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  1. The Origins of the Club System

Ivy Hall

A hybrid of fraternity, social club, and dining hall, the eating clubs were a logical response to the University's historic reluctance to provide sufficient dining facilities for its students, especially following the fire of 1855. By the 1870s, most of the undergraduates made their own dining arrangements in town, and an increasingly popular solution was for several classmates to join in establishing small, informal dining societies.

Because class loyalties were so strong in this period, most of these dining societies were composed of members of the same graduating class. The eating clubs arose when these associations became transformed into more permanent, self- perpetuating organizations, with underclassmen invited to take the places of members of the graduating class. Ivy Club , incorporated in 1879, was the first to adopt this practice.

Ivy Hall

Other license.

Source: Unknown

Setting a pattern that would be followed by other clubs, Ivy took its name from its first clubhouse: Ivy Hall on Mercer Street. Ivy remained in this building until 1883, when the club made the momentous decision to build its own clubhouse at its own expense.


Ivy Club circa 1890

Ivy Club circa 1890

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds \& Buildings, Box 34

They selected a site on the north side of Prospect Avenue, then a relatively new street in Princeton Borough, and erected a Queen Anne- style shingle clubhouse. It was the first club on Prospect.


Cottage Club in 1895

Cottage Club in 1895

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Bric-a-Brac, 1895, p.190

Other clubs slowly began to take root. University Cottage Club (incorporated in 1886) came next, followed by Tiger Inn , Cap & Gown , and Colonial in the early 1890s. All four of these institutions also rented facilities at first while contemplating the erection of more permanent accommodations. In 1892, Cottage built a clubhouse across the street from Ivy on Prospect Avenue, ...


Tiger Inn after 1895

Tiger Inn after 1895

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 66

...and Tiger followed suit a year later.

With the erection of these buildings, the club system firmly took root in Princeton and began to expand rapidly. In 1899, there were only six clubs, but within five years that number more than doubled. By the early 1900s, a majority of upperclassmen were members of these clubs.