Moses Taylor Pyne

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Moses Taylor Pyne
Moses Taylor Pyne portrait from 1912.jpg
Born (1855-12-21)December 21, 1855
New York City, New York
Died April 22, 1921(1921-04-22) (aged 65)
Princeton, New Jersey
Spouse(s) Anna Margaretta Stockton
Children Percy Rivington Pyne 2nd
Robert Stockton Pyne
Moses Taylor Pyne Jr.
Parent(s) Percy Rivington Pyne I
Albertina Shelton Taylor
Pyne in garden at Drumthwacket
Moses Taylor Pyne (1855-1921) tombstone.jpg

Moses Taylor Pyne (December 21, 1855 – April 22, 1921), was a financier and philanthropist, and one of Princeton University's greatest benefactors and its most influential trustee.


The son of Percy Rivington Pyne and Albertina Shelton Taylor, Pyne was born in New York City in 1855, and graduated from Princeton in 1877. Pyne inherited an enormous fortune from his maternal grandfather and namesake, Moses Taylor who was first president of the First National City Bank of New York and a stockholder in the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.

Pyne decided early on in his life to dedicate himself to advancing the interests of his alma mater, and in 1884 gained a seat on the Board of Trustees of Princeton at the age of only 28. Settling in the town of Princeton, his beautiful estate, Drumthwacket, is now the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey. Pyne's wealth allowed him to focus on his philanthropy and involvement in civic organizations, and the list of organizations in which he was involved speaks to the extent of his generosity and the breadth of his interests. According to historian William Selden:

“Moses Taylor Pyne was a director of four banks, four steel and metal manufacturing companies, one gas company, one insurance company, eight railroads and president of one railroad, two hospitals, two secondary schools, two YMCAs; and a vestryman of four Episcopal churches. He was a member of twenty-five clubs, twelve of which were Princeton University undergraduate eating clubs, as well as president of the Princeton township governing board, a member of the New Jersey Public Library Commission, the first president of the earlier Princeton Historical Association, and president of the board of the first Princeton Inn which he helped to finance and build in 1891 on part of the original Morven property. In fact, for nearly a quarter of a century no enterprise of importance in Princeton would be started without the assurance of endorsement from Moses Taylor Pyne.”[1]

He died on April 22, 1921 in Princeton, New Jersey and was interred at Princeton Cemetery.

Benefactor of Princeton[edit]

The total amount of money that Pyne gave to Princeton, including the University, its students, faculty, and related institutions, is truly incalculable. “The extent of his financial aid to Princeton has never been disclosed. It was known to be very large but the point was one which he never cared to discuss.”[2] He poured an untold amount of money into the general fund, and while Pyne never disclosed how much, “it is known...that for several years he drew his own check to cover the deficit in the university budget.” [3] According to the Princeton Alumni Weekly:

Pyne served also as the chairman of the Committee on Grounds and Buildings, and the physical appearance, style and footprint of the Princeton campus are also due to his vision, in advocating for Collegiate Gothic architecture, and generosity, in the form of the hundreds and hundreds of acres that Pyne bought and gave to the University, free of charge: “The choice of the uniform and beautiful architectural style which enriches the and Princeton campus was largely his work. The purchase of large tracts of land, far in advance of any apparent need, came of his faith in Princeton’s future.”[5]

In the words of University president John Hibben, “more than any one man he is responsible for the development of what is now so widely known as the Princeton spirit.” The strong connection of alumni to Old Nassau was developed into a lasting force by Pyne, who founded both the Princeton Alumni Association and the Princeton Alumni Weekly.[6] Many of the other unique and endearing features of the Princeton community can be traced to Momo Pyne, including even the black squirrels that populate the campus, which were introduced by Pyne to add to the unique menagerie at Drumthwacket.[7]

Of all the Princeton institutions that were influenced by Moses Taylor Pyne, none were shaped more consistently or decisively than the upperclass eating clubs of Prospect Avenue, whose origin, growth and survival was ensured by the patronage of "Momo" Pyne. Pyne believed that permanent eating clubs established in their own clubhouses was the key to stabilizing the social life of campus, and he provided generous loans and architectural advice to help this process along. He had a documented role in the establishment of Ivy Club, Cap and Gown Club, Elm Club, Campus Club, Cloister Inn and Tower Club, and many others, as demonstrated by the fact that he was made an honorary member of twelve out of the fourteen eating clubs in existence at Princeton in 1907.[8]


When he died in 1921, the Wall Street Journal wrote the following in his obituary:

Pyne served for thirty-six years on the Board of Trustees and he did not miss a single meeting. He died in 1921 and is buried on "President's Row" in the Princeton Cemetery. On the day of his funeral, "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."[10]

During his last illness, the Trustees voted to name the under-construction dormitory Pyne Hall to honor his services. In addition to the buildings and endowed professorships that bear his name, the University has established in his honor the Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, usually referred to as the "Pyne Prize", which is the "highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate."[11] Pyne's portrait hangs in Procter Hall of Princeton's Graduate College.


  1. ^ William Selden, Drumthwacket, (Princeton: Drumthwacket Foundation, 1993), 37.
  2. ^ Robert Annin, Woodrow Wilson: a Character Study (New York: Dodd, Mead and Coo., 1924), 33.
  3. ^ "M. Taylor Pyne Dies, Princeton Mourns," New York Times, April 23, 1921
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Annin, Woodrow Wilson: a Character Study, 33.
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ William Selden, Drumthwacket, (Princeton: Drumthwacket Foundation, 1993), 38.
  8. ^ William Selden, Drumthwacket, 37.
  9. ^ "Princeton University Loses its Great Benefactor," Wall Street Journal, April 29, 1921, p. 8.
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ [4]

Further reading[edit]

  • Moses Taylor Pyne's Will, The New York Times, August 19, 1921
  • Selden, William K. Club Life at Princeton : An Historical Account of the Eating Clubs at Princeton University. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Prospect Foundation, 1994.
  • Annin, Robert Edwards and William Starr Myers. Woodrow Wilson; a Character Study. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1924.
  • Bragdon, Henry Wilkinson. Woodrow Wilson : The Academic Years. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.

External links[edit]