Wyckoff, Walter Augustus

Wyckoff, Walter Augustus (1865-1908), who gave Princeton's first course in sociology, was born in India of missionary parents. As a Princeton undergraduate, he was College champion in the mile run and gave the Ivy Oration at the 1888 Commencement: ``Today we are young and gay with no thought of care; tomorrow we are borne out into a fuller experience of life's realities.'' Three years later, Wyckoff set out with a dollar in his pocket to learn firsthand the life of the unskilled worker. In the course of eighteen months he worked his way as a day laborer from Connecticut to California, much of it on foot. Later, while a lecturer in sociology and then an assistant professor of political economy, he published a two-volume account of his experiences, The Workers~: an Experiment in Reality (1897 and 1898).

Wyckoff was a popular teacher. His students called him ``Weary Willie,'' and attributed to him, perhaps apocryphally, this definition: ``A hobo is a migratory worker; a tramp is a migratory nonworker; a bum is a nonmigratory nonworker.''

Wyckoff's career was cut short by an aneurism of the aorta at the age of forty-three. A bronze tablet erected in an East Pyne archway by his classmates honors him as ``a lover of mankind, an adventurous traveler who wrote out of his own experience, taught with his heart in his message, and died in peace and welldoing.''


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

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