The Michigan Union was formed in 1904 as an “all inclusive organization” focused on providing feelings of unity for men on campus. The first meeting was held in Waterman Gymnasium and was attended by over 1,100 students. From the beginning, the Michigan Union founders were adamant about finding a “home” for the organization, and in 1907 they purchased the former house of Judge Thomas M. Cooley on State Street. The building, however, proved inadequate for their needs, and in 1910 the members sought to construct a more suitable building. Brothers and University alumni Allen B. and Irving K. Pond were hired as architects. In 1916 the Thomas Cooley house was demolished and construction of the Michigan Union began. Funds for completion of the interior of the building were secured in pledges, but due to the war in the spring of 1917, the money proved difficult to collect. While in its unfinished state the building was used as a barracks and mess hall by the Student Army Training Corps. After the war ended, the Union’s interior was completed. The Michigan Union officially opened in 1919.
The original Union contained a bowling alley in the basement and a barbershop and student eatery on the ground floor. It also included lounges, reading rooms, committee rooms, dining rooms, a billiard and games room, an assembly room, and accommodations for returning alumni. The swimming pool, which was included in the original design but remained unfinished due to lack of funds, opened in 1925. The Michigan Union initially operated as a club, with all members paying yearly dues of $2.50. By 1914 there were over 4,000 members, which was a considerable portion of the University student body and indicative of the strength of the organization. In 1918 the Regents authorized that the membership fee, then $3.00, be collected from all students. In 1918 the fee was increased to $5.00, and all male students automatically became Union Members. The Michigan Union operated through a Board of Directors composed of students, faculty and alumni; this board allowed for expression of student concerns, and many students voluntarily devoted their time to Union activities.
The Michigan League
Initially, women were only allowed to enter the Michigan Union through the North entrance and when accompanied by a male escort. It was the founders’ belief that women already had a social center in the parlors of the Barbour Gymnasium. In 1929, the Michigan League was constructed and opened on North University Avenue. The League, also designed by the Pond brothers, was created as a center for women’s social, cultural and recreational campus activities. A Board of Governors composed of alumnae, students, faculty, and university staff was created to oversee the League. Over the years the League became a place to hold seminars, conferences, and receptions, and officially became one of the three University Unions in 1992.
In the 1950’s the University of Michigan first conceived a separate academic core area on Ann Arbor’s northeast side of campus. With the vibrant growth and major expansion programs on North Campus, more space and services were needed to survey the students, faculty, staff and visitors- in 1965 Pierpont Commons opened it’s doors. It served as a place for study, socialization, a place to grab a bite to eat, purchase books, and relax for the growing population, especially after the College of Engineering moved to North campus in 1986.
To learn more about what University Unions is doing today, visit: https://uunions.umich.edu/