THE history of class organization in the University centers largely about the annual class reunions, which led naturally and inevitably to the appointment of class secretaries and other officers. Although at Commencement time there were, undoubtedly, informal reunions of the earliest classes, no formal reunions were recorded prior to 1868. The first class to hold a reunion, as far as the official records indicate, was the class of 1858, which met on June 23, 1868, and inspected the trees which its members had planted as the first recorded class memorial, under the inspiration of Professor Andrew D. White.
From that time on, a few classes met every year. The records show that in 1876 the classes of 1866, 1869, 1871, 1872, 1873, and 1874 met at Commencement time. Eleven years later, in 1887, at the time of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the University, the class of 1845 held a reunion, apparently its first. Other classes which met at that time were those of 1861, 1863, 1867, 1872, 1873, 1875, and 1886.
Very little has survived, however, in the way of records of these early reunions. It was not until the Alumni Association took over the publication of the Michigan Alumnus in 1898 that official reports of reunions began to appear; thenceforth they were included in the Commencement issues of the magazine. In 1898 the reunions of the classes of 1848, 1858, 1868, 1873, 1878, 1888, and 1896 were recorded, although no reports were given, but in 1901 there were reports of seven reunions. A few years later, in 1904, the Alumnus contained reports of the reunions of thirteen classes and of a semicentennial reunion held by the class of 1854. This class held another very successful gathering in 1905.
From this time on, the number of classes holding reunions at Commencement time gradually increased. Reunions of the alumni of the professional departments also began to have an increasingly important place in the program. By 1915 the general secretary reported that 125 classes in the different schools and colleges of the University were organized and were represented by regularly elected or appointed class secretaries. Thirty classes held reunions in 1915, when the alumni registrations numbered 1,420.
Page 379The first effort toward an organization of class officers came as the result of a report made by a committee of the Alumni Advisory Council in June, 1913. This committee recommended (1) that steps be taken to enlist the services of the most efficient members of the classes as alumni officers, especially for classes in which no secretary had yet been appointed, (2) that the necessity of electing class secretaries be impressed upon the graduating classes, and (3) that measures be taken to effect a general organization of all the class secretaries which would serve as a clearinghouse for suggestions and as a means of stimulating the interest of the class secretaries in their work. It was also thought that such an organization would serve to standardize methods of obtaining statistics and information for incorporation in University and class records. This plan, however, proved premature, for the general secretary reported the following year (1914) that the projected organization did not appear practicable or desirable, in view of the fact that the class officers seemed disposed to leave the burden of the work with him, as theretofore, rather than undertake certain of the duties themselves.
The plan for creating such an organization was only held in abeyance, however, and when the Alumni Association was reorganized in 1923 it was revived. As a result of a letter sent out by President Little, seventy-five class officers met on March 5, 1927, and effected a new organization known as the Class Secretaries' Council. The expenses of organization and the salary of a permanent secretary were to be financed by assessing annual dues against the classes to the amount of fifteen cents for each living member, as shown by the records. The first secretary of the Class Secretaries' Council was Charles J. Rash ('22), who assumed his duties on January 1, 1928. Subsequently the name of the organization was changed to the Class Officers' Council.
Since 1928 this "bureau" of the Alumni Association has grown steadily in prestige and effectiveness. The three officers of the Council were given posts as directors on the Board of the Association, and it was significant of the place assumed by the Council in Association affairs that two of the presidents of the Alumni Association "graduated" from the Council to the chief executive position in the national organization.
On September 1, 1929, Fred S. Randall, who had attended the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts between 1919 and 1921, became Secretary of the Council; he retired in 1935, and was succeeded by Robert O. Morgan ('31ed), the present Secretary.
The response of the classes to the opportunities offered in the Council was immediate and effective. Through the Council's operations, officers for practically all classes were secured, and these officers took their duties seriously. Attendance at reunions mounted as the officers planned programs carefully and promoted attendance.
One of the first and most interesting developments was the organization of the Emeritus Club, unique in character. In June of 1930 Luther Conant, a retired newspaperman of Chicago, conceived the idea of a so-called "Tappan reunion" on the campus, designed as a homecoming for alumni who had known the campus in President Tappan's time or shortly thereafter. From this beginning there developed, the following year, the Emeritus Club, embracing in its membership all those graduates and former students who were members of classes older than the Golden Anniversary Class. Formal organization was perfected, emeritus professors were included in the membership, and the club was launched for a career which has been increasingly significant Page 380and enjoyable with each year. In 1938 the University started the practice of presenting membership pins to the Emeritus Club members and to the home-comers of the Golden Anniversary Class who were inducted into the Emeritus Club. Membership certificates were awarded by the Alumni Association.
As the mechanism of the Council has been perfected, increasing emphasis has been placed on continuing activity by the various class organizations. Formerly the sole function of the officers was the planning and organizing of reunions. Secretaries took pride in maintaining contact with class members throughout the five-year periods between reunions. Class directories and books were published. Conferences of officers were held.
In line with this progress came attention to the Michigan Alumni Ten-Year Program. Classes adopted projects which required planned solicitation through the years. At the 1939 reunion eight classes announced adoption of objectives in the ten-year program.
Class organization is based on a mechanism which calls for the election of officers in each class of each college and school. Reunions are held on the same basis, which means that more than fifty classes hold reunions every five years. The so-called "Dix plan," approved by the Alumni Advisory Council in 1911, was followed for a number of years. This brought back a group of classes which were in college together for a general reunion, but it was eventually abandoned in favor of the more simple and apparently more popular five-year scheme. Upwards of two thousand alumni, graduates and nongraduates, attend these home-comings each June, convening during the two or three days preceding Commencement.
Save for a brief period, when the lobby of Angell Hall was used, general registration headquarters have been in Alumni Memorial Hall. Here the alumni register on their arrival and are given the now official reunion badge, an attractive yellow and blue, oval lapel button displaying their name and class in large type. In 1937 the first all-class dinner was held. This has come to be a regular feature of the commencement-week program, and is scheduled for Thursday evening, normally the opening day of reunions. On Friday evening the University decorates the mid-campus with Japanese lanterns, creating a beautiful setting for the "alumni sing." The alumni luncheon on Saturday noon, at which time the alumni are guests of the University, has grown to be the climax of the week. At this annual meeting certain directors of the Alumni Association are elected, the status of "honorary alumnus" is conferred upon conspicuous and active friends of the University who have never attended it, and the president delivers an annual report on the University's progress.