If an army marches on its stomach, so, too, do undergraduates — making food a perennial topic of campus conversation. In 2002, the Four-Year College Program Planning Committee flatly declared, “The quality of food needs to be improved,” but half a century before, similar sentiments were voiced about Commons, the dining complex serving all freshmen and sophomores in the days before residential colleges.
On April 22, 1952, Richard A. Calmes ’54 and Charles P. Day Jr. ’54 struck a blow for better fare by inviting Dean of the College Francis R.B. Godolphin ’24 to dine with them. Invoking military custom, they wrote: “Being sophomores and having had, along with our classmates, the rather questionable pleasure of Commons’ food for the past two years, we cannot help but call to mind a rule which has been with the Naval Service for many years. We are referring to the policy that every Officer of the Day must eat at least one meal in the Enlisted Men’s Mess. We feel that application of this rule to the Princeton campus would be most advantageous to all underclassmen.”
Although he balked at sharing a week’s worth of meals with his hosts, the dean agreed to join them for dinner in Madison Hall on April 23. Opining that “if more students invited faculty members to dinner it would probably be better for the service and food in Commons,” Godolphin partook of “Howard Johnson’s Viennese roast” (otherwise known as meatloaf), mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and coffee, courtesy of the restaurant and motor-lodge chain that operated Princeton’s dining halls from 1943 to 1960.
According to The Daily Princetonian, Godolphin had little to say about his dinner other than “it was a meal” and “I ate it, didn’t I?” He did, however, affirm the value of faculty-student meals and spoke approvingly of adding soup to the menu and varying the Sunday-night staple of cold cuts. But almost two years would pass before he ate another meal in Commons.
John S. Weeren is founding director of Princeton Writes and a former assistant University archivist.