Women’s League Formed
In 1890, a small group of college women met to organize women students and develop the Women’s League of the University of Michigan. They drew up a constitution and Ethel Fountain Hussey became the first president of the organization.
In a response to a call to provide physical activity options for women from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, the Waterman Gym was designated women-only in the mornings beginning in 1894. This space was also used to meet and discuss the Women’s League plans.
Michigan Union Formed
In 1904, the first meeting of the Michigan Union was held in Waterman Gymnasium and was attended by over 1,100 male students. The Michigan Union was envisioned as an “all-inclusive organization” to promote feelings of unity for men on campus. From the beginning, the Michigan Union founders were adamant about finding a home for the organization.
In 1907, the former home of Judge Thomas M. Cooley (who was the dean of the University of Michigan Law School until 1884) was purchased to provide a building for the Michigan Union. Within a few years, the State Street building was found inadequate for the organization’s needs, and the members began planning a more suitable building.
The Union’s Second Start
By 1914 there were over 4,000 members of the Michigan Union, each responsible for yearly dues of $2.50. (According to the 1914 Sears Catalog, $2.50 could also buy 36 pairs of socks, two bedspreads or a wooden chair.) In 1916, the original Union (Judge Thomas M. Cooley’s former home) was demolished and construction on a new Michigan Union began. The money to complete the interior of the building was secured in pledges, but due to the war in the spring of 1917, the pledges became difficult to collect. While in its unfinished state, the building was used as a barracks and mess hall by the Student Army Training Corps.
Michigan Union Opens
The Michigan Union, designed by architects Pond and Pond, opened in 1919 after years of fundraising and planning. The original Michigan Union had a bowling alley, barbershop, a billiards room, swimming pool and lodging for visiting alumni. It also had a student eatery, dining rooms, an assembly room and committee rooms. Women were allowed to enter the building through the North entrance only when accompanied by a male escort.
In 1921, the Women’s League committed $12-14,000 to seed a building project. Mary B. Henderson, Secretary of the Alumnae Council, furthered the project by submitting a request for approval to the Regents to raise $1,000,000 for a woman’s building—$750,000 for construction and $250,000 for an endowment. The request was approved by the Regents, who also agreed to provide a site.
Fundraising began and the women sold handkerchiefs, Betty Bead chains, pleated lampshades, baked goods, soap, and even bricks. They held rummage sales, card parties, bazaars and concerts, and they offered life memberships to the League for $50. Irving Pond and Allen Pond, who designed the Michigan Union, were selected as architects.
Take a Dip
In 1925, the swimming pool in the Michigan Union was finally completed and opened for use. The pool had been included in the original building design by Pond and Pond, but its construction had been halted due to a lack of funds.
The cornerstone for the Michigan League was laid in 1928 and included a box of memorabilia that spoke to the history of the founding of the Women’s League. President Clarence C. Little noted, “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”.
In 1956, the rules regarding women entering the Union were lifted, and women were allowed to enter the Michigan Union, via any door, and unaccompanied by a male escort. It was not until 1968 that all program areas in the Union became open to women, with the opening of the Billiards Room to all students
JFK visits the Michigan Union
Early on the morning of October 14, 1960, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy arrived at the Michigan Union to stay the night. Students, anticipating his visit, had gathered outside the Union. Seeing the throngs of students waiting for him, Kennedy gave an impromptu speech that launched a signature program of his administration, the Peace Corps.
MLK visits the Michigan Union
In November 5, 1962, a visit from Martin Luther King was arranged by the University’s Office of Religious Affairs and the Michigan Union Special Projects Committee. Dr. King gave two speeches to students at Hill Auditorium. Dr. King’s first speech was called “Moral Issues in Discrimination” and his second speech was “The Future of Integration.” In between the two speeches, Dr. King attended a luncheon in the Michigan Union Anderson Room and met with students to discuss his thoughts.
Pierpont Commons Opens
Pierpont Commons opened in 1965, with limited resources, and began primarily as a place for the growing North Campus community to eat. The project was guided by Wilber K. Pierpont, who began at U-M as a professor of accounting and eventually became the vice president of the university.
In 2013, the Board of Regents approved the renovation of approximately 10,500 gross square feet within the Pierpont Commons Cafe. The space was renovated to create a new dining experience on North Campus. In addition to many infrastructure changes, the renovations included an expanded floor plan designed to provide more seating and study space for students, faculty and staff.
Fireside Cafe Opens
In September, 2014, the Fireside Café, located within Pierpont Commons, celebrated its grand opening. The Fireside was the result of a six-month renovation project that transformed the 10,500-square-foot space from a 1960s diner into a state-of-the-art eating and common area. The renovation was made with sustainability in mind and included using recycled materials, installing low VOC flooring, and maximizing energy and maintenance efficiencies.
The Michigan Union Closes for Renovations
In 2016, the University Board of Regents approved plans for an extensive renovation of the Michigan Union. The project — which included the input of hundreds of students, alumni and staff — was set to honor the building’s historic integrity and make significant infrastructure and technology upgrades in order to meet the needs of current and future students. The 20-month long renovation began in April 2018. During that time, Union departments worked from temporary spaces on campus and vendors remained temporarily closed.
A New Restaurant at the League
In September, 2018, Maizie’s Kitchen and Market opened at the Michigan League. Maizie’s was the result of a six-month renovation project designed to transform the previously dark and cramped restaurant area into a bright, open and inviting space. Maizie’s is a coffee shop, grab-and-go food store, convenience store, and small local restaurant and, with its variety of offerings, has something for everyone.
The Michigan Union Reopens
The Michigan Union closed for renovation in April 2018. “This renovation enables the Michigan Union to inspire future generations of Michigan students who will challenge the present and enrich the future,” noted Susan Pile senior director of University Unions and Auxiliary Services. Following the 20-month project, which aimed to restore and reactivate the building while maintaining its historic fabric, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and guests walked through the doors of the updated landmark for a reopening celebration. Today, new spaces include the collaborative IdeaHub, year-round courtyard, South Lounge and Willis Ward Lounge.