In Response to: Wilson College turns 50

Mostly, Princeton made an impact on me. But there was one point at which I may have made a small contribution to the University. It had to do with the establishment of Wilson Lodge.  

In the spring of 1957 a small group of sophomores decided not to participate in bicker. Since I had never been interested in the clubs or anything like a “rush,” I joined the group. The University was thrust into the position of having to provide a place for us, and by the beginning of our junior year (fall 1957), Madison Annex provided our well-appointed and comfortable dining quarters. (And we had provided the University a safety valve for the failures of bicker when the handful of students were left unchosen.)

The Prince reported the election of a public school grad (me) as president, as well as the election of a Kent School preppie (my roommate, Mike Ellis) as secretary. We won with backing by “various radicals and anarchists in opposing the more stable group of boys which began the whole operation last year.”

A November 1957 Prince editorial termed this “an alternative to the club system, rejecting the selectivity of the Bicker and seeking a setting in which independence and socialization with faculty could flourish [that] flew in the face of entrenched notions.” One of our first acts was to prepare “A Word About Wilson” – an informational pamphlet that explained Wilson Lodge as a place that was not to be the “dumping ground” for those considered unacceptable on Prospect, but a viable new alternative based on a different vision. We also needed to draft a constitution. By the end of November, one of our goals was in place: Wilson had become a place where faculty regularly accepted invitations to dine.  

But there was soon conflict in Eden: On Nov. 11, the Prince reported that seven of us were at odds with Dean Lippincott’s latest plan to structure the new facility. Originally dorm rooms and eating facilities were to be housed together. Then it was announced that they would be separate. I think we feared there would never be a place to call our own. Thus the cry, “Double cross!”  

We were warned by the chair of the bicker committee not to make Wilson Lodge “a battleground of ideas.” To which a name-withheld letter responded by praising the lodge’s chaos of ideas and expression, proclaiming “battleground in Wilson better than cemeteries on Prospect.”

Wilson was a battleground: I was accused of incompetent leadership and was embroiled in personality conflicts with other members.   An effort to oust me failed by one vote. The exact specifics of the conflicts are not well described in the Prince, nor are they clear in my memory. Undoubtedly they had to do with the challenges of starting something radically new and trying to do it in a way that was satisfactory to a dozen independent-minded sophomores (by now, juniors).

On Dec. 17, the Prince reported that I and the secretary had resigned after splits over how the organization should operate.

I continued as a member of Wilson Lodge throughout my junior year, enjoying the setting, the food, and especially the opportunity to host University faculty at meals. The following names of guest faculty appear in my letters home: George Thomas, W.D. Davies, Horton Davies, Paul Ramsey, Van Harvey (all of the religion department, my major), Holland (geology), Pittendrigh (biology), and Julian Hartt (visiting from Yale). During my senior year I left Wilson and was independent.

That was my “15 minutes of fame” on campus. I have nothing but positive memories re: Princeton in general or Wilson Lodge in particular. Perhaps there were insights and facts in the above that will enhance the historical record.

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