more useful as a trustee. He continued his efforts on behalf of the Graduate School, contributing funds for the construction of the Pyne Tower at the Graduate College and for the endowment of a professorship. After World War I he took a leading part as contributor and canvasser in the 1919 endowment campaign. Pyne's generosity to the University was matched by many acts of kindness, frequently anonymous, on behalf of faculty, students, alumni, and townspeople. A New York Evening Post editor, reflecting on Pyne's benefactions, wrote: ``He went around doing good as Pater said of Leonardo, like a man on a secret errand.''

Pyne's estate, ``Drumthwacket,'' was for many years the focus for much of the social life of the University and the town. The grounds were always open to visitors, and many a Princetonian spent pleasant hours strolling along the path that led from a rustic gate on Lover's Lane past a deer park and through the woods to a series of small lakes amid flower gardens.

During Pyne's last illness, the trustees voted to name the first of the new post-World War I dormitories, then under construction, in his honor, and President Hibben was able to tell him of their intention and to secure his consent before he died.

The day he was buried, the whole community joined in tribute. University activities were suspended and all business stopped on Nassau Street. After the services at Drumthwacket the funeral cortege drove slowly through the grounds of the Graduate College, past the site of the Pyne Dormitory, by Upper and Lower Pyne, to the FitzRandolph Gateway where it entered the Campus. To the tolling of the Nassau Hall bell the procession passed through a student guard of honor to the steps of Nassau Hall, then westward around the rear of the building, and through the arches of Pyne Library, and then back to Nassau Street. After the procession left the Campus, the students walked down Witherspoon Street in a body to the cemetery where they encircled the grave and awaited the arrival of the cortege.

In addition to the buildings and the professorship that bear his name, Pyne is remembered by the Pyne Honor Prize, founded in 1921. His portrait hangs in Procter Hall of the Graduate College.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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