In 1894, shortly after the completion of Waterman Gymnasium for the men of the University, the erection of a gymnasium for women was undertaken.
The campaign for the new building was conducted mainly by the Women's League, which had been organized in 1890. For a number of years every organized effort of the women of the University was directed toward raising funds for this gymnasium. Regent Charles Hebard ('79m) raised $10,000 and John Canfield, of Manistee, gave $5,000. Among the gifts was a transfer of $711 from the Mary J. Porter Fund, one of the first alumnae contributions to the University. Altogether, almost $21,000 was raised during the period from 1892 to 1897. To this sum the Regents added approximately $20,500. The total cost of the building, which was occupied in 1896, was $41,341. The architect was John Scott and Co., and the contractor Henry Carew and Co.
In December, 1895, Regent Levi L. Barbour, of Detroit, gave the University several lots in Detroit which, according to the original intention of the donor, were to be used for an art building. At the meeting of the Regents in January, 1898, however, it was moved by Regent Fletcher that "in view of the generosity of Ex-Regent Barbour in giving property valued at $25,000 to aid in the erection of the Woman's Building on the campus, that hereafter the building be known as the Barbour Gymnasium." Apparently, there was some verbal agreement that a part of this gift should be considered as a gift to the women's building rather than toward an art building.
Barbour Gymnasium, containing 35,456 square feet, was built as a part of the Waterman Gymnasium building, and the two gymnasiums were connected by doors which could be thrown open on special occasions, such as the University Senate receptions and the annual Junior Hop, which for years were held in the two buildings.
Originally, all of the first-floor space, with the exception of the gymnasium, was used as parlors and as offices for the Dean of Women and the Department of Physical Education for Women. The building at first was used frequently for large social occasions.
The offices of the Dean of Women were moved to the Administration Building when it was opened in 1948; the Department of Physical Education for Women continued to be housed on the first floor, which was renovated. A well-equipped corrective room occupied a part of this space.
The gymnasium is about 90 feet square. The running track has long since been condemned. The kitchen was remodeled into staff rooms.
The Sarah Caswell Angell Hall on the Page 1583second floor was condemned as a theater in the middle 1920's, and its seating capacity was limited to 250 several years before the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater was completed; it is now used for instruction in dancing. The basement also houses a fencing room and a record room.