Greek-letter fraternities

Greek-letter fraternities maintained a precarious existence in the College during the middle of the nineteenth century. The first one made its appearance in 1843, and, at one time or another, twelve fraternities were represented by Princeton chapters -- Beta Theta Pi, Chi Phi, Chi Psi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Delta Phi, Delta Psi, Kappa Alpha, Phi Kappa Sigma, Sigma Chi, Sigma Phi, Theta Delta Chi, and Zeta Psi.

Fearing that the fraternities would undermine college discipline and prove injurious to the old American Whig and Cliosophic literary and debating societies, the trustees and faculty, at the insistance of President Maclean, adopted resolutions in 1855 requiring each entering student to sign a pledge that he would not join such an organization while in college. This pledge -- which, according to the catalogue, was still being required as late as 1939-1940 -- was as follows:

``I pledge myself, without any mental reservation, that I will have no connection whatever with any secret society in this institution so long as I am a member of Princeton University; it being understood that this promise has no reference to the American Whig and Cliosophic Societies. I also declare that I regard myself bound to keep this promise and on no account whatever to violate it.''

Nevertheless, some fraternities maintained an illicit existence, and it was not until 1875 that decisive action by President McCosh brought the dissolution of most of those still remaining, in spite of opposition from some New York alumni who sought unsuccessfully to persuade the trustees to remove the prohibition on fraternities. One or two seem to have lingered on surreptitiously until the early 1880s. Meanwhile, the formation, with College approval, of ``select associations'' of students in local boardinghouses marked the first stage in the development of what became a distinctive feature in undergraduate social life -- the eating clubs.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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