In the late 1930s, U-M's Alumnae Council commissioned a 38-minute color film to be used as a recruiting tool for women students. It was a video scrapbook of a year in the life of the campus, with a focus on women. Unfortunately, the audio track, if there was one, has been lost. Still, the video offers a remarkable glimpse of the campus and its people in that distant, prewar era. Today's viewer will recognize stark differences. The student body is far less diverse, for example, and fashions much more formal. Yet much looks familiar, too: the shady expanse of the Diag; the Saturday crowds ambling to Michigan Stadium. We've chosen several highlights, embedded below. You can also find the full-length video at the page bottom. (Video restored and presented courtesy of the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.)
The film shows the staged arrival of several freshman women at the old Michigan Central Depot, built in 1886, now home of the Gandy Dancer restaurant. (You'll see the old gas plant stacks behind the building.) Dressed up for traveling, in snap-brim hats, the co-eds board a taxi bound south on State Street, then east on North U, for Mosher-Jordan Hall—then only seven years old—where they are greeted by their housemother. Then they stroll across campus under the Diag elms.
The game is Michigan vs. Illinois, October 29, 1938. The Wolverines, including the freshmen Tom Harmon and Forest Evashevski, beat the Illini that day, 14-0, with 43,006 fans watching. Notice the clothes in the crowd—most of the men in suits and hats, all the women in skirts or dresses. At half-time, the marching band forms the Block M, then Louis Elbel conducts the band in the song he composed, "The Victors." We see Elbel with aging veterans of the 1898 football team, whom "The Victors" originally honored.
Breakfast at Martha Cook
In this clip we see pre-war "Cookies" fulfilling the Victorian vision of William W. Cook, who gave the funds for U-M's first women's dormitory during World War I. Named for his mother, a society matron of Hillsdale, Michigan, the building, in Cook's view, would encourage "the charm and grace and principles of cultured American womanhood." One of various Martha Cook rituals was the annual Christmas breakfast, shown here with residents, despite the early hour, dressed to the nines in the oak-paneled dining hall. Note the white-coated U-M boys serving as waiters—a plum job in that Depression year.
Here we see several faculty figures, most of them all but forgotten, whose names remain familiar from signs on campus buildings. These include, among others, athletic director Fielding H. Yost, the legendary football coach from 1901-23 and 1925-26, namesake of Yost Ice Arena; Alice Crocker Lloyd, dean of women from 1930 to 1950, for whom the residence hall on the Hill is named; Margaret Bell, director of the Department of Physical Education for Women from 1923 to 1957, namesake of the swimming pool on central campus, and U-M President Alexander Grant Ruthven (1881-1971), a zoologist for whom the Ruthven Museums Building is named, and his wife, Florence, shown on horseback.
Top hats and evening gowns
Formal double dates begin in the lobby of Mosher-Jordan, with clothes that will raise the eyebrows of every tattooed and t-shirt-clad student of the twenty-first century.
Picnic on the Huron
As the school year nears its end, a couple finds a place for a spring picnic on the banks of the Huron. The two were Marietta Killian and Robert Reid, who later married and lived for many years in the Detroit area.