by Iliyah Coles ’22
A couple of decades after The College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University in 1896) was first established, there were only two known social clubs in existence at the school. These were “the well-meaning club” and “the plain-dealing club,” which eventually evolved into the Whig and Cliosophic societies that we still recognize today. The two societies merged in 1928 and is now known as Whig-Clio. In the 1760s, these two clubs were the biggest part of social life at the college, and students usually joined one or the other. As time passed, though, more and more alternatives to these two clubs began to emerge. Many of them were well-known among students and faculty alike. Others, however, were more underground and became closely-kept secrets. These secret societies ultimately changed social life at Princeton, and sparked a debate about whether or not the school should discourage them.
The presence of secret societies was not fully made known until around 1852, with the rise of Greek life on campus. However, the Princeton University archives contain written letters from students to faculty, pledging to resign from secret societies that date back to 1832.