Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Student Christian Association (Princeton University).
Princeton University Student Christian Association Records
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
30 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-30


The Student Christian Association and its predecessors were the dominant religious organizations at Princeton University for almost a hundred and fifty years. The Philadelphian Society, founded by a small group of students in 1825, was the quasi-official campus religious agency by the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1930 the Student-Faculty Association (SFA), organized by the Dean of the Chapel, took over the Society's programs, focusing on community service. In 1946 the Student Christian Association (SCA) replaced both the Society and the SFA, coordinating both religious and community service activities in campus. The Student Volunteers Council succeeded the SCA in 1967.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

While these three organizations had different names and operated under different charters, they shared a common tradition and filled the same role in campus life. This collection documents their activities on campus and elsewhere, with both official documents (minutes, letters, memoranda) and clippings from the Daily Princetonian. The collection is incomplete, being informally assembled by many people over the years.


The Student Christian Association records are organized into three series, arranged as follows:

Within each series, the records are arranged hierarchically, starting with constitutions and minutes, followed by material describing activities, and concluding with clippings.

Collection Creator Biography:

Student Christian Association (Princeton University).

The first student religious societies appeared at the College of New Jersey before 1770; later groups included the Nassau Hall Bible Society (1813) and the Nassau Hall Tract Society (1817). On Christmas Eve, 1824, a small group of students founded a secret fraternity called Chi Phi, dedicated to its members' spiritual life and personal holiness. In February 1825, they changed the group's name to the Philadelphian Society. The Society had exclusive membership requirements and very strict codes of behavior; students had to testify to a personal experience of conversion and be unanimously elected. Exclusive and student-directed, it became popular as a student-directed alternative to the college's all-inclusive and compulsory chapel services and Bible classes.

In 1877, three members of the Society helped to found the Intercollegiate YMCA Movement; one, Luther Wishard, became the Movement's first secretary. The Society became known as the "Mother Society" of the Movement, the dominant national student organization through World War I. The Philadelphian Society built the movement's first building, Murray Hall (1879), later joined by Dodge Hall (1900). Philadelphians went on to become prominent in the Student Volunteer Movement (which focused on missions) and the World's Student Christian Federation.

The 1890s saw an increasing role for the Society. College faculty members, less interested in organizing campus religious life, by default turned it over to the Society, making it the college's quasi-official religious agency. The Society organized Bible study and other courses, as well as coordinating student volunteer activities in the community. By 1897 the Society employed a full-time general secretary to run its expanding programs; to help pay the secretary's salary, the college's trustees created a board of directors for the Society, made up of alumni and faculty members. The Society became the university's all-inclusive religious organization, incorporating all elements of campus religious life; in 1914 it included as members all students who belonged to evangelical (broadly defined) churches. The Society ran a campus-wide campaign to raise funds for its work and for other charities. In 1905, at the request of the International YMCA, the Society founded a settlement house in China, called Princeton-in-Peking; this mission became Princeton-in-Asia. In 1906 the Society founded the Princeton Summer Camp for inner-city boys.

World War I marked the peak of the Society's work. In 1919 followers of Frank Buchman, an itinerant evangelist, joined the Society's staff and used Buchman's often-controversial evangelical methods on campus. In 1926 the resulting conflict led President Hibben to appoint a special committee to investigate the Society's work; while the Society was cleared of scandal, it never regained its standing on campus. Its explicitly religious work was largely taken over by the Dean of the Chapel, appointed in 1928. The Student-Faculty Association, created by the Dean in 1930, coordinated student volunteer activity, the campus fund-raising drive, and other campus good works (such as an emergency loan fund for students and faculty-student social events) under the direction of the Assistant Dean of the Chapel. A skeletal Society board raised money for and held title to the camp in Blairstown, New Jersey.

After the dislocations of World War II, the university reorganized its religious life by replacing the Society and the SFA with the Student Christian Association, a more explicitly religious organization that coordinated student community service and religious societies. It also connected students to national and international student religious movements. In 1967 the SCA was replaced by the Student Volunteers Council, which concentrated on community service without an explicitly religious component.

Collection History


This collection documents the activities of these organizations from 1855 (the earliest records of the Society were lost in the Nassau Hall fire of 1855) through 1967. It includes constitutions and by-laws, board and cabinet minutes, committee reports, membership lists, correspondence, publications, clippings and scrapbooks. Particularly important are documents relating to the Buchmanism controversy of 1926-1927 and the Philadelphian Society's long relationship with the Intercollegiate Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Movement. Numerous important Protestant churchmen served as officers or staff of the Society during their Princeton years, including Luther Wishard, Samuel Shoemaker, Henry Pitney Van Dusen, Eugene Carson Blake, John D. Rockefeller III, and John Oliver Nelson.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Daniel Sack in Summer 1995. Finding aid written by Daniel Sack in Summer 1995.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. If copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers will not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with non-commercial use of materials from the Mudd Library. For materials where the copyright is not held by the University, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Princeton University Student Christian Association Records; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-30

Find More

Related Materials

Nassau Hall Bible Society Records, University Archives [AC# 038]

Nassau Hall Tract Society Records, General Manuscripts, University Archives

Dean of the Chapel Records, University Archives, [AC# 144]

Historical Subject Files, University Archives, [AC# 109]

–Student Religious Organizations

–Selden Papers on the Princeton Summer Camp


H. Alexander Smith Papers (regarding Buchmanism) [MC# 120]

Daniel Sack, "Disastrous Disturbances: Buchmanism and Student Religious Life at Princeton University, 1919-1935" (Princeton Dissertation, 1995)

Subject Terms:
Charities -- New Jersey -- Princeton.
College students -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- Societies and clubs.
Deans, Cathedral and collegiate -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- 20th century.
Lay ministry -- New Jersey -- Princeton.
Religious camps.
Religious education -- New Jersey -- Princeton.
Student volunteers in social service -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- 20th century.
Genre Terms:
Young Men's Christian Association
Student-Faculty Association (Princeton University)
Philadelphian Society (Princeton University)
Princeton Summer Camp (Blairstown, N.J.)
Princeton University
Princeton-in-Peking Program.
Buchman, Frank