In the early 1970's, the ratio of men to women at Princeton was nearly 12 to 1. By the end of that decade, the male-to-female ratio fortunately had become more normalized. During that period, certain social traditions that previously had thrived at Princeton began to fade away. Along with the imported date and the organized "Mixer" dance, so disappeared the organized "Road Trip": an expedition in search of the opposite sex, organized by adventuresome young men, with destinations consisting of various women's institutions of higher learning situated in faraway lands with strange names like Massachusetts, New York or Virginia. This letter describes the last organized Road Trip from Princeton, taken in February of 1974.
May 1, 1975
Princeton, New Jersey
I just heard the unfortunate news that Briarcliff College in New York may be closing its doors for good. That's too bad. The gradual coeducation trend at the Ivy League schools has whittled away at that venerable women's institution, and it appears to be finally throwing in the towel. I therefore thought this would be an appropriate time for me to tell you the story of the last road trip, which happened at Briarcliff College just over a year ago.
As you probably know, Princeton University has an alumni magazine called The Princeton Alumni Weekly. One of the regular columns in the magazine, titled "On the Campus," is written by a current undergraduate and addresses various aspects of campus life. In December of 1973, a frequent contributor to this column was a member of the Class of 1974 named Susan Williams. Like many other members of the journalistic persuasion, Susan had a habit of finding controvery where there was none.
I normally didn't read very many of the letters to the editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, but I had some extra time that February day in 1974 because I had just finished exams. So I sat down in the easy chair and proceeded to see who was upset about what in the letters section. I expected to find some sort of controversy, but I did not expect to hit such paydirt! There, right before my eyes, was the opportunity of the semester, or maybe even a lifetime! Susan Williams had done it again; she had written a column in the December 4 issue about "imported" dates at Princeton, and how Princeton men treated women from other schools with disdain. The article had mentioned an indelicate interchange between two Princeton men and two girls from Briarcliffe (sic) College; the implication was that some people thought that these women deserved to be treated this way.
Judging from the letters to the editor in front of me, the article must have been really something. But what really caught my attention was a letter right in the center of the page, signed by Josiah Bunting, the President of Briarcliff College himself! His letter opened with a subtle gibe disguised as an olive branch; however, the most important part was where he invited the Princeton fellows to come up to Briarcliff and spend the night and meet "some more representative Briarcliff girls." He even offered some ice cream (in reference to a passage in the article) and a bottle of scotch as well!
I was beside myself with anticipation. This was an opportunity which could not go unanswered. An open invitation from the President of Briarcliff College--a respectable women's college-- to come up and spend the night at a school just overflowing with women who are just dying to meet guys!! I didn't care what the article had said, or what the two Princeton men had done; I felt that this was the time for action! It was just about that time that my classmate Tom McGough, who lived upstairs, walked in our doorway and said, "What's up?"
"What's up?!" I said. "Why, everything's up!"
"What do you mean?" Tom said.
"I mean, we are faced with the opportunity of a lifetime! The President of Briarcliff College has just invited us to go up there for the weekend in order to meet some Briarcliff women!"
"You're kidding!" Tom avowed.
"I most certainly am not! Here, read this!" I stated as I handed him the magazine.
Tom's face began to light up as he read the letter. "Let's do it," he said.
With that, we began our plans. Our first order of business was a telephone call to Briarcliff College, to talk with the President's secretary to identify acceptable dates for a visit. We also didn't want to be mistaken for the two Princeton fellows who allegedly had insulted the Briarcliff women, yet we wanted to make sure that we could qualify for inclusion in the invitation. We decided that the best approach would be to state that we represented the two fellows in question, and hoped that this would be enough to include us on the short list. It worked. We also sought and obtained clearance for a landing party of more than just two Princetonians--we intended to make this an experience we could share with some of our closest friends. Once we got the night of Friday, February 22 confirmed, we proceeded with rallying the troops. In the spirit of all the political movements being established on campus at that time, we founded the "Princeton Ad-Hoc Committee on the Situation at Briarcliff." This gave us a very official-sounding name for a very serious cause, which gave us a certain air of respectability. With a name like that, we knew that if we had trouble signing up recruits, we could always post a list on the Woodrow Wilson School bulletin board and all the aspiring politicians would sign up in a heartbeat. Under the Committee heading, Tom and I put up sign-up lists at our respective eating clubs, and before long we had 43 stalwart volunteers willing to fork out money for the mission. This being too many to fit into one, two or even three cars, I hit upon the obvious solution: rent a bus!
I went into town and met with a representative from Tiger Bus Lines, and before long we had a confirmed reservation for a luxury cruiser with lavatory for both the initial and return trips. Tom and I sent a brief note off to Mr. Bunting, indicating our arrival and departure dates and our preference for Chivas Regal, and we were all set to go!
The afternoon of Friday, February 22 arrived, and 45 of us boarded the Tiger bus for Briarcliff, armed with a few cases of Rolling Rock beer and some exceedingly good expectations. Rumor had it that some were even looking for Fitzgerald's Myra Harper. Briarcliff Manor, New York was not far from the New Jersey-New York state line, so the trip took just a few hours. When we arrived at the attractive Briarcliff campus, we checked in at the President's office, only to find that Mr. Bunting was terribly upset that he had to go out of town on the weekend and would be unable to meet with us. However, he did leave a bottle of Chivas Regal, which Tom and I requisitioned for ourselves.
The school had gone to great lengths to provide us with hospitality. There was an entirely empty wing of a brand new dormitory, with beds made up, for us to stay. They fed us in the dining hall, and then they had a dance for us, with a live band and lots of lovely Briarcliff ladies. The lights were low, the music was loud, and the beer was plentiful. Overall, the evening was considered a success and well worth the trip.
There were quite a few stories to tell on the trip home. Even more came out later, as the word got around about the "Briarcliff Road Trip." Sir Lucky of Lewis met a girl named April whom he later married. His younger brother DD the Giantkiller met a girl named Eileen, but he didn't marry her. Sir "Honest"Jonathan of Fletcher met a girl named Dorie who gave him milk and cookies, or so he said. Sir Allard of Mallard, who, as you know, is currently studying at Oxford, won a bet with the other guys on the bus--something about the first girl he met at the dance. And Sir Kent of the Elusive Smile vouched with a grin that the Briarcliff ice cream was the best he had eaten in years . . . .
Mr. Bunting later responded to our thank-you note with a very congenial reply. As for Tom and myself, we enjoyed that bottle of Chivas Regal scotch for a long time after that, toasting each time to the Last Great Princeton Road Trip. . . .
Sapor cum whatever,
Post Script Note:
Josiah Bunting eventually became President of Hampden-Sidney College, then Headmaster of the Lawrencville School, and subsequently Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute.