Our History

History

In 1930, Princeton established the School of Public and International Affairs, as it was originally named, in the spirit of Woodrow Wilson's interest in preparing students for leadership in public and international affairs.

Old School Building

The School's initial venture was an interdisciplinary program for undergraduates in Princeton's liberal arts college. In 1948, a graduate professional program was added, and the School was renamed to honor Woodrow Wilson, who served as the 13th president of Princeton University, governor of New Jersey, and 28th president of the United States. 

The phrase “Princeton in the nation's service” was the theme of two speeches Wilson gave at the University, first during its 150th anniversary celebration in 1896 and again at his inauguration as the University’s president in 1902. In the 1990s, the motto was expanded by then-President Harold T. Shapiro to read “Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations,” and in 2016 it was further amended to read "Princeton in the nation's service and the service of humanity." It is a concept that Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School regard as an educational mission.

Marie Robertson

In 1961, Charles ’26 and Marie Robertson provided a historic gift to expand and strengthen the graduate school as a place where men and women dedicated to public service could obtain the knowledge and skills needed to qualify them for careers in government service, particularly in the areas of international relations and affairs. The endowment and its proceeds provided the means to build Robertson Hall, greatly expand the number of graduate students in the MPA, MPP, and Ph.D. programs, and build a world-class faculty in multiple disciplines.

Woodrow Wilson School Building

Today, the School educates a wide range of students from all parts of the globe in its undergraduate liberal arts major and its three graduate programs. It boasts a faculty of respected scholars and practitioners in disciplines that include politics, economics, sociology, psychology, physics, molecular biology and geosciences, who — individually and as members of world-class research centers and programs — influence the international and domestic environment through policy research and teaching. 

The School has also grown physically over the years. The central building, Robertson Hall, and adjacent Scudder Plaza were designed by renowned architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1965 and first occupied in 1966. Also housing faculty, centers, and programs are Wallace, Bendheim, and Corwin Halls, and the Julis Romo Rabinowitz and Louis A. Simpson International Buildings. Additional faculty, as well as centers and programs, are scattered in other University buildings. 

In 2018, the School's auditorium was renamed to the Arthur Lewis Auditorium to honor the legacy of economist Sir W. Arthur Lewis. The space in Robertson Hall was previously named for University President Emeritus Harold Dodds, whose name now graces the building’s atrium. 

In 2020, a renovation of Robertson Hall was completed. That same year, the Princeton University Board of Trustees voted to remove Woodrow Wilson's name because his "racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms." The School is now known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. 

The idea to change the name had been urged by students and alumni over the years, most recently by the Black Justice League in 2015. A Wilson Legacy Review Committee made up of University Trustees decided to keep his name attached to the School in 2016, calling instead for a more full telling of the negative elements of his legacy, featured in the installation “Double Sights” on Scudder Plaza and through an exhibit created at Princeton in 2016: "In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited."