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


THE University of Michigan was among the first of the large universities to become coeducational; its first woman student came in February, 1870, and its first women graduates received their degrees in 1871.

University of Michigan women were not formally united in an alumnae body of their own until 1917, but from the first they were distinguished in the field of general alumnae organization. They took a leading part in building up the society now called the American Association of University Women, which was founded as the Association of Collegiate Alumnae and retained that name until 1921. In 1881 three Michigan alumnae in the East were invited to a meeting of a number of college women, including Marion Talbot (Boston '80, A.M. ibid. '82), the originator of the idea of forming such a society, and there helped to lay the plans for its immediate organization.

One of the Michigan women was at that time the acting president of Wellesley College, Alice Elvira Freeman ('76, Ph.D. hon. '82), well known as Alice Freeman Palmer. It was she who proposed the resolution "that a meeting be called for the purpose of organizing an association of women college graduates, with headquarters at Boston" (Talbot and Rosenberry, p. 10). The society was established early in 1882. The only other state university represented by charter members was Wisconsin; the other coeducational institutions were Oberlin College, Boston University, and Cornell University. The women's colleges represented were Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley.

Alice Freeman (Palmer) was twice president of the Association, from 1885 to 1887 and again for the term 1889-90. As a member of its first committee on the admission of institutions she helped to establish the Association's strict accrediting Page  386policy for selecting the colleges whose graduates were to be considered eligible for membership. This policy was directly responsible for raising both instructional standards and living conditions for women students throughout the United States, but, in order to be effective, had to be maintained for a number of years. Such an undertaking was especially difficult in the formative period of the society, when members and funds were badly needed, but as soon as the policy began to prove successful the prestige of the Association itself was strengthened. After her presidency of Wellesley College and her marriage, Mrs. Palmer spent three years at the University of Chicago, where, as one of the first deans of women, she ably demonstrated the possibilities of that office for bettering the lot of the undergraduate woman.

Among other early leaders in the movement to improve women's education was Lucy Maynard Salmon ('76, A.M. '83). She, too, was a charter member of the Association, as well as Professor of History at Vassar College and author of Education in Michigan During the Territorial Period (1885).

Thus, indirectly, the University has always participated in the affairs of the Association through the membership of its alumnae; more direct and local participation came somewhat later. A Midwestern subdivision, covering several of the north central states, was formed only a year after the Association of Collegiate Alumnae was established, but seceded before long (1884), because of some issue involving Western freedom and the authority of the central organization in the East. It remained autonomous until 1889, although for all practical purposes it functioned as if it were a Western section of the same organization. This regional society, which convened at Ann Arbor in 1888, offered a graduate fellowship of $350 that year, to be won in competition — probably the first fellowship for a woman and given by women. The winner, Ida Maria Street (Vassar '80, A.M. Michigan '89), used the proceeds for a year's graduate study at the University of Michigan. The award in 1889 went to a Michigan graduate, Arlisle Margaret Young ('89, A.M. '90).

Among the local chapters that became branches of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae in the merger of 1889 was one with both Detroit and Ann Arbor residents as members, but centered in Detroit. A separate Ann Arbor branch was formed in 1902, and has continued to hold an important place in the activities of collegiate alumnae in this city, where the national convention met in 1912.

For some time before the World War the Association of Collegiate Alumnae sponsored, in connection with its biennial convention, a conference of deans of the institutions which it accredited. In 1915 a similar conference for professors was launched, and before 1917 a third conference of a similar nature for representatives of the institutional alumnae organizations, called the "alumnae conference," had been begun. In that year an invitation to the "alumnae conference" in Washington was extended to the alumnae organization of the University of Michigan, but, partly because Michigan was a coeducational institution and its Alumni Association was therefore not an alumnae association as well, as in a women's college, no such organization had ever been built up. There were fourteen alumnae clubs at various points throughout the country, which, except as units of the Alumni Association, had no co-ordinated program. The alumnae leaders now saw in such a possible organization a means of meeting certain University needs and those of its women students.

The Alumni Association provided $150 for the institutional membership fee, and Page  387the full number of delegates allowed the new organization, on the basis of the total number of the University's living alumnae, attended. This was the first coeducational institution represented, only the larger Eastern colleges for women having previously sent delegates. The first entry in the official alumnae record was dated 1917 and was a report of this convention — a turning point in the alumnae history of the University. Knowing that the quotas allotted to the various colleges were strictly proportional, the Michigan representatives were surprised to find that the Smith College delegation was the only one larger than their own. They decided that the Michigan alumnae, through their new organization, should become comparable in accomplishment, and they determined "to do more for Michigan women and to stand loyally by all interests and achievements of the University as expressed through her Alumni Association."

The first functioning organization was a central correspondence committee of three members: Mary Bartron (Mrs. William D.) Henderson ('04) of Ann Arbor, Marie Louise Hall (Mrs. Charles H.) Walker ('77) of Toledo, and Miss Claire Mabel Sanders ('04) of Detroit. The purpose of this committee was to keep closely in touch with the life and the needs of the women at the University and to report to the alumnae. The whole plan was an effort to give the Alumni Association added support from the women. This alumnae organization was to be an integral part of the Alumni Association, and its sole purpose was to be of service to the University, with its activities centering around the needs of the women students.

From the beginning, interest in the new organization was spirited. The fourteen alumnae groups which were known to be organized in 1917 were those of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New York, Pasadena, Philadelphia, Saginaw, St. Louis, Toledo, and Washington. Scattered as they were, they had until that time acted independently of one another, and the first task of the central correspondence committee was to build up an effective, unified association by co-ordinating their activities. At a meeting of all alumnae, called at Commencement time, 1917, alumnae affairs were thoroughly considered and an organization was effected. By this plan, a corresponding member of each group was appointed to suggest to the committee projects important for University women.

After a canvass in 1914 had revealed a need of a women's residence, Detroit alumnae had assumed the responsibility of adding to the funds of the Women's League already available for the purpose. The other alumnae, who later joined them, stipulated that this should be a self-help house, the students sharing the duties of maintenance. A beautiful old home on Washtenaw Avenue was purchased in 1917, at a final cost of about $18,000, and was occupied until it was razed for the extension of Forest Avenue. In May, 1926, the Regents acquired the spacious old Harriman residence, on the triangle bounded by Washtenaw, Geddes, and Forest Avenues, and made it "definitely and permanently" a residence for women. The valuation of this property by the University in June, 1940, was over $49,000.

Alumnae House is still regarded by the alumnae as their favorite project, for in its existence of over twenty years it has more than justified the faith with which it was established. It furnishes a pleasant home and congenial companionship to a group of eighteen girls. No finer group spirit is found in any house or dormitory at the University, and for the past two years it has carried off the highest record for scholarship on the campus. This project was not achieved without united Page  388effort, hard work, and a small debt, but it proved to the alumnae that their organization was of value.

The three years 1917-20 were spent in removing the debt from Alumnae House, in perfecting the alumnae organization as a part of the Alumni Association, in order that it might work for the mutual benefit of both groups, and in centralizing alumnae effort in the further founding of University of Michigan alumnae chapters, or groups, throughout the United States (see Part II: Alumni Clubs and Groups).

With the continued growth of alumnae groups, both in numbers and in strength, it was felt that the name central correspondence committee no longer represented the real function of the central organization. Accordingly, in 1920, the name was changed to Alumnae Council of the Alumni Association. A representative from every organized group was taken into membership on the new Council. In 1921, a constitution, basically the same as the one used today, was adopted.

In 1920 the president of the Women's League reported to the central correspondence committee (then often called the C. C. C.) that the greatest need and the greatest interest of the undergraduate women centered in the hope for a women's building. With the ever increasing enrollment, a place in which to carry on women's activities had become almost a necessity. Barbour Gymnasium, used as headquarters, had been built when there were about four hundred women students on the campus. Although this number had increased by 1920 to some sixteen hundred, no extension of facilities had been made to meet the social and educational requirements of so large a group. Committees and special gatherings tumbled over one another as they met in the corners of Barbour Gymnasium, or were crowded out altogether, and the constructive work of developing a general social program for all girls on the campus was badly hampered. As evidence of the earnestness of their proposal, the undergraduate women, in 1921, through the president of the Women's League, offered a sum of $1,200 which had already been set aside by women's organizations on the campus for financing a campaign for such a women's building (see Part VIII: Michigan League Building; Part IX: Michigan League).

In January, 1921, the Alumnae Council voted to embark on a campaign to raise $1,000,000 for a women's building. Once the campaign was launched, the alumnae met the challenge. An attempt was made to reach every alumna and invite her to become a member of the new Women's League. Organized groups gladly took the responsibility of raising campaign expenses in addition to pledging the quotas assigned to them. A. B. Pond and I. K. Pond, who had designed the Michigan Union, were selected as architects. New and unusual moneymaking ideas were devised as the alumnae entered upon five long years of hard and constant work.

Always in the background, in loyal support of the alumnae, were the Regents, the president of the University, and the Alumni Association, whose moral support and belief in the project carried the women through many a depressing situation. The Regents promised a site for the building as soon as half the required sum should be raised. In 1926 this sum was on hand, and the Regents, therefore, gave the land on which the building now stands. By 1927 the whole million was pledged and the building was assured. The cornerstone was laid March 29, 1928, and on June of the following year the formal dedication took place.

Today, as the League hums with life and activity, serving the purpose of a perfectly equipped women's center for students, alumnae, and the University Page  389community, one wonders how life at the University ever went on without it.

The League, the greatest achievement of Michigan women to date, could never have been built without the unflagging energy and the superb leadership of Mrs. Mary Bartron Henderson, Executive Secretary of the Alumnae Council. She was a woman who never knew the meaning of discouragement and who never admitted a failure. Her vision and her will to succeed carried the project to successful completion. When Mrs. Henderson retired from the secretaryship, in June, 1930, she was succeeded by Marguerite Chapin (Mrs. Edward D.) Maire ('20). Mrs. Maire left the position in February, 1932, and was followed by the present Executive Secretary, Lucile Bailey (Mrs. Seymour B.) Conger ('04).

The Council still follows the plan of organization adopted twenty years ago, with the national chairman, the Board of Directors, and the Council forming the governing body. Through the simple method of direct representation on the national Alumnae Council, each group has a feeling of vital participation in the shaping of alumnae policy, a fact which has contributed largely to the continued success of the organization. At present about fifty groups are represented at the three Council meetings held annually in Ann Arbor. All projects are sponsored and developed by the Council as a whole with the full consent of all local groups and with their pledged support. In addition to this centralized work, many groups have extended their usefulness by recruiting valuable students for the University, by promoting student-alumnae relations, by assembling information concerning alumnae in various fields, and by establishing local loan or scholarship funds (see Part II: Alumnae Fellowship and Scholarship Program).

The relationship of the Alumnae Council to the Alumni Association remains almost unique in the history of alumni activities. Though an integral part of the Alumni Association, the Council maintains freedom of activity through its own national organization. Though alumnae projects to be undertaken and the method of developing them are left to the alumnae, they are never undertaken without the full consent and approval of the president of the Alumni Association and the approval of the Board of Regents. To tie the relationships of the two bodies more closely, the Council since 1923 has been represented on the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association by two alumnae. The University of Michigan is the only large state university enjoying such an organization and the only state university with so great a record of achievement credited to its alumnae — an adequate proof of the practicability of this form of alumnae organization.


The Michigan Alumnus, Vols. 1-46 (1894-1940).
MS, "Minutes of the Alumnae Council [Central Correspondence Committee, 1917-20]," 1917-40.
MS, "Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association," 1898-1940.
Talbot, Marion, , and Lois K. M. Rosenberry. The History of the American Association of University Women, 1881-1931. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931.