The City

Collegeville (1887, 1895)
College Delta (1898, 1899)
Oakwood (1899)
Cedar Banks (1900)
College Grove (1903)
Fairview (1904, 1905)
College Heights (1904)

Charter of 1907

Avondale (1913)
Bungalow Knolls (1916)
Chesterfield Hills (1916)
Ardson (1919)
Ridgeley Park (1921)
Strathmore (1925)
Glen Cairn (1926)

The Campus




Interactive Map

Sites on the National and State Historic Registers

Complete list of
Significant Structures


Union Literary Society House (1890—c.1954)

Former Union Literary Society House, circa 1934, when it was the English Building.
Photo Credit: M.S.U. Physical Plant.

One of the Michigan Agricultural College’s primary duties beyond the teaching of scientific agriculture was to prepare young men (and, later, women) for leadership positions in their home communities. An important part of this goal was practice in public speaking, debate, and writing skills. As a result, students organized societies that held regular forums for discussions, essays and lectures. In the 1860s each class formed its own lyceum, as they were known; their names ranged from the grandiloquent (The Cincinnatus Lyceum, The Excelsior Lyceum, The Sons of Demeter) to the droll (The Stoical Pen Yanker’s Society, or S.P.Y.S.).

Then in 1872, the first Greek-letter “secret” society was installed as the Iota chapter of Delta Tau Delta. The fraternity was exclusive in membership and emphasized brotherhood and loyalty, but otherwise its gatherings were not significantly different from those of a lyceum. However that added camaraderie was quite an attraction; another fraternity was chartered in the following year, and the class societies were soon eclipsed in attendance.

In response, twelve men from the classes of ’76, ’77, and ’78 founded the Union Literary Society on April 8, 1876. They asked President T. C. Abbot and Professor George Thompson Fairchild (Professor of English 1866–1879, acting President ’72–’73) for a faculty charter; the professors “urged them to invite all non-fraternity men, in order to preserve social equality in a growing college.” The student leaders refused, wanting to include only “the best men” so better to compete with other societies, including the fraternities.[Kuhn, pp. 130–132]

As an aside, this competitiveness—chiefly in literary oratory—should not be taken lightly from our modern perspective: to wit, Delta Tau Delta was itself formed in response to a rigged vote in an oratory competition at Bethany College, (West) Virginia, in 1858. And at M.A.C. in 1895, a student gunning for the national competition “left school for a few days to secure expert assistance.” When he returned and was brought before the faculty on truancy charges, he responded that “his duty to the society [was] paramount to his duty to the college.” He was suspended for the remaining two weeks of the fall term. His fellow seniors, believing he had been expelled, protested to the faculty. For their efforts in advocacy—some might have said insurgency—many were dismissed from the College, leaving the class of ’96 “a broken class.”[Kuhn, pp. 186–187]

The Union Literary Society probably received its faculty charter (Kuhn neglects to clarify this point), for it was followed by a score of local men’s and women’s societies over the next four decades, with names like Eclectic, Hesperian, Feronian, Columbian, Olympic, Themian, Sororian, and Eunomian. These societies were usually assigned a room (or shared a room) in one of the College buildings, and Union Lit was no exception: the society at first met in a classroom in College Hall, then acquired space in the basement of the first Wells Hall.

Unique among the societies however, U.L.S. was the only one ever to have its own building on campus when it built the Union Literary Society hall just west of Wells Hall in 1890. Its architect was F. S. Robinson of Grand Rapids, who “was at one time a student at the college.” Though generally referred to as a “house,” it only contained rooms for meetings and recreation, and was never used as a residence.

That said, the house did host the occasional overnight guest, since in 1910 U.L.S. constructed a major renovation on the house which removed first floor partitions to create a large ballroom, and raised the roof to increase the space on the second floor, adding a library and rooms in which visiting alumni could stay. College Architect Edwyn Bowd designed the changes, which cost about $3,500. U.L.S. charter member William K. Prudden (M.A.C. ’76), a Lansing businessman whose Prudden Wheel Company was a major supplier to the fledgling automotive industry, contributed matching funds to active members’ donations, and arranged a loan for the balance.

Edwyn Bowd’s design for Union Literary Society House renovation, 1910. In comparison with the 1934 photograph above, we see the wraparound porch was later reduced to a mere entrance stoop, and the roof appears to have been altered to remove two of the three east-facing windows in the second floor library. Image from Union Lit Speculum 5(1), 1 Feb 1910, p. 6, online at M.S.U. Archives.

A few years later, U.L.S. asked permission to further expand the building to add living accommodations, but the Board of Agriculture refused, citing records that “favored the erection on the campus of buildings by literary societies for literary purposes only.” Another group, the Delphic Literary Society, asked to build on campus at the same time and were also denied by the Board, which felt it would be unfair to the eight societies that already owned or rented buildings off campus.[Beal, p. 205. Lautner, p. 61. 29th AR, pp. 54–55. Minutes, 19 May 1915, p. 202]

Over the years the societies evolved to include many of the “social attributes” of fraternities and sororities. U.L.S.’s first president later wrote, “Under the mollifying influences of a pleasant room… our austere bearing broke. Music crept in (we had almost none at first) then came the ladies and later the banquets.” Ultimately, those literary societies that did not fade away came to be affiliated with national fraternities; many of today’s Greek chapters at M.S.U. can trace their origins back to local societies. Union Lit merged into the Ae-Theon Society in 1933, which two years later became a chapter of Delta Chi.[Kuhn, p. 131. MSC Record, 39(6), Feb 1934, p. 12. LCD (1933), p. 472]

By the time the College purchased their on-campus hall in 1927, the Union Literary Society had already been living off campus for several years, in a series of rental properties including the Collingwood house on Sunset Lane. First the Department of English, and later (circa 1937) the Department of Foreign Language, made their homes in the former U.L.S. hall. It survived until the mid-1950s, when it was razed to make way for the new Library building (now Main Library, West Wing).