Equity for Women and Gender on Campus
Ideas about gender difference have shaped the construction of the University of Michigan campus. This ticker tape sign on the Michigan Union displays excerpts from a pamphlet outlining the founding restrictions on the building’s use by women.
With nearly 9,000 visitors a day, the Michigan Union is a lively hub of activity providing formal and informal gathering spaces, needed services and resources for all U-M students, inclusive of identity. It wasn’t always this way.
Founded as a community space for male students at U-M, when the Union building first opened in 1919 women were allowed to enter the building only through the north (side) entrance and when accompanied by a male escort. In 1921, the University Alumnae Council led a campaign to raise funds for a building that would become a center for women’s social, cultural and recreational activities on campus, today’s Michigan League located on North University Avenue.
In 1956, women were finally allowed to enter the Union through the front doors without an escort. But it was not until 1968 that women were granted equal access to the entire building when the billiards room ended its restrictions.
Restrictions on Women’s Use of the Michigan Union
“Constitution and House Rules of The University of Michigan. Adopted, May, 1909. The Club House will be opened to Ladies accompanied by members on Sundays and legal holidays from 12:00 P. M. to 3:00 P. M. and from 5:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M., and on Wednesdays from 6:00 P. M. to 9:00 P.M.; and at such other times as may be designated by the House Committee.”
“University of Michigan Union. Constitution and House Rules. June 1, 1920. Privileges of Women. Women actually escorted at the time by a member of the Union … may be admitted to the Building. … All women, whether or not escorted by members or guests … must enter and leave the Building by the North Entrance. … The fourth floor of the Building is devoted to sleeping rooms … on special occasions, and with the permission of the House Committee, rooms may be engaged for parties of women when property chaperoned. … The Admission Card of any women who shall repeatedly violate the rules, may be cancelled, in the discretion of the House Committee. … Women shall remove their hats while attending the Union dances in the Building.”
“The University of Michigan Union, 1931. Privileges of Women. Except in the cases above, and except on special occasions covered by special directions of the House Committee, women shall not be admitted to the Building.”
“The Michigan Union was built by students for students. The physical structure, and the programs and services housed within, have had to change over time to better serve students’ needs. We want all students to feel at home here. To feel like this is their space. Our challenge — and that of the future university community — is to continue to evolve to meet the needs of students of all genders and identities.”
Director, Michigan Union
“Sexual harassment remains today the most pervasive form of gendered violence, encompassing everything from subtle sexism and misogyny to unwanted sexual attention to sexual assault. Higher education is anything but immune from these indignities, with one out of every two female students sexually harassed during her years in school. Absent radical change, this poses one of the greatest threats to women’s full participation in the academic enterprise.”
Professor of Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Management
Related Bicentennial Events
Jan. 28 – May 7, 2017
The Jan and David Brandon Family Bridge
University of Michigan Museum of Art
American Culture Course:
Women at Michigan: 147 Years of a “Dangerous Experiment”
For more information about the Michigan Union and women on campus: