Every May, as the days grow warmer and classes end, University undergrads assemble for the annual tradition of Houseparties. The tradition is almost as old as the eating clubs themselves, but no one knows exactly how it started.
One thing is for certain, howebver: until 1969 Houseparties was one of the few chances that women were seen on campus. Since their inception in the late 19th century, Houseparties served as one of the biggest mixers for coeds, creating both a sexually charged atmosphere on Prospect Avenue and stressful climate for administrators, chaperones, police and proctors.
The first eating club – Ivy Club – was formed in 1879. In the years that followed, a pseudo-Houseparties tradition emerged on Prospect. In early May the clubs would play host to sophomore receptions given in honor of the graduating class. These receptions were not the Houseparties that we have know today, but were more of a chance for couples to get together for tea and relaxation.
In 1895, Jesse L. Williams — later the first playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize — penned "Princeton Stories" in which he described these first tea parties at eating clubs.
"At the teas the rooms are crowded, the air is hot, the flowers are tumbled over, you become hoarse, and in most features it is similar to any tea, except that there are enough men," wrote Williams.
Little is known about the development of Houseparties during the next two decades. The tradition seemingly first assumed its modern-day name in 1916, when the Daily Princetonian first coined the term Houseparties after nine of the eating clubs invited about 250 female guests on campus following several sporting events. Houseparties as we now know it had begun.
These celebrations almost came to an end in 1918 when only one eating club decided to host the event because of war concerns.
When the war ended, Houseparties made a quick comeback at the 'Street.'
In 1920, Tiger Magazine published its first Houseparties issue. The editors wrote that students should commemorate the weekend with a student bonfire similar to those held on Cannon Green. On Friday night, a still-unexplained fire broke out which claimed Dickinson Hall and the chapel.
Even during the age of Prohibition, Houseparties continued to grow, but under the eyes of a nervous administration that warned, "[Houseparties] are on trial," according to a 1921 Tiger Magazine.
In the mid-1920s the Inter-Club Council formed and took responsibility for the weekend. With liability assumed by the presence of the Inter-Club Council, the administration decreased its watchfulness. It even allowed cars on campus for Houseparties weekend after they were banned from the University in 1928.
By the 1930s Houseparties could boast a roll call of close to 1000 girls that would make the trek to Princeton for the weekend.
The Inter-Club Council soon assumed an active role in moderating the excesses of Houseparties. In 1939 it issued a report that called for a number of reforms, including restriction of club drinking, a larger proctorial force and older chaperones. It blamed "an irresponsible and volcanic" undergraduate student body as the need for the changes.
The council's recommendations did not reduce charges of misconduct. The Houseparties environment came under close scrutiny by the administration in 1940-1941 after complaints from girls' parents, schools and colleges about the weekend's "debauchery." An editorial in the Daily Princetonian warned, "Princeton may never see another Houseparty."
The probationary period ended for good in 1942 when the Dean of the College approved the annual event with only preexisting restrictions.
By the 1950s and 1960s Houseparties weekend became a much more casual occasion where couples would sport "Bermudas and sweat shirts," the Daily Princetonian reported.
As the dress code relaxed, other traditions continued unabated. In 1968, Cannon Club set a Houseparties record by consuming 52 kegs in one weekend, the Princeton Alumni Weekly reported.
Princeton welcomed women in 1969, changing the atmosphere surrounding Houseparties forever as University men no longer had to import their dates.
Since that time, Houseparties weekend has developed into the celebration that University students now recognize. The weekend consists of a formal and semi-formal dance on the first two nights and lawnparties on the third day.
But the University seems to be returning to the earlier eras of administrative watchfulness. Within the past few months, several clubs' officers have been charged by Borough police for serving alcohol to minors. The borough only recently tabled an ordinance that would have enabled police to enter the eating clubs to monitor alcohol use.