Letter referring to George S. Billmeyer is in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library
Two of my readers raised a similar question about a previous post. What possible reason would there be for a letter about George S. Billmeyer of York concerning a 1869 football game in New Jersey to be in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library? This posted image of the transcribed letter is taken directly from the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Database.
My post on Tuesday noted that George S. Billmeyer was a player in the very first college football game in 1869 while he attended college in Princeton, New Jersey. In the rules of the day, two men from each team played immediately in front of the opponents’ goal; they were know as “captains of the enemy’s goal.” For Princeton, in that first football game, George S. Billmeyer and Homer D. Boughner were the “captains of the enemy’s goal.” George S. Billmeyer was in the same Princeton class as Homer D. Boughner, from Clarksburg, West Virginia.
Thus we know how H. D. Boughner, the writer of this letter, knew George S. Billmeyer. We also have the connection of why Homer thought George would be a good source for questions about the 1869 football game; they were teammates.
George S. Billmeyer was a Princeton Junior, during the 1869-1870 school year; therefore he was part of the class of 1871. Princeton records indicate George attended college through June 1870; the end of his Junior year. The Billmeyer & Small railcar building business of his father Charles Billmeyer in York, PA got very busy in 1870, George S. Billmeyer was needed in the business and never returned to finish his Senior year. In Princeton official records George is referred to as a “Class of 1871 Non-Graduate.”
However Princeton Alumni Records consistently refer to George Billmeyer as a member of the Class of 1871. I was told this was common in the 1800s, to be considered an alumnus for attending a college for a significant length of time, even though not officially a graduate. Extensive write-ups about George appear in many of the Princeton Class of 1871 reunions and George S. Billmeyer even attended a few of them.
Continue reading for an explanation of the Woodrow Wilson connection.
Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Wilson attended Princeton and managed the Princeton baseball team as an undergraduate; he graduated from Princeton in 1879. In 1890 Wilson returned to Princeton and joined the faculty as professor of jurisprudence and political economy.
The letter at the beginning of this post is addressed to James Hugh Moffatt. James Moffatt also has a Princeton connection; he attended college while Woodrow Wilson was a professor. Moffatt played on the Princeton football team. James Moffatt also chaired the Debating Club for which Woodrow Wilson acted as advisor and coach. Moffatt graduated as class valedictorian in 1900 and kept up a correspondence with Woodrow Wilson throughout the years. This connection is likely how the letter found its way into the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.
In 1901 James Moffatt co-compiled and edited Athletics at Princeton: A History with Frank Presbrey. Moffatt’s 1901 letter is asking for recall on the names of all the Princeton football players on the 1869 team; the full 25-man roster not being recorded.
The 1901 Athletics at Princeton: A History notes the names of 20 of the 25 players. Parke H. Davis’ 1909 article on The First Intercollegiate Football Game notes 21 of the 25 players. Later a commemorative plaque, at the site of the first college football game at Rutgers, lists the names of 23 of the 25 Princeton players. The name George S. Billmeyer ’71 appears on all these rosters.
As a result of Homer Boughner’s letter, shown at the beginning of this post, I wonder if letters of correspondence exist between George S. Billmeyer and James Moffatt. Such correspondence may provide further insight into the first college football game. Maybe such letters exist amongst James Moffatt’s notes related to compiling the book Athletics at Princeton: A History. If such is the case, they are likely in the Princeton Archives.Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts