The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  407


At the turn of the century there were a few young men and women holding annual appointments as assistants, fellows in the laboratories, or junior staff members, whose duties varied from the setting up of lecture demonstrations to independent investigation on special projects sponsored by fellowships. Most of them were pursuing graduate courses or research, those in the preclinical medical departments continuing their professional training.

The long hours they spent in assisting and investigating, combined with regular course requirements, too often isolated them and not only precluded the enjoyment of association with kindred spirits in other departments, commonly regarded as an integral part of their work, but also denied them many of the benefits which other University students obtained.

Inspired by the success of the Research Club (see Part II: Research Club), the members of which were older faculty men of established reputation, the younger workers several times considered forming a club of their own in which experimental findings could be regularly reported and research problems could be discussed.

Occasionally, when some distinguished guest was present or when some professor was to report an Arbeit in which an assistant had collaborated, outsiders were invited to the programs of the Research Club. Gelston, Assistant in Hygiene, and Ward J. MacNeal, Assistant in the Hygienic Laboratory, had attended its meetings, and they had been so impressed that they made a definite attempt to found a junior research organization.

Encouraged by Professors Novy, Vaughan, and Warthin, they enlisted the support of a few young men of similar status and on October 20, 1902, held their first meeting. Gelston's enthusiasm was not quite infectious enough to carry them through the preliminary stages of organization, however, and Dr. Novy was therefore hurriedly brought upon the scene. His lucid presentation of the advantages to be derived from the activities of such a club crystallized their ideas on the subject. Not only did they decide to organize the society, but they elected officers at once, levied annual dues rather high for those times ($3.00) payable within the next two weeks, and directed a committee to draft a set of bylaws. These were finished and adopted early in December.

The record shows that sixteen men attended this first meeting, although the statement that thirty were present appeared in the Ann Arbor Daily Argus. The newspaper also reported that the organization would probably be called the Michigan Laboratory Club.

The announcement provoked considerable discussion. Some persons inferred that the new club was to serve only as a preliminary step in the formation of a chapter of Sigma Xi. The women assistants, with some diplomacy, raised the question of their eligibility for membership. One or two members of the Research Club, upon hearing a rumor that despite the newspaper report the name actually selected was Junior Research Club, vigorously protested, believing that the use of a similar name by a less distinguished group would detract from the reputation of their own society. Nevertheless the name Junior Research Club was adopted at a special meeting held about a week after the society was organized. Four new members were received at this time and were allowed to sign the book as charter members, increasing the charter roll to twenty.

Page  408No action was taken on the question of admitting women to membership. By the usual intangible routes the women research workers had been warned of the club's attitude upon the question, however, and, not to be outdone, they gathered that same evening in Room 2 University Hall and organized the Women's Research Club (see Part II: Women's Research Club). The separation into two groups on the basis of sex was unfortunate, but although the question of electing women to membership has been mentioned in recent years it has not been acted upon nor discussed at any length.

Members of the Junior Research Club were active in the establishment of the University of Michigan chapter of Sigma Xi, which took place about a year later (see Part IX: Sigma Xi). The club did not fuse with the newer organization as some had predicted, since it had been ascertained that Sigma Xi would function in an honorary capacity only. Throughout the years most cordial relations have been maintained between the two societies, which have jointly sponsored a number of public lectures and have conducted many programs together.

The feeling between the Research Club and the Junior Research Club also has been exceptionally fine. When, in the fall of 1907, the Research Club began a determined effort to promote the establishment of a separate graduate school, it requested the active co-operation and support of the junior society. Beginning at least as early as 1911, a joint meeting of the two clubs has been held annually. To the Research Club's special session commemorating the services of some great intellectual worker, an annual event begun in the year 1909-10 and opened to the public in 1929, the members of the Junior Research Club and of the Women's Research Club have for a number of years been invited. In this manner the active research workers in all fields are brought together regularly once a year for an evening of instruction and social intermingling.

The aim of the Junior Research Club, as clearly defined in 1908, has been:

… To bring together the men of the University of Michigan who are engaged in research work in pure science, to enable the student in one science to keep in touch with the methods and results in other sciences and to give each member the stimulus which comes from contact with other investigators.

It is probably true that the inclusion of a limited number of well-qualified members from fields other than science would exert a healthful influence, but the group has been adamant in avoiding what some of its members have regarded as a possible "contamination." On the other hand, the several attempts made to insert the word "science" into the name of the club have been unsuccessful.

Since the adoption of the original by-laws in 1902 it has been necessary for a person, in order to be eligible for membership, to be "an assistant, regularly appointed by the Regents, the holder of a fellowship, or a research worker favourably reported on by the membership committee."

Although the active group is much larger than at first, the number of members received annually having been increased as the University has grown, high qualifications for membership have been observed, for the membership committee has carefully scrutinized the achievements of every individual recommended. Once a person is elected he can continue his place in the society merely by the payment of annual dues, but unless he maintains his record of productive research he goes onto the inactive list. Because of the youth of most of the members and the nature of their university status there is a large exodus each year; it is noteworthy, however, that certain outstanding individuals among the Page  409more permanent members of the faculty play a conspicuous role in maintaining the organization, retaining their membership long after they have earned established reputations in science and have joined the ranks of the Research Club. The yearly replacement of outgoing members by young men who possess the ebullitive enthusiasm of graduate students assures intensely interesting meetings.

The presentation and criticism of reports by members upon their own investigations was begun in November, 1902, and has always constituted the principal part of each regular monthly session, after which, also in accordance with custom, refreshments have been served. The interest of the members has been so keen, especially after they have been reinvigorated by the food, that their discussions have frequently lasted until long after midnight, and repeated efforts have been required to close the meetings at a more reasonable hour.

Thirteen of the twenty charter members either had received or eventually received the degree of doctor of medicine. Reflecting the predominant representation of the preclinical departments and the intense research activity of Vaughan, Cushny, Novy, Warthin, and Huber, eight of the twelve topics presented in the first year had to do with medical research. One of the first two papers, read at the November meeting in 1902, was "The Presence of Yellow Elastic Tissue and Reticulum Tissue in the Tumors of the Skin."

The founders of the club, aware of the dangers of one-sidedness and possible departmental jealousies, prescribed that the three who constituted the membership committee should come from different departments, that no two members of the same department should be elected to the different offices during the same term, and that no member should hold the same office for more than one year.

At first the club convened regularly in the old pathological laboratory in the original Medical Building. A classroom on the southwest corner of the structure now known as West Medical Building became available in the spring of 1903 and was used for many years, until, with the erection of more modern buildings, rooms with improved ventilation and more comfortable seating accommodations could be found. Rooms in the Chemistry and Pharmacy Building and in the Natural Science Building have been regularly used at one time or another, and for occasional special programs there have been excursions to other locations such as the naval tank, the East Physics Building, and the University Hospital.

The principal deviations from the ordinary monthly program, aside from joint sessions with the other research organizations, are the first and last meetings of the year. At the first, an impromptu recitation of the members' summer holiday activities usually consumes all the time not demanded by the business essential to beginning the year's program. Every year except 1917-18 has culminated in a banquet, which at times has been a sumptuous affair.

The prominent part of the banquet program is the report of the silent secretary. This officer is appointed by the president early in the year, but remains anonymous to the others until the time of his report. Meanwhile, he carefully notes all the items in the papers and discussions that meet with his disapproval. These shortcomings are then edited and are recalled, sometimes in the form of poetry and with lantern demonstrations, on this far from solemn occasion. The silent secretary's report is usually excellent, and anticipation of it ensures a large attendance.

In spite of the low dues and a system of expenditures designed to keep assets Page  410at a minimum, funds have accumulated, and from time to time money has been appropriated for the support of worthy causes. In 1924 the club contributed $200 to the student friendship fund for destitute European students, and the student loan fund of the University received $100 from the club in the spring of 1933 and $150 in December, 1934.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate the influence of the club on the social and intellectual life of its members. Graduate students as a group are looked upon as a peculiar lot, and this criticism is justified to no small degree. Too often, graduate study is a converging process. The presentation of one's own research before representatives from practically every branch of science is stimulating as well as humanizing. The speaker must logically justify every step of his work in this arena, and the questions and comments quickly reveal the ramifications of what at first may have seemed a very narrow project. Thus the rigid boundaries of individual research are demolished and co-operative research is envisioned, an ideal state in any university program.

The long list of members who have later achieved distinction for original research, either in industry or in institutions of learning, is impressive, although to single out a few names for particular citation would be inexcusable. How much of their success stems from membership in the Junior Research Club is a question. However, there is no gainsaying the fact that the members consider the activities of the club and the fellowship it affords with earnest and stimulating workers as of inestimable value.


The Ann Arbor Daily Argus, Oct. 21, 1902.
MS, "Minutes of the Junior Research Club of the University of Michigan," 1902-40.