In Princeton alumnus F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), the world is given a glimpse into the exclusive social enclaves known as the Princeton eating clubs through the eyes of fictional student Amory Blaine. According to Blaine, each club had a different character and social standing on the campus. “The upper-class clubs, concerning which he had pumped a reluctant graduate during the previous summer, excited his curiosity: Ivy, detached and breathlessly aristocratic; Cottage, an impressive melange of brilliant adventurers and well-dressed philanderers; Tiger Inn, broad-shouldered and athletic, vitalized by an honest elaboration of prep-school standards; Cap and Gown … flamboyant Colonial; Literary Quadrangle, and the dozen others, varying in age and positions.” While today's clubs may now have different reputations, they continue to invoke various stereotypes among interested students.
Despite the rise and fall of both newer and older eating clubs, the primary functions of the club system have remained intact since Amory's literary undergraduate career at Princeton. They are private establishments located off campus that provide a dining option to a large percentage of juniors and seniors. The eating club scene also plays an influential role in the social experience of Princeton undergraduates by providing social outlets such as a place for members and guests to socialize, host parties, listen to bands, watch movies, and more. While the club members are upperclassmen, the social outlets they provide are often made available to both the underclassmen and non-club members of the campus undergraduate community.
The first official eating club at Princeton, Ivy Inn, was formed in 1879 when a group of students rented a building and hired staff to prepare their meals on a regular basis. This tradition of social dining clubs unofficially began as early as 1856 when, after the 1855 fire in Nassau Hall, the University dining hall was closed making board unavailable on campus. Students took to eating meals at local boarding houses, often choosing locations where they would regularly dine with certain chosen friends. But these transient groupings that often began among first-year friends had no lasting power and tended to disband upon graduation. Therefore Ivy was the first of these dining societies to remain a permanent fixture for Princeton undergraduates. Following Ivy's lead, other clubs were also quick to raise funds for their own clubhouses.
The next club to be established was Cottage Club in 1886. Cap and Gown and Tiger Inn were initiated in 1890. The number of clubs continued to rise, reaching a high of 21. Many have come and gone depending on the popularity of the club system or the financial situation of a particular club. At the beginning of the 2003-2004 academic year, 11 of these privately run eating clubs remain.
Interested students usually join one of the eating clubs at the midpoint of sophomore year, though this membership appears more like a social membership as sophomores continue to eat within the residential college system. Sophomores have the option of joining a lottery to enter one of the sign in clubs (non-selective) or to Bicker one of the selective clubs (current members of the club choose the new membership class after several days of activities).
To find out more about each individual club, including club histories, membership lists, pictures, menus, social events and more, each has a Web presence, though several of them are far more informative than the others. The * symbol indicates Bicker clubs.
Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.
The Mudd Manuscript Library holds a comprehensive collection of materials relating to the Princeton eating clubs. A finding aid is available online.
The Library also has a separate collection entitled the William K. Selden Collection on Eating Clubs, 1906-1994, a compilation of research materials used by Selden to write Club Life at Princeton: An Historical Account of the Upper-Class Eating Clubs at Princeton University (also available at Mudd). This collection is primarily composed of clippings from publications such as the Daily Princetonian and the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
Princeton University's yearbook, the Bric-a-Brac, is another source of information on the eating clubs and their members. A complete set of Bric-a-Bracs (1875-present) are available in the Mudd Library's reference room.
Kate Mulry '04
Last modified: Tuesday, 24-Apr-2012 14:08:40 EDT