Bursley Hall

Bursley Hall on North Campus was the first planned co-educational residential complex. Co-educational halls had existed before, but never before had a residence hall been constructed with the intent of being co-educational. Naturally, this had an effect on the name that the hall was given. When the Board of Governors Residence Halls was tasked with providing the complex with a name, the topic came up: “For the first planned co-educational residential complex at the University of Michigan, a joint name seems appropriate in which both the man and his wife were alumni and who each rendered service to the University.” As per general Regental policy, the Board then suggested names of deceased people. In this particular case, the Board proposed the names “Arthur and Hazel Vandenberg” as well as “Joseph and Marguerite Bursley”. The reason that the Board chose Bursley is cited in their records: “In view of a report to the effect that the Vandenberg name had been discussed as appropriate for a future center for governmental studies at this University, the Board of Governors of Residence Halls refrained from taking any action at this time.” To this day, however, no such center for governmental studies has been named Vandenberg. Instead, there is a room in the Michigan League with this name. John Robert and Margaret Thain Effinger were also under consideration as honorees, but they eventually lost out without an account of why.[1]

A paragraph at the end of the letter cited above sheds more light on the decision: “It is the consensus of the Board of Governors of Residence Halls that increasing recognition might be given, when appropriate, to individuals whose life-spans and activities bear resemblance to those of students currently on campus or whose services to the University were directly associated with student interests.” In 1921, Mr. Joseph Bursley had been appointed as the university’s first Dean of Students. He was also a teacher and a “counselor and friend to students… ably and uniquely assisted by his devoted wife.” Perhaps the Bursleys’ greatest connection to student life was their home: “For many years the Bursley home was the center for the orientation of new students.” All in all, the Bursleys were “directly associated with student interests,” which made them a strong choice.[2]

In looking at the process of naming the houses within Bursley Hall, one can find slightly different criteria than that applied to the naming of the hall. In a letter to the Director of University Housing, the Inter House Assembly (IHA) provided a list of potential house names for Bursley Hall and the Baits Houses: “In making these selections, we have reviewed files of the Office of University Relations concerning recent faculty deaths…, and solicited suggestions from the Alumnae Council.” The reasons for the selection of a preliminary list of 25 women’s and 33 men’s names proposed are summarized in the following quotation: “In making its selections, the primary concern of the committee was the contribution which the candidate had made directly to the University.” Essentially, the IHA was seeking alumni (most of which were deceased) that had made significant contributions to the university itself as opposed to simply being alumni who distinguished themselves outside of the university. The list presented in the letter contains eight primary and alternate suggestions for each of the Bursley houses and five for each of the Baits houses. Pen markings in the letter indicate the names chosen. These were and remain: “Alice Hamilton, Bertha Van Hoosen, Barbara Rotvig, Silas Hamilton Douglas, Harley Harris Bartlett, Arthur J. Van Duren Jr., and Howard B. Lewis.”[3]

Click on the images below to read more about the names chosen for Bursley Hall:

Collegiate Sorosis 1894-1895

Margery Knowlton Bursley
Amanda Sanford Hickey

Amanda Sanford Hickey
Alice Hamilton

Alice Hamilton
Bertha Van Hoosen

Bertha Van Hoosen

Barbara Rotvig
  1. Board of Governors Residence Halls to Vice-President James Lewis, December 2, 1957, Box 85, Board of Regents Records.
  2. Vera Baits to Board of Regents, February 21, 1958, ibid.
  3. John Savage to John Feldkamp, February 27, 1967, Box 86, University Housing Records.
Image Credit:

“Bursley Hall,” Penrod/ Hiawatha Company Postcard Collection.