The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  381

ALUMNI CLUBS AND GROUPS

AT the time of the 1937 celebration, the University of Michigan had 195 alumni clubs and 53 alumnae groups, including several in foreign countries. This wide distribution of the alumni forces is the real basis upon which the University of Michigan's Alumni Association rests. Membership in the general Alumni Association arises only through membership in the local clubs, which send in national membership dues of fifty cents from the annual club dues received from each of their members.

The organization of the alumni of the University of Michigan by local clubs and associations undoubtedly began in the earlier years of the University, though this cannot be said with certainty, as definite information is meager. It is known, however, that the alumni in Detroit were accustomed to assemble as a group from time to time, especially in such a crisis as the dismissal of President Tappan, and reports of some of these meetings are still available. Whether a definite continuing organization was effected as early as the end of the Tappan administration is not clear. It is very probable that on occasion groups of alumni gathered to welcome some visitor from the University, particularly the president. Since there was no general alumni association prior to 1897, the arrangements for these meetings, as far as they concerned the University, were carried on through the office of the University president, and no records have survived except in some occasional newspaper reports.

The first local alumni meeting of which a record is preserved took place at the Tremont House in Chicago, on February 7, 1868. A constitution was adopted making graduates of the Literary Department only eligible for active membership. On December 28, 1876, thirty alumni met at the Pacific Hotel at San Francisco and effected a definite organization, with Professor Bernard Moses ('70, LL.D. '02), of the University of California, as president. Occasional reports of other meetings are recorded. A newspaper note that the New York alumni held their annual meeting on April 3, 1884, apparently indicates that there had been previous meetings. Another report informs us that on May 28, 1885, about thirty Chicago alumni again met to form an organization and on June 18 of the same year a banquet was held at which fifty-four were present and President Angell was the guest of honor. The Washington alumni held their third annual banquet in February, 1887. The alumni in Detroit were somewhat slower in effecting a definite organization. We have record of a "first annual meeting" held on March 19, 1897 at the old Russell House, with former Postmaster General Donald M. Dickinson ('67l) as president.

In the first issue of the Michigan Alumnus, October, 1894, in an article entitled "The Alumni Question — a Review," Ralph Stone ('92l) mentioned alumni centers located at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington; at Grand Rapids and Battle Creek in Michigan; and at Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Denver in the central and western states; and wrote, further:

All of these are regularly organized and officered and arouse at times considerable annual banquet enthusiasm. At Detroit and San Francisco there are loyal alumni, but there are no ties of organization binding them together. Our only foreign association is located in Japan, which recently organized and cabled an affectionate greeting to President Angell.

Page  382From this we may gather that the auspicious start of the alumni club in San Francisco fell by the wayside during the ensuing eighteen years.

In 1894 the alumni body of the University was probably one of the largest, if not the largest, alumni body in any educational institution in America. In 1892 there were 11,449 alumni, and the graduating class numbered 699. In 1898 Dean Harry Burns Hutchins ('71, LL.D. '21), at that time Acting President of the University, called for the organization of local clubs, and from that time on the movement developed rapidly. In the Michigan Alumnus for October, 1904, the officers of thirty-one clubs were listed. The number of clubs had increased to sixty-eight in 1911, when the first great meeting of the alumni was held. This national dinner, held in the Hotel Astor in New York City on February 4, was attended by nearly one thousand alumni of the University — the largest gathering of its type ever held up to that time. Earl D. Babst ('93, '94l, A.M. hon. '11), later president of the American Sugar Refining Company, was chairman (see Part I: University of Michigan Celebrations).

By 1917 there were recorded 135 local clubs, of which 13 were women's organizations, and in 1922 the number had increased to 184, with 50 alumnae groups. Not all of these, however, were active. With the reorganization of the Alumni Association in 1923, the effectiveness of this local organization of the alumni all over the country was definitely recognized, and these organizations were made the actual basis of the University's entire alumni organization. The country was divided into districts, the clubs of each to hold an annual district meeting, at which a director of the general Association, as well as district officers, should be elected. Originally it was arranged that each district contain approximately five thousand alumni, though one district, that in the southeastern portion of Michigan, was nearly twice this size and therefore was given two directors as its representation. The original total of ten districts was subsequently increased to twelve, when the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was made a separate district and was allotted one of the two directors at first given to a second Michigan district and the district comprising all the far western states was divided.

One of the significant results of the organization of alumni by clubs and districts has been the recruiting of a large number of active alumni workers and leaders. These men and women have been enthusiastic over their work in the interest of the University, and have given generously of their time and attention. The representative nature of the government of the Alumni Association has encouraged them to continue their efforts and to gain promotion, so to speak, up through the district organization ranks into places of leadership in the Association.

The annual district conferences, beside offering ideal opportunity for district administration, also serve as forums for the discussion of the technique of club operation. One result has been the development of a high degree of efficiency in club work and the adoption of uniform formulae for the operation of the various units.

The efficiency thus developed has enabled clubs to undertake successfully many activities beneficial to the University. The alumni have been able to help the University in its contact with preparatory-school students and with the introduction of students to University life. Scholarship and loan funds have been established as objectives in the Michigan Alumni Ten-Year Program. Other gifts to the University, often suggested by campus officials, have been made by these local groups, alumni and alumnae. The clubs have been able to facilitate Page  383close contact with the campus, as their meetings offer an ideal opportunity for visits by speakers from Ann Arbor.

At the time of the reorganization in 1923 there was written into the constitution a provision for holding national meetings once every three years — therefore called triennials. The first was held in Detroit in 1925, the second in Chicago in 1928, the third in Cleveland in 1931, the fourth in Grand Rapids in 1933, and the fifth in Ann Arbor in connection with the 1937 celebration. The University cooperated with the Alumni Association in planning these meetings, with the result that they had an educational phase as well as the anticipated alumni reunion and conference aspect. No regular triennial meeting, however, was held in 1940, since it was felt that other meetings could well take the place of such a formalized program.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Editorial. Mich. Univ. Mag., 2 (1868): 230.
The Michigan Alumnus, Vols. 1-46 (1894-1940).
MS, "Minutes of the Meetings of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association," 1897-1940.
Tapping, T. Hawley. "The Field Secretary."Rept. … Ann. Conf. Amer. Alum. Counc., 14 (1927): 97-104.
Tapping, T. Hawley. "The Practical Organization of Clubs."Rept. … Ann. Conf. Amer. Alum. Counc., 26 (1940): 104-12.