Princeton is known for their “eating clubs,” private institutions not officially affiliated with the university, which are something of a hybrid between a dining hall and a social organization, where most juniors and seniors eat the majority of their meals. There are 11 eating clubs, for which six involve a selection process and four which use a lottery system. This tradition goes back a long time, going back to 1879. In 1917, some wanted to abolish the system, by refusing entry even if they were accepted. Explained one faculty member:
“Election to one of the clubs has come to have altogether too great an importance in the estimation of the students. Club election was not a reason that brought the boy to college, but once he is matriculated election to a club becomes the overshadowing feature of his freshman and sophomore years. It constitutes a great disturbing factor in his college life.”
Did it work? No. Today, 11 Princeton eating clubs exist, all of which existed as of 1917 as well. However, several that were in existence during 1917 have since gone defunct: Elm, Campus, Key and Seal, Dial Lodge, Arch, and Gateway.
Why did the clubs persist? Likely because of the counterargument that even those who wanted to do away with the clubs back in 1917 acknowledged:
“But while we deplore it and earnestly wish to do away with it, it none the less brings us face to face with the other side of the question — the natural and ineradicable tendency of people of demonstrated congeniality to associate more or less exclusively. It was this instinct that brought about the organization of the clubs, and that is the reason for their continued existence.”
Princeton’s Anti-Club Fight Stirs the University: Refusal of a Group of Sophomores to Accept Election in Any of the Clubs Brings Up a Perplexing Problem for Solution (PDF)
From Sunday, January 21, 1917