The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  376


THE office of alumni secretary, which has come to have a recognized place in college and university administration, originated at the University of Michigan in 1897, when the Alumni Association was reorganized and co-ordinated. Although certain other universities, notably the University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University, had had part-time secretaries of their alumni organizations who received small fees for their services, the position and its duties had not been precisely recognized or defined.

What may be taken as a first step toward the creation of the office is to be noted in the minutes of the faculty of the Department of Literature, Science, and the Arts for February 1, 1864. It was provided that the name of Edward P. Evans ('54), Professor of Modern Languages and Literature, "be placed in the general catalogue as a person to whom the alumni of this department are requested to communicate information in relation to their place of residence, occupation, etc." (MS, "Faculty Records," 1858-64, p. 420). Thus some of the duties comprised in the present office of the general secretary were recognized more than thirty years before the office actually came into existence. There is little evidence that Professor Evans ever took these duties very seriously. He resigned from the University faculty in 1870.

The need for some officer whose duty it should be to keep in touch with the alumni, maintain the alumni records, and stimulate their interest in the University was long recognized, but for many years no feasible way appeared in which to finance such an office. With the consolidation of the departmental societies in 1897, however, and the expansion of the whole alumni program in the University, almost the first practical step was the appointment of a general secretary.

The first incumbent of the office, Ralph C. McAllaster, had been a student in the Department of Literature, Science, and the Arts in 1885-86, and in the Law Department the next year, after which he had had three years' experience in editing one of the Ann Arbor papers. He was appointed on October 1, 1897, but resigned during the last week of the following December. James H. Prentiss ('96) was appointed as his successor and entered upon his duties January 10, 1898. For some years the new general secretary had been active in college journalism, and, although in addition to his other duties he served as editor-in-chief of the Michigan Alumnus, his main interest proved to be the building up of financial support of the Association through the solicitation of life memberships and subscriptions to that periodical. Louis A. Pratt ('96), the former editor of the Michigan Alumnus, remained as managing editor. Prentiss' efforts during the three years of his service as General Secretary resulted in giving the Alumni Association an assured financial status which formed an effective basis for future expansion.

Prentiss was succeeded in 1901 by Shirley W. Smith ('97, A.M., '00), who for the three previous years had been Instructor in English. With a broad vision of the possibilities of alumni organization, he took active charge of the editorial program of the Michigan Alumnus, systematized not only the financial records of the organization but also the records of the alumni, and undertook at Page  377once the stimulation of class organization and the development of alumni clubs throughout the country. In great measure the pattern upon which the activities of the Alumni Association subsequently developed were set during his three years of service. Mr. Smith resigned in October, 1904, to accept a position with the Pennsylvania Mutual Life Insurance Company of Philadelphia. He returned in the fall of 1908 to become Secretary of the University and eventually Vice-President and Secretary in Charge of Business and Finance.

Wilfred B. Shaw ('04) succeeded him as General Secretary on October 1, 1904. Since his graduation the previous February he had been engaged in newspaper work in Chicago. For twenty-five years he remained as General Secretary, and at the time of his resignation, in October, 1929, he was the oldest alumni secretary in point of service in the country. Throughout the quarter century of his administration the Alumni Association grew slowly but steadily. The Alumnus expanded, its circulation rising to a total of about eleven thousand just before the depression years. In 1921 it had become a weekly magazine. The Alumni Association itself was reorganized in 1923, largely upon the basis of a report which he prepared for the Board of Directors. Throughout this quarter century the number of class organizations steadily increased, until almost all the classes in the different departments had elected secretaries and had met for reunions in June. The local clubs likewise increased in number, until there were 140 alumni clubs listed in the Michigan Alumnus in 1929, in addition to the organized alumnae groups.

A special aspect of the work of the program of the Alumni Association during the later years of his incumbency was the emphasis on what has come to be called alumni education — a program designed to keep the alumni interested in continuing their own educational efforts after college years, and informed upon the scholarly and intellectual interests of the University. To carry out this program, a new department of the University, the Bureau of Alumni Relations, was accordingly set up by President Ruthven, and Mr. Shaw resigned to become Director of this Bureau in the fall of 1929.

When the Alumni Association was reorganized in 1923 a new executive officer had been appointed, a field secretary, whose duties were to keep in touch with the local alumni organizations all over the country, to stimulate their development, and to supervise them. This program developed rapidly, and, in 1929, T. Hawley Tapping (Iowa '11, Michigan '16l), who had been Field Secretary for six years, became General Secretary. Although Tapping's administration as General Secretary has coincided for the most part with the difficult years of the depression, the Alumni Association has, nevertheless, continued to expand. A growing indebtedness, arising in part from the unpaid balance of the cost of Alumni Memorial Hall and in part from a sharp decline in income due to the depression years, which eventually totaled some $30,000, was wiped out through co-operation with the University and a reorganization which gave the University representation on the executive committee of the Board of Directors. The publication schedule of the Michigan Alumnus was changed to permit the publication of a quarterly issue. The Class Officers' Council became an active factor in the whole alumni program, with an assistant general secretary of the Association, Robert O. Morgan ('31ed), appointed in 1935 as secretary of the Council. The district organization not Page  378only was kept alive through difficult years, but also was expanded and consolidated through personal visits on the part of Tapping and other officers to district and local club meetings.


The Michigan Alumnus, Vols. 1-46 (1894-1940). (Especially annual reports of the general secretaries of the Alumni Association.)
MS, "Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association," 1898-1940.
MS, "Records of the Faculty … [Dept. of Literature, Science, and the Arts]," 1858-64. Mich. Hist. Coll., Univ. Mich. ("Faculty Records.")
Shaw, Wilfred B.The University of Michigan. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.
Tapping, T. Hawley. "The Field Secretary."Rept.… Ann. Conf. Amer. Alum. Counc., 14 (1927): 97-104.