Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reader Query: Why was EMU's McKenny Hall Named for President Charles McKenny while Still Alive?

Kind reader cmadler quite sensibly asked, per the Normal Girls story below, why McKenny Hall was named for then-president Charles McKenny. She pointed out that it is unusual to name a building after oneself during one's lifetime. "Hmm, it sure is," DD thought. So I looked in my 1931 file to find out when it had been dedicated. I hoped to find a clue in the many stories that filled the paper on the day of its dedication.

Here's the front page for October 24, 1931, the big dedication day (combined with Homecoming).

This edition of the paper is also filled with about a dozen congratulatory ads from local businesses--this was really a big deal. What seems to be the key story, however, is the one at left, in two sections.

The first para contains what seems to be the answer. (You can click to enlarge).

". . . Dr. Charles McKenny, president of Michigan State Normal College is honored today by one of the finest tokens of appreciation a college could bestow upon its president, the naming of the beautiful Charles McKenny Hall in his honor."

The answer appears to be, on the face of it, that the college and perhaps the Alumni Association were the bodies responsible for naming the hall.

This isn't definitive proof of course. I'll be looking to see if I can nail this down more firmly sometime over the next week as time permits.

I s'pose for now we can tentatively say that it appears it was named for Charles simply to honor him.

Thanks to cmadler for this observant question!


James said...

I may be wrong, but as I recall, McKenny Union was named after President McKenny by a vote of the alumni, or was it the stuedents, just before the dedication. The Union was the idea of President McKenny, as few, if any colleges had one at the time. The Michigan Union might be older, then again, it might not. President McKenny had been President of the Normal collage for twenty years, and at the time of the dedication, was in poor health. In fact, he died a year or so later.

Dusty D said...

Hi James, thank you for the info. I don't know why I didn't think of checking my hunch about the naming w/you; thanks for confirming it.

You are right of course about there being few Unions at MI colleges at that time--I came across that fact during my research.

Arborwiki says: The U-M Michigan Union was opened in 1919. Unlike the McKenny center, the MI Union was opened to men only. U-M women opened the MI League in response so that they'd have a place to go to. Also, "Women did not get full access to the building until 1968 (the Billiards Room was the last holdout)."

I wonder if the Normal students perceived, or if it were common knowledge, that Charles McKenny was ailing, and they wanted to honor him before his (apparently imminent) demise.

Which makes the story much more bittersweet.

Wy Knott said...

Fielding Harris Yost, Director of Athletics at the University of Michigan, promoted a pet project: constructing an enormous brick building to cover an athletic field and protect spectators from weather.

"What will you call it?" he was asked.

"It's a Field House," Yost replied. "Because it covers a field."

But that's your name, right? "Mere coincidence," said Yost.

After that, it was an easy step for public pressure to prompt the regents to name Yost's Field House "Yost Field House," even though U-M then had an ironbound tradition of never naming a building after a living person -- not even U-M presidents.

But, after being buried in petitions from students and alumni who supported the name choice, the regents buckled.

(Yost Field House was dedicated on November 10, 1923. It is now Yost Ice Arena.)

Here's a knock-knock joke from the 1945 "Michigan Technic," a U-M undergrad engineers' newspaper ---
Male student addresses coed:
"Knock Knock!"
"Who's There?"
"Yost Field House."
"Yost Field House who?"
"Yost Field House strong I am!"