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Jan.19, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 6

The birth of Wilson Lodge

In response to: Wilson College turns 50

Published on January19, 2011

I hope the organizers of the 50th anniversary celebration of Wilson College will at least give a nod to the actual birthdate of Wilson Lodge, which would be spring 1957. That was when around half a dozen intrepid sophomores, after a couple of years of especially horrendous bickers, announced to the University that they would refuse to bicker and that they believed the University owed it to them to provide an alternative “facility” for their dining and socializing. In support of this mini-movement, a couple of them did original research in the library of the effort by President Woodrow Wilson [1879] to alter or eliminate the club system. The University, much to our surprise, responded well; and by the fall, the old Madison dining hall of Commons was renovated and made into a comfortable two-room facility with, I recall, excellent meals. The name Wilson Lodge clearly began to be used then. Lacking faculty “masters,” as Wilson had hoped for, members were permitted and encouraged to invite their favorite faculty members to join us for dinner and informal conversation from time to time; I can recall Richard Blackmur and John Wheeler (Einstein’s associate) and some other eminences making some memorable evenings.

The rest, as they say, is history. Though I have not visited Princeton over the years, I have followed with great delight the accounts in PAW of the development of the college system. And when a Princeton alumnus asks me what my club was, I am proud to answer: “Wilson Lodge.”

So congratulations to Wilson College! And don’t forget the little band that likes to imagine that we got it all started.

Michael W. Ellis ’59
Hilliard, Ohio

Editor’s note: A condensed version of this letter was published in the Jan. 19, 2011, issue of PAW.

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1 Response to The birth of Wilson Lodge

Neil Graves '61 Says:

2011-01-28 09:50:42

When I entered the Class of 1961 as a junior-year transfer in the fall of 1959, I'd already been in a fraternity, ATO, at Union University in Jackson, TN, and was happy to find at Princeton a companionable, ecumenical, non-selective context in Wilson Lodge, my "club" for junior year.(During part of my senior year I went independent but still felt an allegiance to the Lodge.) Seeing our group picture in the current PAW has jogged good memories and conjured up sharp images long buried. We all had our reasons for choosing this option since we were a varied and independent lot. I remain grateful to the members of my class who had forged this alternative just before I arrived on campus. Surely they were pioneers (as I was not) in making the campus a better place, with a wider range of choice than before and with freer and more egalitarian patterns of association available to anybody who might prefer that path. Since I never knew the Princeton club system first-hand, I've never presumed to be critical of it. But the Wilson Lodge group quickly became my own home turf, and I've always been proud and grateful for the chance I had to be a part of it in its early years--especially because it nurtured my friendships with Elson Harmon, Jim Adams, and Gary McCown, among others I could name.
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