Michigan Union records: 1884-1996 (Majority of material found within 1904-1995)
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Biography

The idea of an organization embracing all of the University of Michigan's male students was offered by Edward F. Parker in the fall of 1903. The proposal sprang from a concern that a divisiveness was growing among the students, particularly between the fraternity members and the "independents," that is non-fraternity members. Parker's proposal was supported at the highest levels within the university, including the president and several deans. In February 1904 the first organizational meeting was held and the name Michigan Union was chosen. In June, 1904 articles of association were signed, establishing the Michigan Union as an organization embracing all male students, alumni, faculty and regents. Although considered a part of the university family, the Michigan Union was legally a separate entity responsible only to its own Board of Directors.

Almost immediately fund raising began for the construction of a building. Because of competing university projects early fund raising efforts were not particularly successful, but in 1907 sufficient funds had been obtained to purchase the home of Thomas M. Cooley on State Street to serve as headquarters for the organization. The Cooley home was seen as a temporary location, and plans for a new building, as well as fund raising efforts, continued. In 1908, as a part of this ongoing fund raising, the Union instituted one of its longest traditions, the Michigan Union Opera. The all-male opera toured in the fall, and occasionally the spring, visiting cities with strong alumni clubs.

Years of fund raising were rewarded in 1916 when construction began on the Cooley site of a new Union Building. Sufficient funds existed, however, only to erect the outer shell of the structure. The first interior work was performed with funds loaned by the Michigan State War Preparedness Board, which wished to use the building as a barracks for soldiers of the Students Army Training Corps (SATC) who were sent to Ann Arbor for training. In 1918 more money was borrowed, and although several key components of the structure were still left unfinished due to a lack of funds, the building was opened for the use of members in the fall of 1919.

The continuing financial problems of the Union led its governing board to seek the aid of the Regents. While membership in the Union was open to all male students, membership, and the payment of dues, was voluntary. In academic year 1918-1919 the Regents made the payment of Union dues a part of the registration fees paid automatically by enrolled students. This assistance in funding the union occurred at a time when the Union was reordering its financial operations to reflect the large, multifaceted building it now operated. In 1917 a separate Board of Governors was authorized by the Board of Directors to oversee the Union's financial operation. This body did not actually begin to operate until 1920, and in 1928 it was abolished and replaced by a Finance Committee of the Board of Directors.

The Union's basic functions continued undisturbed throughout the 1930s, although the building itself was expanded with additions constructed in 1936 and 1938. The influx of students after World War II strained the physical capacities, but more important were a series of social changes that challenged the Union's status as an all male club. Barriers to the participation of women in Union events were slowly, and sometimes painfully, dropped. In 1956 unescorted women were first allowed into the union. In the same year the all male Union Opera allowed women to participate in its production, changing its name to MUSKET--Michigan Union Show, Ko-Eds Too. Barriers continued to fall throughout the 1960s until the last vestige of the Union's exclusively male character, a clause barring women from life membership in the Union, was dropped in 1972.

The Union's unique governmental status was abandoned in 1979, when the Union came under the control of the Vice-President for Student Services.