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Eating Clubs and “The Street”

Dear Mr. Mudd:

Q. What are “eating clubs”? Did F. Scott Fitzgerald make them up? What is “The Street”?

A. Princeton alumnus F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise (1920) gave the world 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, various stereotypes continue to surround them.

Couples at a Patton Club party, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box 154, Image No. 4237.

The rise and fall of various eating clubs have not changed the primary functions of the club system. Eating clubs are private establishments located off campus that provide a dining option to a large percentage of Princeton University juniors and seniors. The eating club scene also plays an influential role in the social experience of 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.They are geographically located along Prospect Avenue, colloquially referred to as “The Street.”

Cartoonist’s rendering of eating clubs along Prospect Avenue from the February 12, 1965 issue of the Daily Princetonian.

The clubs’ existence has roots in the Nassau Hall fire of 1855, after which students had to eat off campus because there was no on-campus option. Social groups for meals formed at this time, but they were not permanent clubs. Students took to eating meals at local boarding houses, often choosing locations where they would regularly dine with certain chosen friends. These transient groupings that often began among freshman-year friends tended to disband upon the group’s graduation.

The Alligator Club was one of the ephemeral clubs that predated clubhouses. This photo from 1879 shows a membership that included Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879 (standing, front, third from right). Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, Box LP66, Image No. 4100.

The first official eating club at Princeton, Ivy Inn, formed in 1879 when a group of students rented a building and hired staff to prepare their meals on a regular basis. This became 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.

Menu from the first meal served at University Club, February 25, 1892. (Click to enlarge.) Eating Clubs Records (AC019), Box 13, Folder 11.

The next clubhouse to be established was Cottage Club in 1886. Cap and Gown and Tiger Inn followed in 1890. The number of clubs continued to rise, peaking at 21. Many have come and gone depending on the popularity of the club system or the financial situation of a particular club. Today, 11 of these privately-run eating clubs remain.

The Athletic Club is now only a memory (if that). Historical Postcard Collection (AC045), Box 2.

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).

Though Princeton became coeducational in 1969, eating clubs remained male-only for much longer. During her junior year at Princeton, Sally Frank ’80 filed a lawsuit against Cottage Club, Ivy Club, and Tiger Inn, all of which had denied her membership during sophomore bicker because she is female. Because the clubs were privately owned, separate from Princeton University, their attorneys argued that anti-discrimination laws did not apply. Ultimately, this argument was unsuccessful. Cottage Club settled with Frank in 1986, the same year it became coed. In 1990, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of Frank, and Ivy did not appeal, accepting this ruling and admitting women as members at its 1990 bicker. Tiger Inn held out for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but the justices refused to hear the case, meaning the New Jersey court’s ruling would apply to them as well. Tiger Inn’s first coed bicker was held in 1991.

The members of Tiger Inn pose for their 1992 Bric-a-Brac photo, the first such photo to include women.

To find out more about individual clubs, follow the links to those with a web presence below. (The * symbol indicates clubs with a bicker system.)

*Cap and Gown Club *Ivy Club
Charter Club Quadrangle Club
Cloister Inn Terrace Club
Colonial Club *Tiger Inn
*Cottage Club *Tower Club

Related Sources

Bric-a-Brac (1875-present)

Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112)

Historical Postcard Collection (AC045)

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Eating Clubs Records (AC109)

Selden, Willliam. Club Life at Princeton: An Historical Account of the Upper-Class Eating Clubs at Princeton University. Princeton: Princeton Prospect Foundation, 1994.

William K. Selden Collection on Eating Clubs (AC030)

This post was originally written by Kate Mulry ’04 for our FAQ page on our old website. It has been revised and expanded here as part of our launch of our new website.


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