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The Buildings of University Unions

University Unions

League Docent Tour Video

View the rich history and artwork within the beautiful Michigan League.

Video Transcript:     The history of the League, as shown in this video, is really the history of women at the University of Michigan.  The first woman student at the University was Madelon Stockwell in 1870.  She was considered a "Dangerous Experiment". As more women opened the doors, single rooms in boarding houses were the norms.


In 1890, a small group of college women met to organize women students and drew up a constitution.  This was the first meeting of what was called the "Women's League of the University of Michigan".  Ethel Fountain Hussey was the first president.  Recognizing the need for physical activity for women, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae called for a women's gymnasium.  Waterman Gym (completed in 1894) was open to women only in the forenoon, but it did provide an information center for League communications.  In March 1895, Regents Barbour and Hubbard personally donated $35,000 for a building for women's athletics with the condition women students raise $15,000.  Barbour Gymnasium was opened in 1897 and became a center for women's activities.  

By 1919, Barbour Gym had become inadequate for women's activities.  Furthermore, the Michigan Union, for men, opened in 1920.  These factors created impetus to provide more versatile space for women's needs and activities.  In 1921, the Women's League committed $12-14,000 to seed a building project.  Mary B. Henderson, Secretary of the Alumnae Council, submitted a request to the Regents for approval to raise $1,000,000 for a woman's building.  $750,000 for construction and $250,000 for an endowment.  It was approved by the Regents, who also agreed to provide a site.  In 1927, the Legislature appropriated $350,000 for the property.  Houses on site were moved to Forest Avenue as nurses' residences.

Fundraising began with Life Memberships at $50.00, sale of handkerchiefs, Betty Bead chains, pleated lampshades, baked goods, rummage sales, card parties, bazaars, concerts, soap, and even bricks.  Architects Pond, Pond, Martin and Lloyd of Chicago were selected.  The Ponds were brothers from Ann Arbor, who also designed the Michigan Union.  (The Union was built on part of the site of their family home.)  Ground was broken on June 18, 1927.  Dr. Eliza Mosher, first Dean of Women, turned the first shovel.  Cornerstone was laid on March 29, 1928, with a box of memorabilia that included the history since the founding of the Women's League.  President Clarence C. Little noted...."building which stood here represented fulfillment of a great ideal, based on an abiding love for an institution of learning.  The visualization of human ideals often takes the form of bricks and mortar while the ideal itself, spiritual in origin and eternal in duration, uses the building so created to enlighten the lives of thousands of people.  ...It will have been dedicated to the building of character and friendship".  

The League was formally opened on May 4, 1929, and dedicated on June 14, 1929.  The Great Depression came and the endowment for maintenance could not be met.  The Alumnae Council, in 1930, donated the building, fully furnished, free of debt to the University. 

Approaching the west entrance, one notes the sculptures Character and Friendship, created by the architects, Pond and Pond.  Passing through the spacious entry, slightly to one's left is the Alcove.  Hanging on one wall is one of the original fund-raising maps of Ann Arbor drawn by Gertrude A. Stickler and produced by Jessie Horton Koessler in 1926.  It sold for $1.50.  On another wall hangs a beautiful watercolor of the League Garden, painted by the late local artist and UM art professor Mignonette Cheng.  The door across from the entryway leads to the garden.  

The garden was originally designed as a Shakespearean herb garden.  A variety of herbs were planted around a flowering apricot tree.  The ceramic fountain "Sea Nymph" was designed by Gerald Mast, a UM Professor of Architecture and Design, and was executed by Clivia Calder in 1938 as a Federal Arts Project of the WPA.  The bronze statue entitled "Rampant Unicorn",  by sculptor Berthold Schiwaetz, was donated to the University by Charles C. Dybvig ('31).  It was installed in the garden in 1993.  The plaque beside the sculpture is a poem by Ejner Jensen, written on October 6, 1993. 

At the north end of the first floor is the entryway to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.  No longer part of the Michigan League (it's now part of the School of Music), it was originally donated by Gordon Mendelssohn and named for his mother.  The Blagdon Room was originally a chapel, conceived of by the Pond brothers, to be "a restful room conducive to contemplation and to appeal to individuals of all shades of belief or non-belief.  To aid in creating this atmosphere, symbols of all faiths were incorporated in designs of the colored glass windows.  The Star of David (Hebrew), the Swastika (Eternal Movement), the Cross (Christian and Pagan), the Crux Ansata (the Egyptian Key of Ute), the serpent swallowing its tail (Oriental Mysticism), endless life and unity, (the Star of Bethlehem), ....are among the symbols on the glass windows."  The chapel was made possible by the Jackson Branch of the Michigan Alumnae and Mrs. W.A. Foote, also of Jackson.  The chairs were given by the Blagdon Family in memory of their daughter Charlotte, who had been Women's League President in 1929.  

The south end of the building's first floor has typically held a dining facility.  Other rooms at the south end are used as conference rooms, and hold many works of fine art.  A beautiful framed quilt hangs in the hallway, created and donated in 1997 by the Faculty Women's group.  Each square represents their many interest groups, and these groups often met at the League.  Next to where the quilt hangs, there was once a Pewabic fountain.  This drinking fountain was a gift to the building by the Detroit Association of Michigan Women and was designed by Mrs. Mary Chase Stratton, founder of the Pewabic Tile Company in Detroit.  Mrs. Stratton established the ceramics department at UM, and held an honorary degree from the University.  Pewabic tiles can still be found in the League as decorative embellishments in hallway floors as well as the floor of the Michigan Room.

The stairwell landing to the second floor contains spectacular stained glass windows given to the League by Mr. O.E. Hunt in memory of his wife Hazel Hill Hunt.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Hunt were in the graduating class of 1907 at the University of Michigan.  Pond and Pond, the League architects, designed the windows.  They were created by the Lynden Glass Company of Chicago, which also did work for a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  The three large panels depict Science, Inspiration and the Arts.

The Kalamazoo Room was originally furnished by the Kalamazoo Group of Michigan Women in honor of Caroline Hubbard Kleinstuck. In the early years, the room was called the Elisha Mosher Room, after the first Dean of Women.  The University Women of Tientsin, China, gave the two tapestries, which are made from one Royal Manchu Dynasty robe and are now over 200 years old.

The Michigan Room was originally designed as the main dining room.  It features a Pewabic tile floor.

The Ballroom was created by the Pond Brothers to be used as an elegant ballroom  Please note the balcony above the double doors, which was occupied by the dance chaperones.

The Vandenberg Room is dedicated to Hazel Whittaker Vandenberg, '06, who was the chairman of the Alumnae Council in 1929.  The original furnishings were the gift of Michigan Women of Grand Rapids.  The room was first known as the Grand Rapids Room.  There is a portrait of Mrs. Vandenberg on the wall.  She was Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg's second wife.  The inspiration scene was originally painted y Henry Shaw and restored by Ken Katz in 1993.  It was originally hung in the chapel. The Hussey Room is a memorial to Ethel Fountain Hussey, first president, in 1890, of the Women's League.  The original furnishings were the gift of Robert P. Lamont, class of 1891.  The murals on the walls, by James McBurney, are of notable women of the world.  Irving Pond, the architect of the League, determined which women would be depicted.  These women are:  Joan of Arc; Isabella and Elizabeth; Isabella D'Este, Beatrice D'Este, and Victoria Colonna; Zenobia Hypatia; Ayesha; Cornelia; Judith; Artemesia; Sappho and Aspasia; Mumtaz-I-Mahal; Lady of Siling.  The North Wall depicts Young American Womanhood, three young women--one with a bouquet of roses and orange gown (social), one in academic robe (scholar), and one in tennis costume (athlete). 

On the third floor is the Henderson Room.  Originally called the Alumnae Room, this room was named for Mary Barton Henderson.  She was the organizer of the Alumnae Council, which spearheaded the fundraising for the building of the League.  Mrs. Henderson was the primary tireless fundraiser, traveling by train throughout the country raising funds to build the League.  She became the first Director of the Michigan League.

Across the hall from the Henderson Room is the Koessler Room.  This room was named for Dr. Jessie Horton Koessler, who was a tireless worker for the League Campaign.  She was one of the first tot donate $1,000 to the campaign.  Dr. Koessler designed and financed the pictorial map, found today in the Alcove, which sold for $1.50.  A portrait of Dr. Koessler, donated by her son and brother, hangs above the fireplace.  The room was designed to be used as a library and listening room, and 1,000 books were originally donated.  Today, the beautiful bookcases are used to house League memorabilia.

Other rooms on the third floor are used as meeting rooms.

On the fourth floor is the Inn at the Michigan League.  The rooms were remodeled in 1996 and a concierge desk was added in the hall.  There are 20 rooms plus one suite, known as "The Cave".  Known originally as The Attic Room, it was used for social gatherings.  The fifth floor, accessed by stairs next to the concierge desk is now used for storage.  This room was used to house two dozen women students in the 1940's, opening up other university housing for the veterans returning to campus.  Hotel Room 422 was originally furnished with a gift from Charles Baird (class of 1895) in memory of his wife, Georgia Robinson Baird ('01). Charles Baird is best remembered as the donor of the carillon, which is housed in Burton Tower.  The tower is visible from Room 422.  Other hotel rooms were originally furnished by gifts from Michigan Women's groups of various Michigan cities.