“People who think that ministers don’t have fun don’t know ministers, at least the ministers I know. There was a lot of camaraderie at the eating clubs, and a lot of great relationships. An important part of Seminary is the friendships made – they last a lifetime.” —former Seminary President Thomas Gillespie, distinguished alumnus of the Calvin/Warfield Eating Club
Princeton University’s grand eating clubs and Prospect Street dinners and parties have shaped much of the town’s historic character. Princeton Theological Seminary also had eating clubs for seventy-three years, from the end of the nineteenth century until the middle of the twentieth. The clubs provided as much fun and tradition, in addition to great food, as did their Princeton University counterparts. The first students at PTS ate in Alexander Hall, beginning in 1817. In 1843, a refectory was built in what is now the Administration Building. Thirty-six years later, however, a group of students rebelled against the bland food of the dining hall and beseeched a local widow, Anna “Mother” Benham, to cook for them. When the first floor of Mrs. Benham’s house on Alexander Street was converted into a dining room, the first of the Seminary’s eating clubs was born. The initial group of six students grew in size over the years, and came to be known as the Benham Club.
In 1892, the Benham Club was joined by the Friars Club. In the 1890s, the Adelphian and Canterbury Clubs formed, followed by the Seminary Club (later renamed the Warfield Club) and the Calvin Club in the first decade of the 20th century. After World War II, the Benedict Club was established for married students and the Tennent Club for the Seminary’s new constituency of female students living in Tennent Hall. As time went on, some of the clubs were merged and renamed, and each developed a distinct personality and traditions of its own. The Benham Club, the oldest eating club, had the reputation of being the rowdiest: “Dr. Mackay wouldn’t eat with us, I suppose because we were hell raisers,” said former Benham Club member Thomas Cavicchia (‘54B) of Missouri. Many students with fond memories of the eating clubs were sad when they disbanded in 1952, when Mackay Campus Center was opened as a place where all students could eat together in one place. The clubs voted themselves out of business, closed their doors, and donated their money and buildings to the seminary as the new dining hall opened.