Current Issue

Mar.†21, 2012

Vol. 112, No. 9

Campus Notebook

From Princeton’s vault

Before Greek life, Princeton had Whig and Clio

By W. Barksdale Maynard ’88
Published in the March†21, 2012, issue


PHOTO: RICARDO BARROS

What: Between 1808 and 1833, elegant gold watch keys were given to student members of the Cliosophic Society who graduated with high honors.

Whig and Clio, rival debating societies, were founded here before the American Revolution and thrived for years as the oldest college clubs in the United States, entirely student-run and a training ground for public speakers. Clio alone produced four delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

But fun-centered Greek-letter fraternities threatened the existence of Whig and Clio starting in the 1840s. Nassau Hall launched a long battle to ban the upstart fraternities, which were said to create “a social aristocracy” and “foster dissipation, revelry, and idleness.”

Starting in 1855, incoming students solemnly pledged never to join a fraternity. The secret clubs burrowed underground, reappearing in the 1870s, when fraternity badges were flaunted and Whig and Clio were steered by frat members.

President McCosh cracked down with suspensions, snuffing Greek life for a century. Whig and Clio dwindled anyway, finally merging in 1928.

Fraternities and sororities crept back in 1982 and again face administrative frowns. Starting in fall 2012, freshmen will be forbidden to join.

Where: Collection AC53, Princeton University Archives

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CURRENT ISSUE: Mar.†21, 2012