Wilson College Origins: Timeline

1902-2016: ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF WILSON COLLEGE,
“THE COLLEGE OF DESTINY”
Faculty Heads of Wilson College, 1967-present

October, 1902: Woodrow Wilson inaugurated president of Princeton. He immediately revises the academic structure of the University, introducing the concept of departmental concentrations and the preceptorial system designed to engage students in small discussion groups moderated by faculty. 

December, 1906: Wilson unveils his “Quadrangle Plan” for the reorganization of undergraduate social and intellectual life at Princeton as what he considers a necessary corollary to his academic reforms. Wilson’s plan proposes to eliminate the Prospect Avenue eating clubs and replace them with residential quadrangles or colleges, each with its own dining hall, common room, resident master, and resident preceptors. After initially supporting the Quad Plan, the Trustees reversed themselves when they encountered strong resistance from alumni and the eating clubs.

October, 1907: The Daily Princetonian reports a “social crisis” on campus as students respond to a growing sense of selectivity in the clubs.

1914: A new system is put in place in the eating clubs, according to which students are “elected” after a period of “bickering” in late February of sophomore year. “Bickering” was taken to mean “any talk, argument or discussion designed to induce any man to join any club.”

1917: 90 members of the sophomore class (24%) boycott bicker, causing unrest on campus that leads the Princetonian to write a series of editorials proposing the University acquire the club buildings and operate them as dining halls with no membership restriction. 

Late-19-teens and 20s: American involvement in WWI and a depleted student body causes the University and clubs to retrench; in a retreat to tradition after the war, club life resumes in relative calm.

1930s: Clubs continue to be the primary center of social activity for upperclassmen, with 90% of them joining clubs, although two of the newer clubs (Arbor Inn and Gateway) close for financial reasons during the Great Depression. 

1937: The University assumes control of the former Gateway Club and operates it as a non-selective club with a faculty master until WWII. 

1939: Gateway Club is subsumed into the new Prospect Club, which operated as a student-run co-operative until 1959.

1944: The Servicemen's Readjustment Act (G.I. Bill) is signed into law and soon changes the nature of the student body, including larger numbers of public school graduates. A diversifying student body calls into question the nature of the club membership selection, as students themselves protest existing exclusionary practices.

1950: More than 600 sophomore members of the Class of 1952 (75% of the class) sign a petition declaring they would not join clubs unless every sophomore who bickered received a bid to at least one club. This concept of “100-percent bicker” continues into the 1960s with one notable interruption—the so-called “Dirty Bicker” of 1958.

December, 1956: President Harold Dodds approves the opening of a small facility adjoining Madison Hall (now Rockefeller College) for use by a dozen members of the Class of ’59 who sought to “to provide a place where individuals . . . could be accepted for what they are and not forced to conform to the narrow specifications of Bicker.” This group comes to be known as the Woodrow Wilson Lodge.

July, 1957: Robert F. Goheen assumes office as the 16th president of Princeton University. Under his leadership, significant efforts are made to further diversify the student body.

February, 1958: So-called “Dirty Bicker” in which 23 students, more than half of whom were Jewish, are not chosen for membership in any club. Dirty Bicker brings renewed calls for alternative dining and social facilities for students who did not join clubs either by choice or from lack of a bid. 

1959: Close to 80 members of the class of ’61 (10% of the class), in a critical reaction to the Dirty Bicker of ’58, elect to join Woodrow Wilson Lodge during Bicker ’59. Darwin LaBarthe ’61, sophomore secretary of the Woodrow Wilson Lodge, is elected class president shortly thereafter; his election is widely understood to indicate that the Lodge was now mainstream rather than marginal to the social and dining culture on campus. The Prospect “Cooperative” Club is now deemed “superfluous” and dissolves in favor of the Lodge.

September, 1960-1961:  The residential halls of the “New Quad”—Gauss, Dodge-Osborne, 1937, 1938, and 1939—open to students in September, 1960, followed by the dedication of Wilcox Hall, the bequest of T. Ferdinand Wilcox ’00, by President Robert Goheen in September, 1961. Together these living, dining and social facilities form a residential community which offers an alternative to the eating clubs. Woodrow Wilson Lodge members move to the completed New Quad and rename themselves the “Woodrow Wilson Society.” Membership grows to nearly 300.

September, 1963: Six years before co-education at Princeton, 23 women studying “critical languages” register for classes and take up residence on the third floor of Wilcox Hall.

1964: Phase II of the Wilson Quad, known as “New New Quad,” is built to relieve overcrowding.  This group of four halls forms a court to the south of Wilcox Hall, making Wilcox the center of all the new undergraduate dorms. The New New Quad houses an additional 326 students. 

1966: President Goheen expresses his dissatisfaction with the “brutal and unsatisfactory” bicker system and suggests that students should assume responsibility for instituting reforms. Ten student leaders take up the challenge and propose a change in the way that eating clubs select their members. A small number of clubs supports the recommendations; Terrace Club does away with bicker and announces an open membership policy; Colonial Club follows suit the next year.

1967: Julian Jaynes, Master-in-Residence of the Woodrow Wilson Society, proposes to the University that the Society become a truly residential entity. Wilson Lodge is renamed Wilson College the following spring, with membership open to all four classes. 

February, 1968: Club membership declines amidst the egalitarian and protest spirit of the era. Less than 70% of the sophomore class bicker the clubs this year. 

September, 1969: Undergraduate coeducation begins as 171 women start the school year. By the end of the year, eight clubs opt to allow women to join; four do not. John Fleming, Professor of English, succeeds Julian Jaynes as Master of Wilson College.

September, 1969:  Stevenson Hall forms as a non-bicker University-managed dining facility at the initiative of undergraduate students in the Classes of ’68 and ’69 seeking a “viable social alternative” to the clubs. Approximately 130 members choose to dine at the facilities at 83 and 91 Prospect Avenue, (formerly the Court Club and Key and Seal Club, selective clubs that had failed for financial reasons).  Another dining option appearing at this time is the Madison Society, which provides approximately two hundred members with a range of dining opportunities—breakfast at Wilcox Hall, lunch at Commons or the Student Center, and “candlelight and beer” dinners in a restaurant atop the New South Building.

September, 1970: Princeton Inn College is founded, establishing a second residential college in addition to Wilson. The colleges offer residential communities that bring together academic and social life, different classes, undergraduates, graduate students and faculty, and men and women. 

1971: Membership in eating clubs reaches a low point; fewer than half of juniors and seniors belong to clubs.

July, 1972: Henry Drewry, Professor of History, is named Master of Wilson College, succeeding John Fleming.

September, 1973: “Knight” School is organized by Wilson College students, calling for “an end to esoteric disciplines and a return to practical education.” Close to 350 students enroll in six-week courses in auto mechanics, bread-baking, and bicycle repair and maintenance, as well as in music theory, studio arts, and languages.

July, 1975: Norman Itzkowitz, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, succeeds Henry Drewry as Master of Wilson College.

1978: The University’s sixteen-member Committee on University Residential Life (CURL) recommends the establishment of a Residential College system. As was the case in 1906, when Wilson first proposed his Quad Plan, juniors and seniors decline to abandon their eating clubs for the Colleges. The Committee refuses to relinquish the College idea and revises its plan to include only freshmen and sophomores. The Report issued the following year recommends the establishment of five two-year residential colleges to house and provide dining and social facilities for all freshmen and sophomores.  

1978: Club admission procedures again are revised with the introduction of a sign-in and lottery system.

September, 1982: Mathey, Rockefeller and Butler Colleges are created and join Wilson and the newly-renamed Forbes (Princeton Inn) College. Freshmen are first assigned to individual colleges within the new residential college system. Ironically, the creation of a residential college system for freshmen and sophomores reduces the meal options for upperclass students, who are no longer able to dine at Wilson and Forbes. Club membership grows again during the 1980s and 90s. 

September, 1988: Feinberg Hall opens as part of Wilson College, housing 40 students.  Made possible by a gift from David Feinberg '63, a member of the Woodrow Wilson Society during his undergraduate years, Feinberg Hall is the first new dormitory to be built on campus since 1973. 

July, 1989: John Fleming returns as Master of Wilson College, and serves in this role until 1997.

1991-92:  President Harold Shapiro convenes the President’s Committee on Residential Life to examine the relation between the eating clubs and the residential colleges. In its report, the Committee recommended that the current two-year college system be expanded to a four-year system, but met resistance from alumni and eating club officers. 

July, 1997: Miguel Centeno, Professor of Sociology, is named Master of Wilson College.

September, 2000: Frist Campus Center opens after nearly a century of calls for the creation of such a facility. Its extensive cafeteria and multifunctional social, performance and meeting spaces offer community members recreational and dining options open to all.

September, 2002: The Four-Year Residential College Program Planning Committee issues a report proposing modifications in advising/staffing, programming, housing and dining to convert the University’s current system of five two-year colleges into a system of paired two- and four-year colleges that will, in the words of the report, “create more interaction for first- and second-year students with upperclass students, graduate students and faculty.”

July, 2004: Marguerite Browning, Professor of Linguistics, begins her five-year Mastership of Wilson College, succeeding Miguel Centeno.

September, 2007: A brand-new Whitman College opens its doors to students from all undergraduate classes, and a renovated Mathey College also welcomes juniors and seniors for the first time, inaugurating the transition to a four-year residential college system. The introduction of the new system coincides with an increase in the undergraduate student body from 4,600 to 5,100.

July, 2009: Eduardo Cadava, Professor of English, begins his term as Master of Wilson College.

September, 2009: Butler College takes its final form as a four-year residential college and joins Whitman and Mathey in welcoming juniors and seniors to their communities.  All of the eating clubs offer at least some of their members the option of having a joint meal plan that allows them to eat some meals in the club and some in a residential college. Wilcox and Wu Dining Halls share a renovated servery.

September, 2009: Presidential Task Force is charged with examining, once again, the relationship between the University and the Eating Clubs and issues its report in the spring of 2010. 

Fall, 2015: The masters of the residential colleges at Princeton University change the title to ‘head of college.’  Student activists occupy Nassau Hall, urging the administration to rethink Woodrow Wilson’s legacy on race, among other demands; the University Trustees form a Review Committee on Woodrow Wilson.  Professor Cadava convenes an ad hoc student committee to advise him on the future of a large photographic design element showing Woodrow Wilson at a baseball game (added in the 2009 renovation).  The image is removed in spring, 2016.