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History

The history available through the task force website provides helpful context for a discussion about the current status of the clubs and their relationships with the University. We encourage readers of this report to read the full history. Before proceeding to our findings and recommendations, we want to summarize some of the most salient features of this fascinating evolution.

  • In the mid-19th century, two developments led to the establishment of eating clubs at Princeton. One was the decision by the University in 1855 to discontinue all on-campus food service. The other was a vote by the trustees and faculty in 1853 to ban fraternities and require all undergraduates to pledge they would not join one. (The first fraternity at Princeton was founded in 1843 and within a few years 12 fraternities had Princeton chapters.) This prohibition remained in effect until the mid-20th century, and the penalty for a student found to be a member of a fraternity was suspension.
  • Informal eating clubs began to form in 1855 and by 1876 there were 25 of them. In 1879 a group of students formed a more formal eating club which they incorporated four years later as Ivy Club and for which they built a house on Prospect Avenue. Ivy was followed by Cottage in 1886, and then in the 1890s by Tiger Inn, Cap and Gown, Colonial, Cannon and Elm. A visual timeline (.pdf) shows when clubs opened (and in some cases closed).
  • By the mid-1920s, all freshmen and sophomores were eating in University dining halls and about 75% of juniors and seniors were eating at 18 clubs; in the 1930s this percentage rose to 90%. By 1914 a club selection system known as “bicker” was in place, with “bicker” defined as “any talk, argument or discussion designed to induce any man to join any club,” and with students bickering in late February of sophomore year. The GICC and the ICC were created and a “Gentleman’s Agreement” was negotiated between the clubs and the University to establish expectations for behavior and oversight in the clubs. There were occasional campus protests calling for the abolition of bicker and the creation of University-managed alternatives to the clubs, but the few University initiatives of this era were short-lived.
  • Bicker was in the national limelight in the 1950s, first when the Class of 1952 insisted that every sophomore who participated in bicker should receive a bid to at least one club (“100% bicker”), and then in 1958, the year of the so-called “dirty bicker,” when the concept of 100% bicker was violated as 23 students, more than half of whom were Jewish, were not chosen for any club. The commitment to 100% bicker, in an era in which sophomores bickered all the clubs and could receive bids from multiple clubs, continued into the mid-1980s, eventually giving rise to the term “hat bid” to signify the final step of the bicker process when the names of any sophomores not yet invited to join a club were put in a hat and each club took turns selecting a name to add to its list of invitees. (One alumnus in the Class of 1983 commented on the task force website: “I know we had a hat bid procedure senior year because I held the hat.”)
  • The 1958 dirty bicker brought about renewed calls for alternative dining and social facilities for juniors and seniors who did not join clubs. Woodrow Wilson Lodge was created in Madison Hall in 1957; in 1961 it moved to Wilcox Hall as the Woodrow Wilson Society and by the end of the decade it evolved into Princeton’s first residential college. The Madison Society was created in 1969 to allow juniors and seniors to eat dinner on the top floor of New South building. In 1969 the University reopened the former Court and Key and Seal clubs as Stevenson Hall, a non-selective dining and social facility for juniors and seniors with a faculty master. In 1970 the University established Princeton Inn College (later renamed Forbes College) as its second residential college.
  • In 1966 a group of student leaders proposed a modified club selection process which would have allowed students to express preferences in a procedure that also had elements of random selection. The proposal was not adopted, but shortly thereafter several clubs, beginning with Terrace in 1967, discontinued bicker and adopted sign-in policies. By the end of the 1970s, there were 13 clubs, five of which continued to bicker and eight of which admitted members on a sign-in basis. By 1970 most clubs had become coed; the three that hadn’t were challenged in a lawsuit in 1979 that led to Cottage becoming coed in 1986 and Ivy and Tiger Inn becoming coed in the early 1990s. Coeducation shifted the dynamic of Prospect Street from one in which women were present only on designated party weekends to one in which women and men ate and socialized together throughout the week. Coeducation also quickly led to the demise of the practice of prohibiting freshmen from being on the Street and in the clubs.
  • In 1969 the University provided funds to renovate Terrace Club and between 1970 and 1972 it assumed management of its operations. Cloister Inn closed in 1972 and reopened in 1977. Cannon Club closed in 1975. In 1988 the Cannon graduate board merged with financially troubled Dial and a year later the merger expanded to include Elm, creating an entity known as Dial-Elm-Cannon (DEC), which folded in 1998. Conversations continue with the DEC graduate board about reopening the club in the former Cannon facility. In 2005 Campus Club closed and its graduate board presented the club to the University to provide recreational, social and meeting space open to all undergraduates and graduate students; after needed renovations, Campus Club reopened in 2009.
  • There were four major developments in the 1980s that helped reshape the social environment for Princeton students. One was the creation in 1982 of a residential college system for all freshmen and sophomores. This had the effect of housing freshmen and sophomores in dormitories that excluded juniors and seniors (except for a handful of resident advisers). Entering students would still get to know juniors and seniors through academic work, teams and organizations, but were less likely to get to know them through casual interactions in their residences.
  • Another was the change in the New Jersey drinking age from 18 to 19 in 1980 and then to 21 in 1983. One consequence was the closing of a popular on-campus pub, which meant that essentially all drinking in larger settings ended up at the clubs. The change in the drinking age also seems to have led to more clandestine drinking on campus (including more drinking of hard alcohol), especially when clubs became more restrictive in their admission or serving policies and later when kegs were banned on campus.
  • A third development was the reintroduction to Princeton of Greek-letter fraternities, and then sororities. By 1993 fraternities and sororities were enrolling about 15% of the student body, a number that has remained fairly constant. While fraternities and sororities were initially thought to be of particular interest to students who were unfamiliar with Princeton’s social structure and traditions, in time it became clear that they were attracting many students who entered Princeton with a desire to join a particular eating club with which a particular fraternity or sorority was associated, thus creating a pipeline relationship between some of the fraternities and sororities and some of the selective clubs.
  • The fourth development was an evolution in the late 1980s to a bicker process in which sophomores apply to only one club. (We believe this evolution began as bicker clubs sought “evidence” that they were the first choice of their bickerees — a message delivered by bickering at only one club — and then quickly evolved, as things do at Princeton, from a practice to what many students perceive to be a “tradition.”)
  • In 2000 the University opened the Frist Campus Center, which includes extensive dining, social, performance and meeting spaces, along with such services as mailboxes, parcel shipping and ticket purchases. In 2009 the University completed the creation of a four-year college system in which juniors and seniors can elect to live and eat in one of three four-year colleges (Butler, Mathey, Whitman).