A Place of Their Own: The Michigan League Building

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Laying the cornerstone of the League, March 29, 1928

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Michigan League

911 North University Avenue

The Women's League began a campaign to build a women's building in the early 20th century. Barbour Gymnasium had been the center of women's activites on campus for a little over a decade, but members of the Women's League desired a larger and more dynamic space. Their campaign to raise $1 million was championed by members of the Alumnae Council and League including Mary Barton Henderson, who would become the first Director of the League.1 Alumnae and students raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the building and its endowment.

The need for a women's space became even more evident when the Michigan Union opened in 1919, where women could not enter unless escorted in by a man and had to use the side door.2 The Michigan League Building was designed by the same architects, the Pond Brothers, and opened to the public ten years later in 1929. 

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A League poster from 1928

The Michigan League building thrived for decades as a space for women's activities, including everything from the Junior Girls' Play in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, the Women's League, coke dates, to meetings of the Women's Research Club.

In 1965, the Union and the League merged administratively. Much of the original function of the building as a center for women's activities had declined after the Student Activities Building was built and created more space for women's organizations.3 This merger dramatically changed the perception of the League and its identity as a women's space.

Many Michigan students are unaware of the rich and distinct history of the Michigan League until they stumble upon it. Today most students know the League for its meeting rooms, study spaces, and the Inn at the Michigan League.


1. "Video Transcript of League Docent Tour Video," University of Michigan, accessed June 10, 2016, https://uunions.umich.edu/article/league-docent-tour-video.

2. Ruth Bordin, Women at Michigan: The "Dangerous Experiment," 1870s to the Present (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999).

3. "Union-League Study Committee Preliminary Recommendations," Folder "Union League merger," Box 1, Women’s League University of Michigan Records, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.