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


In its essentials the Michigan Union, both as an organization and as a building, came as an expression of a long-standing need on the part of the student body of the University. For many years a conviction had been developing, though not very precisely expressed, that with the rapid growth of the University some force was desirable to integrate the life of the students, to give them a sense of unity, and to serve as a great club and center for all student, faculty, and alumni activities.

This feeling eventually gave recognition in the fall of 1903 to the need for a Michigan Union building. The movement was furthered by interviews with President Angell and leading members Page  1808of the faculty, printed in the Michigan Daily for December 5, 1903. As a result, on December 29 of the same year, the senior society, Michigamua, issued a call for a meeting of representatives of the leading University organizations to consider ways and means to further the project. Two members each from Quadrangle, Friars, the Toastmasters' Club, and the Michigan Daily, at a meeting in February, 1904, conferred with the members of Michigamua and with Professors Henry M. Bates, Robert M. Wenley, John R. Allen, and Fred N. Scott, who was appointed temporary chairman. Shirley W. Smith represented the Alumni Association. These men all gave strong and active support to the project. The student members of the "Committee for the Organization of a Union" included Edward F. Parker ('04), temporary secretary, D. Bethune Duffield Blain ('04, '06l), Franklin A. Wagner ('04l), Paul Jones ('05l), William K. Williams ('01, '04l), Samuel E. Thomason ('04), Thomas B. Roberts ('04), Thomas A. Sims ('04, '06l), and Sanford Trippet ('04l).

With the help and encouragement of Professor Bates, later Dean of the Law School, articles of association, which set the number of directors at twelve, were drawn up and signed on June 20, 1904. The articles have since been amended twice.

In November, 1911, the number of directors was increased to seventeen and in May, 1952, to nineteen. At a meeting on November 5, 1904, this first Executive Committee recommended the establishment of an "incorporated" body, to be known as the Michigan Union, for students, alumni, faculty, and regents. These "incorporators" of the Michigan Union were Edward F. Parker, D. Bethune D. Blain, David E. Beardsley ('02, '04m), Edward S. Corwin ('00), Curtis A. Evans ('02, '04m), Paul Jones, Richard R. Kirk ('03, A.M. '04), Thomas B. Roberts, Thomas A. Sims, Shirley W. Smith (ex officio) as secretary of the Alumni Association, succeeded in the fall of 1904 by Wilfred B. Shaw ('04), Samuel E. Thomason, Sanford Trippet, and Frank A. Wagner. Members of the first Board of Directors were Edward F. Parker, recording secretary, D. B. D. Blain, corresponding secretary, Wilfred B. Shaw, financial secretary, James S. Baley ('05), H. S. Graver ('04), Lucius A. Farnham ('05m), Thomas A. Sims, Burton S. Knapp ('04p), and Professors Bates, Wenley, Scott, and Allen.

Edward F. (Bob) Parker, who had first been responsible for arousing student and faculty interest in the plan, was elected as the first president. In fact Parker may be considered the actual founder of the Union. It was he who first conceived the idea of such a great student center and it was he who was responsible for interesting the newly organized senior society Michigamua in the project, thus ensuring wide student support.* The Executive Committee also proposed that the movement be officially inaugurated at a great dinner to be held at the beginning of the following school year. The organization found immediate favor with the students; its aims were widely discussed and specifically set forth in an article printed in the Michigan Alumnus of April, 1904.

Early in 1904 the Board of Directors began holding regular meetings in Professor Scott's seminary room in the old West Hall. The first public meeting of the Union was the dinner held on November 11, 1904, at which 1,100 persons were present; President Angell was the presiding officer.

In its first days the Union functioned Page  1809entirely as an organization, and, in accordance with its fundamental purpose, it became almost at once a unifying and co-ordinating agency in the life of the students, with the undergraduate organizations turning to it for effective guidance and assistance. Class elections were held under the auspices of the Union, a student council was set up, and a fund was established to buy the portrait of President Angell, by William L. Chase, which now hangs in the Union.

Almost immediately a campaign for a proposed Union Club House, as it was then called, was inaugurated, giving rise to a long series of entertainments which contributed not a little to the Union's finances during its early years. The directors of the Union came to the conclusion that no precedent existed anywhere for a building of the type they felt to be necessary. The first requisite, in their opinion, was that the building, if it was to serve the needs of all the men of the University, should be large and all-inclusive. It was recognized that the women already had, for the time, a fairly satisfactory social center in the parlors of Barbour Gymnasium, and the Union, therefore, was envisaged as a club for the men of the University. These objectives were first set forth in a statement by Professor Henry M. Bates on the aims of the Union, which appeared in the Michigan Alumnus of April, 1905:

What is the Union? For what does it stand, and what does it hope to accomplish? As its name indicates it is an organization, a Union for all Michigan men, graduates, faculty and regents. Its avowed objects are to promote University spirit, and to increase social intercourse and acquaintance with each other's work among the members of the different departments and other University organizations. As a means to these ends, and to some extent as an end in itself, it is proposed, as soon as funds can be secured, to erect a great building, … to be a house for the Union and headquarters in Ann Arbor for all Michigan men.

Dean Bates was perhaps more responsible than any other one individual, over those early years, in ensuring continuing faculty and student support and recognition of the fundamental concept of the Union. It is fair to say that his efforts were the determining factor in the eventual success of the project and in establishing its fundamental policies.

To serve its purpose it was necessary that the building should include not only ample lounges, reading and committee rooms, but also dining rooms with adequate kitchens, billiard and game rooms, a large assembly room and ballroom, and probably accommodations for returning alumni and a swimming pool. It was recognized that a building with such facilities would be expensive, and the first estimates, accordingly, were between $300,000 and $400,000.

Meanwhile, difficulties arose in the campaign for funds. The Alumni Association, through a committee, which included many distinguished alumni, of which Judge Claudius B. Grant ('59, hon. '91) was chairman, had authorized the raising of money for a building to be erected as a memorial to the students of the University who had died in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and the members of this committee had already entered actively upon their task. Inevitably, confusion arose in the minds of the alumni as to whether the Union was to be the memorial proposed or a separate social center as planned by the Union Committee (see Part VIII: Alumni Memorial Hall). The matter was discussed at length in the Michigan Alumnus (December, 1904) and elsewhere, but efforts to unite the two projects proved unavailing. The members of the alumni committee were unable to conceive of the functions of the proposed Page  1810Union building as these were understood by the officers of the Union, and as a result the two campaigns were carried on simultaneously, with a certain degree of unfortunate rivalry. The Memorial Committee, however, eventually secured sufficient funds to proceed, although it left an indebtedness of some $4,000 which was borne by the Alumni Association for many years. In 1907 the construction of Alumni Memorial Hall, situated across the street from the Union, was begun; it was completed in 1910.

At the same time the efforts of the Union to raise funds met with a certain degree of success. In the winter of 1905-6 it was decided to ask for subscriptions, and on December 20, 1905, at a mass meeting held in University Hall, the plans were laid before the students with speeches and slides. In May, 1905, the student carnival in the form of a County Fair (now Michigras), held in Waterman Gymnasium, netted the Union $2,700; on May 23, 1906, the Student Lecture Association contributed its profits for the year, amounting to $1,500, and on May 4 and 5, 1906, a student entertainment, the Michigan Union Minstrels, raised $1,500. The following year a similar minstrel show, given in Detroit, was equally successful. The annual dinners, which began in 1904, also became for a number of years a feature of University life.

With funds thus raised the Union proceeded to take the first steps toward a clubhouse. The old home of Judge Thomas M. Cooley, on State Street, was purchased and remodeled. Although admittedly inadequate, the house in a measure provided some of the facilities planned for the future building and demonstrated effectively the need of a large center for student and faculty activities. This first clubhouse was formally opened on Thursday evening, November 14, 1907 (see Part VIII: Michigan Union Building).

The fact that it was operated as a club necessitated, for the first time, the payment of Union dues, which were fixed at $2.50 for each student. Despite the fact that it was relatively late in the college year, a large number of students became active members. Until 1918-19, however, when the dues were included in the University fees, by no means all of the men enrolled in the organization.

Nevertheless, interest and enthusiasm were widespread, and student energies eventually crystallized in the first of the many Michigan Union Operas, which began with "Michigenda," given in February, 1908, in the old Athens Theater (later the Whitney, razed in 1956). Given over a period of three days, this performance netted the sum of $2,000 toward the support of the organization and the clubhouse (Mich. Alum., 14 [1907-8]: 229-30). Through the years 1908-26 the Opera contributed about $125,000. In these early years the Union functioned as an agency for the expression of student interests and enthusiasm, and to its effectiveness as an organization, in the years before the present building was constructed, may be ascribed the present effectiveness of both the organization and the building which came to be its eventual symbol.

The plans for the new building were prepared by architects Allen B. Pond ('80a, A.M. hon. '11) and Irving K. Pond ('79e, A.M. hon. '11), of Chicago, whose boyhood home stood on part of the site upon which the Union Building eventually was built. In April, 1910, an announcement setting forth tentative plans and exterior sketches of the building was published in the Alumnus, thus giving a new impetus to the project. In the campaign for funds for the new building, the student officers took an active part, notably such early Union presidents Page  1811as Herbert W. Clark ('05, '08l), James K. Watkins ('09), Walle W. Merritt ('08, '12l), and Howard L. Barkdull ('09, '11l).

A special effort was undertaken to secure an increased membership, which grew rapidly until 4,047 students were enrolled in 1914. This represented a large part of the student body of that time and reflected the important place of the Union in University life. The offices of president, of secretary, and of departmental vice-presidents of the Union came to be among the most sought after and important student offices. Throughout these years the office of president was given alternately to a fraternity man and to an independent.

Despite faculty and alumni membership on the Board of Directors, the proportion of students on the board made the Union an effective expression of the best student opinion, and there was rarely a division on student-faculty lines. The student officers directed the constantly growing activities of the Union without compensation, many of them devoting almost all of their spare time to the work. Occasionally, a question arose as to the desirability of financial recognition of their services, but the board always felt that this would be inconsistent with the democratic ideals of the organization. In the campaign for funds for the new building, the student officers took an effective part, many of them traveling about the country to lay the case of the Union before alumni groups.

The first definite move for a new and larger building was initiated at a meeting of alumni held in Ann Arbor in December, 1910. Out of this meeting grew the final organization which eventually secured the necessary funds. The beginnings of the program were necessarily modest, and at first were confined largely to a program of publicity through the Michigan Alumnus and the Michigan Daily which, some years before contributions were actually solicited, resulted in a cordial and co-operative attitude on the part of the alumni.

The use of the first building grew so rapidly that in 1912, at the time of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the University, it proved necessary to build an addition in the form of a frame structure, 50 by 100 feet, at the rear. This addition, called the Assembly Hall, was used for large social gatherings and dramatic performances. Later, it became a theater for University plays. For years the Michigan Union Opera was presented here, and thus the addition acquired its later name, the Mimes Theater. Eventually, after some years' service as a Play Production Laboratory Theater, it was razed.

The adoption of a Union button, to be worn by all student members, after the popular athletic button was discontinued, also added to the general student pride in the Michigan Union. By 1914 the property of the Union, including the first clubhouse and addition, was valued at $40,000, with an indebtedness of a little more than half that amount. Subscriptions at that time, before the campaign for the present building was begun in June, 1914, amounted to $23,000. The advent of World War I a few months later, necessitated postponement of the plans for a campaign, however, and it was not until October, 1915, that actual solicitation of funds on a large scale began. Subscriptions came in rapidly during the following year, and by October, 1916, $765,000 had been secured in pledges, of which about $235,000 was in cash. The objective finally had been set at $1,000,000, including $250,000 for endowment.

The central campaign committee in Ann Arbor included Professors Henry M. Bates (chairman), Joseph A. Bursley, Evans Holbrook, Gardner S. Williams, Page  1812and Dr. Reuben Peterson from the faculty, Regents Benjamin S. Hanchett and Harry C. Bulkley, Henry E. Bodman ('96), George W. Millen, Shirley W. Smith, and Homer L. Heath ('07). Alumni subcommittees were set up all over the country, and arrangements were made for visits from representatives of the Union. By March, 1917, the sum of $800,000 had been subscribed, with about half of this amount actually in hand.

This successful campaign was carried on largely under the direction of Homer L. Heath, general manager of the Union from 1908 to 1926, who was untiring in his efforts to promote the project. This response seemed to justify plans for immediate construction. A building committee, organized in October, 1911, included Professor Joseph A. Bursley (chairman), Roy D. Chapin, Henry W. Douglas ('90e), William D. McKenzie ('96), Professor Henry E. Riggs, Frederick W. Stevens, ('87l), Professor Gardner S. Williams, and Homer L. Heath. This committee worked faithfully through 1927.

In addition to the building committee, an Alumni Advisory Committee was also established, consisting of Lawrence Maxwell ('94, hon. '93, hon. '04), Earl D. Babst ('93, '94l, hon. '11), Eugene J. Carpenter, Roy D. Chapin, Delbert J. Haff ('84, '86l, hon. '09), Richard C. Peters, Charles B. Warren ('91, hon. '16), and John M. Zane ('84, hon. '14). Actual construction did not begin until 1916, when President Hutchins turned the first sod for the building at Commencement of 1916; building operations were well under way by the fall of that year. The building committee was composed of men thoroughly competent to deal with problems of construction; they acted as their own contractors, thus saving considerable sums in the cost of the building. The Cooley house was razed at this time. The preliminary plans, however, involved only the construction of the shell of the building; the interior finish and furnishings were to be provided as the subscriptions were paid.

With America's entry into World War I in the spring of 1917 and with consequent changes and loss of enrollment in the University, the collection of these unpaid subscriptions became increasingly difficult, and construction had to be postponed. Plans were developed, in the meantime, for a war-time use of the unfinished structure. An advance loan by the Michigan State War Preparedness Board of $260,000 permitted completion of the building to a point where it could be used as a barracks, and it was taken over by the Students' Army Training Corps. With the beginning of the fall semester in 1918, some 800 corps members were housed in the Union, and meals were served to more than 4,000 persons in the building and in temporary mess halls set up beside it.

The end of the war brought the officers of the Union face to face with the fact that with a large investment already in the building it was imperative that it be completed and the loan from the state repaid. After an unsuccessful effort to raise the necessary $301,170, the building committee decided to borrow sufficient funds to finish the interior and provide the furnishings, using the unpaid pledges as security. This action permitted construction to be resumed, and the Michigan Union was opened in the fall of 1919. At its completion the building was dedicated as a memorial to President James B. Angell, and a bronze tablet to his memory was placed at the front entrance. Many years later, a portrait sketch of him in his last year as President, executed by Wilfred B. Shaw, was hung in the entrance hallway of the 1956 addition.

One of the first measures passed by Page  1813the directors after the construction of the new building was a rule that the Union, as exclusively a men's club, should not permit women to use the front entrance; they were to be admitted only through the side door. This measure was strongly advocated by some of the faculty members who were familiar with the general practice of university clubs elsewhere. A doorkeeper was installed to enforce this ruling, which was not abrogated until 1954, when the new building program was instituted.

The Michigan Union and its grounds were deeded to the University in March, 1920. At that time the building cost was stated to have been $1,150,000 with reproduction value for that year of more than $1,350,000. Subscriptions aggregated more than $1,167,000, of which $740,000 had been paid in cash. In the communication and deed it was stated:

It will be observed that the deed expressly states that by its acceptance the Regents assume neither a moral nor a legal obligation to pay any indebtedness of the Union now existing or at any time arising. The Union building has enormously increased the pride of the alumni in the University and they will never countenance a request for money from the Regents, either for the building or for the operation thereof. The indebtedness now outstanding is not yet due and is covered by subscriptions payable in the future. Payments on such subscriptions are being made in a most gratifying manner as they mature.

(R.P., 1917-20, p. 888.)

Although more than $50,000 had been subscribed by students alone through 1,000 life memberships and despite the fact that 70 per cent of the students were life members by 1920, the question of annual student memberships in the Union had never been on an altogether satisfactory basis. Therefore, in June, 1918, the Board of Regents "directed that the annual fee of each male student in the University be increased by $3, which sum out of each annual fee should be paid over by the Treasurer of the University to the proper official of the Michigan Union" (R.P., 1917-20, p. 240). This was to take effect with the first semester of the 1918-19 school year. The dues thus collected were raised to five dollars in 1919-20. As a result all the men students in the University automatically became members of the Union. The student fee was raised to six dollars a semester in 1923, to ten dollars in 1926, and to twelve dollars in 1952. It was in 1926 that the automatic life membership after eight semesters was enacted.

Through these years the Union had been governed by a Board of seventeen directors comprising student, faculty, and alumni representatives, a method of organization which proved adequate until the problems incident to the administration of the new building arose. It was then found advisable to create another body, known as the Board of Governors, to manage the Union as a large and financially responsible corporation.

Although first authorized in 1917, the Board of Governors was not finally con stituted until 1920. This body was composed of the student president of the Union, a representative from the Board of Regents, the financial secretary of the Union, and three alumni members. In June, 1928, the Board of Governors as an independent unit was abolished, and a finance committee of the Board of Directors was set up in its place. This committee is composed of (a) the regent member of the Board of Directors (ex officio), (b) the president of the Union (ex officio), (c) the financial secretary of the Union (ex officio), (d) the dean of students (ex officio), (e) the recording secretary (ex officio), and (f) two non-student members of the Board of Directors, both residents of Ann Arbor — all appointed by the Board of Directors. Page  1814The financial secretary is chairman of the committee. The directors deal with the use of the building as a social center and the policies of the Union as an organization, while the Finance Committee administers the finances of the organization and supervises the actual use of the building. Homer L. Heath, who was general manager from 1908 to 1926, was succeeded by L. Paul Buckley ('05l), 1926-33, Stanley G. Waltz, 1933-41, and Franklin Kuenzel, acting manager, 1941-45, general manager, 1945- .

From the first the building proved that the contentions of the early advocates of such a center for student life were fully justified. An analysis made during its first year of use showed that more than 2,500 formal and informal meetings were held in the building and that an average of 7,500 persons entered its doors every day. Although the opening of the building had been delayed two months, the total business for the first year amounted to half a million dollars, with a deficit of only $3,000.

When the building was finally opened for use the swimming pool and the library and reading room on the second floor were left unfinished. The completion of these two sections became an almost immediate objective on the part of the students. In June, 1923, a gift of $21,500 by Mrs. Edward W. Pendleton, of Detroit, permitted the Board of Governors to finish the Library as a memorial to her husband, Edward W. Pendleton ('72). This room was ready for use early in 1925, and a start toward the library itself was made through the donation of Mr. Pendleton's library.

Meanwhile, the students had been carrying on an active campaign to raise $50,000 for the completion of the swimming pool. Eventually, through various entertainments and solicitation of funds, they raised $20,000, which was supplemented by contributions from alumni and special donors, thus permitting the construction of the pool in 1924; it was opened on March 28, 1925. Extensive student use of the Union building throughout its first years also made necessary an increase in the space devoted to administrative offices, an improvement which was completed in 1930.

While the Union as a building almost immediately assumed a recognized place in University life, the fact that it was completed and operating as planned served to lessen the zest in the campaign and, in practice, made it difficult, if not impossible to raise the indebtedness, which amounted to $306,000 in 1925. It was to meet this situation that the Board of Regents approved an increase in the Union student fee to ten dollars. It was provided, however, that only one-half of this sum should be spent for maintenance; the other half being reserved for the retirement of the Union's debt. When this was finally accomplished in 1935, the Union was free to enter upon a series of additions. In 1936 and 1938 two new wings to the south were constructed. The first, providing quarters for the University Club, as well as fifty-four additional rooms for guests, afforded more than 90,000 more square feet of available space. This wing runs parallel to the main structure, while the other, with frontage on Madison Street, houses the International Center and affords eighty additional guest rooms. The residence halls of the West Quadrangle, directly behind the Union, bordering on Madison and Thompson streets, were completed in 1937-39 and connect with the basement and first floor of the Union by means of corridors. The plans for these dormitories were developed in connection with the Union expansion.

The Michigan Union becomes known to the undergraduate through the work of the student activities committee, composed of the Union president, the Union Page  1815executive secretary, and the members of the Union Executive Council. The members of the Council are selected by the senior officers to head the various committees, which in 1955-56 included campus affairs, student services, publicity, social, dance, public relations, personnel and administration, and University relations.

"Union Week," held at the beginning of each semester, serves to introduce the student to University facilities. During the year there are dances each weekend. Friday evenings the "Little Club" is one of the most popular spots in Ann Arbor. Membership dances are held each Saturday night in the ballroom. The Union sponsors theater trips to Detroit during the year, permitting the student to take advantage of the plays which come to the metropolitan area. Twice a month a Union Forum is held at which controversial issues are debated and discussed by students and faculty. Other projects include University Day, a program for highschool seniors, football ticket resale, tutorial service, speech-photography-art contests, dance contests, student-faculty-administration conferences, and the Michigan Union Opera.

Several projects are sponsored by the Union in co-operation with women's groups. Michigras, the semiannual spring carnival and parade, involving everyone on campus, is a joint project with the Women's Athletic Association. In alternate years the two groups present Spring Weekend, consisting of a Skit Night entertainment and a "soap-box derby." The Union also presents various programs in co-operation with the Women's League. Student leaders for Orientation Week are chosen by the League and Union, and student groups entertain in the local hospitals at Easter and Christmas. Monthly teas are given at the home of the President of the University. Gulantics, an all-campus talent show, is presented in the spring and Homecoming in the fall. The Michigan Union also serves as headquarters for the Interfraternity Council, Inter-House Council, Men's Glee Club, Quadrangle, Michigamua, Druids, the senior honorary society of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Vulcans, the senior engineering honorary society, and Sphinx, the junior honorary society of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

While the Michigan Union was by no means the first college building designed to serve student social life and activities, since there were other buildings answering this purpose elsewhere, notably at Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Pennsylvania, and Toronto, it was the first one built on such an impressive scale that it could serve as a practicable center for all the men students, as well as faculties and alumni. Upon its final completion it immediately attracted wide attention, and similar buildings sprang up all over the country, so in a sense it may be considered the first of the great student unions now to be found on the campuses of almost all the large American colleges and universities.

The present (1954) constitution defines in Article II the purposes of the Union: "To furnish a University social and recreational center; to provide a meeting place for faculty, alumni, and students of the University; and to help in fitting University of Michigan men for the performance of their duties as good citizens." Article III provides that "membership shall be confined to men," and sets forth the following six classifications of membership: life, student, annual, honorary, directors, and summer session. Article IV provides that the Board of Directors shall consist of: the student president and executive secretary, the financial secretary appointed by the Regents, the dean of men, ex officio, the Page  1816general secretary of the Alumni Association (ex officio), the highest-ranking male officer of the legislative branch of the student government (ex officio), seven student vice-presidents elected by the student members of the Union, three faculty members from the University Senate, two alumni elected by the Alumni Association, and one member of the Board of Regents. This Board shall be "the policy-making body of the Union," with "full power to supervise and control all its activities." The president of the Union presides over all meetings of members, and of the directors.

The first section of Article V provides that the president and executive secretary shall be selected by a committee composed of the dean of men, three student members from the seven vice-presidents, and three faculty or alumni members. Section II defines the procedure for the annual election by the students, under the supervision of the student government, of the seven vice-presidents. Articles VI to IX set forth the duties of the president, executive secretary, financial secretary, and the general manager. The following committees of the Board of Directors are authorized and their membership and duties defined in Article X: activities, appointments, finance, and house.


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The Michigan Alumnus, Vols. 11-46 (1903-40).
The Michigan Daily, 1903-20.
"Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Michigan Union," 1904-56.
MS, "Minutes of the Meetings of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association," 1900-40.
Parker, Edward F., , D. B. D. Blaine, , Wilfred B. Shaw. MSS, Letters Concerning the Student Movement for the Michigan Union. Mich. Hist. Coll., Univ. Mich.
Parker, Edward F."When the Michigan Union Was a Dream,"Mich. Alum., May 22, 1926, p. 599.
Parker, Edward F.The First Years of the Michigan Union,"Mich. Alum., May 29, 1926, p. 617.
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Smith, Shirley W.Harry Burns Hutchins. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich. Press, 1951. Pp. 137 ff.
University of Michigan.Catalogue of Graduates, Non-Graduates, Officers, and Members of the Faculties, 1837-1921: Univ. Mich., 1923.