Relevant today?

When administrators named U-M’s residence communities decades ago, they hoped that the names they chose would offer an inspiration to students navigating the complexities of college life.

Indeed, the people memorialized in these building names shared the experiences of present-day students. Some of them came from families with deep ties to the university. Others were children of farmers or immigrants, who had made great sacrifices to send their daughters to college. Some faced discrimination during their time at U-M; they remarked that the friendships they formed with other women had empowered them to withstand challenges from male faculty and peers. These women also maintained full personal lives, founding literary and theatrical societies, joining religious communities, participating in clubs and athletics, forming friendships, and falling in love. Many married, while some remained single. One spent her adult life living with an intimate female friend.

Michiganders and more

Students today might fight it interesting to note how many of these women were born in Michigan: seven of 17 women, or nearly half of the women named. Eight of ten lived within 150 miles of Ann Arbor before attending U-M. Among those born outside of Michigan, a few lived in Michigan, even in Ann Arbor, prior to enrolling in the university. These women also came from the Northeast and from nearby Midwestern states, like Ohio. The most common state of origin outside of Michigan was New York, with three of the 16 women coming from that state. This tie reflects the present-day demographics for admitted students; in 2017, the highest number of out-of-state students came from New York.[1] [map id=”2″]

White women

The most glaring omission in terms of representation regards race. All of the women honored in the naming of U-M residence communities were white, even though black women also attended U-M during its early years. Into the 1950s, African American students struggled to be included in the main women’s dorms, which university administrators had reserved for white students.

These administrators included Alice Lloyd, who, according to one student, “pretended to be concerned about Negro students…but she stood firm in holding the line [against the integration of dorms].”[2] Black women usually lived in two off-campus residences, on East Ann and East Catherine streets, both of which were later razed to make way for new university buildings. While few of the other women researched in this project played direct roles in excluding black students from campus, the neglect of black women in the naming of the residence communities reflects the general practice of segregation in the university’s past.

  1. “Student Profile,” University of Michigan Undergraduate Admissions, accessed Aug. 8th, 2017.
  2. Statement by U-M student Jean Blackwell, quoted in Brian A. Williams, “An Unwritten Law,” Collections: A Publication of the Bentley Historical Library (Spring 2017), pp. 4-6.
Image Credits:
  1. “Student Org Kickoff,” University of Michigan Office of Student Life, accessed Aug. 3, 2018.