Boarding Clubs to Culinary Hubs: The Evolution of Dining at MSU (Part II)
As college students return to MSU from winter break, dining halls across campus are opening back up to feed the hungry masses. As discussed in my previous blog, the original dining hall (aka boarding hall) on campus left much to be desired by the students, who took the issue into their own hands and lobbied for the establishment of boarding clubs in lieu of college-run dining. The college approved this move in 1883.
The newly established boarding clubs were managed by the students, each employing a steward in charge of purchasing provisions and managing cooks and other hired help (1). Initially, there were five clubs, each with their own dining room on campus—three in Williams Hall and two in the basement of Wells hall (2). Each club consisted of 30 to 40 students, which reportedly led to less boisterousness and “no more duels…with pickles or crackers” (2) (which, to be honest, sounds much less fun to me). Students were initially assigned to clubs but could switch as availability arose, and the clubs catered to both the taste and price point of its members (2,3). Much like today, students could earn wages by working for the clubs, so it worked to further defray costs of education for some students (2).
Although both the official college catalogue and The College Speculum, the student newspaper, initially labeled the boarding clubs a success (3, 4), the praise did not last long. The first sign of trouble appears in 1891, when the boarding clubs drafted Articles of Association, an incorporation that facilitated the “avoidance of bad debts by a legalized corporate existence,” (5), which allowed the Boarding Association to require payment ahead of time rather than relying on the seemingly unsuccessful honor system. Together, the boarding clubs had a total debt of $3100, quite sizable for the time (6).
Further instability of the clubs is seen in the constant fluctuation of their number. There were originally five clubs: A, B, C, D, and E. Club F was organized in a small house off campus in 1883 (4), bringing the number to six, but there were only four clubs listed in 1895, and by 1900, only two are mentioned in the college catalogue. By 1915, the clubs included A, B, C, D, E, and G (sorry, Club F), each club having 80-85 members, except Club C, which catered to the 190 female students at the college (7).
In the 1920s, there was but a single boarding club for men. While it operated in Wells Hall, the only men’s dorm of the time, its occupants were not required to eat there. Membership was purchased on a weekly basis, so the club had trouble purchasing the proper amounts of food (8). Bowls of food were brought out to tables and each person helped himself, so food often ran out before everyone had access to it. The food was generally inexpensive, lacked variety, and was high in starch and calories (8).
Furthermore, Wells Hall only housed 200 men, and in the 1930s, the remaining 3200 male students lived in fraternity houses, with relatives, or in various housing in Lansing and East Lansing (2). Since the boarding club was unreliable and limited, most of these men ate either in restaurants around East Lansing, or, much like today, ate cheap homemade meals, including “spaghetti, day-old bread, red bean, peas, [and] beef heart.” (2, p. 357). Overall, nutrition for male students of the early 20th century was lacking.
The same could not be said for the women. Club C became the Women’s Commons in 1921, coming under the control of the Home Economics Department (9). This gave female students experience in the management of institutional food service (1). The Commons had excellent food and service and subsequently was in high demand for banquets and frequented by faculty (8). In 1922-23, the women studying institution management also opened and ran the Flower Pot Tea Room, housed in the Station Terrace building excavated by CAP this past summer. The Commons and Tea Room were successes in institution-run food services and paved the way for the future of dining at MSU.
A new men’s dorm, Mason Hall, was opened in 1938. It housed a new college-run dining hall and board was required along with the room. The College’s new devotion to providing adequate meals to all incoming students was the final death knell for the boarding clubs at the MAC (2, 8).
Although at times troubled and inconsistent, the student-run boarding clubs lasted over 50 years. They began with students voicing concerns about welfare, and while successful for a time, it seems the ever-increasing student population proved too great for the boarding clubs to handle, a problem better handled by a centralized dining program. Today, MSU Culinary Services does an excellent job with providing students, staff, and faculty with quality food in a variety of options. So if you are near campus and get hungry, EAT AT STATE!
Author: Susan Kooiman
- Widder, Keith R. (2005) Michigan Agricultural College: The Evolution of a Land-Grant Philosophy, 1855-1925. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.
- Kuhn, Madison (1955) Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
- Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College of Michigan, 1882-3
- The College Speculum, Vol. 3 No. 1, August 1, 1883.
- University Club Boarding Association Articles of Association, 12 Nov, 1891 (MSU Archives UA 17.107, Folder 97, Box 2407)
- Letter from Harry D. Baker, to Groesbeck, Dec. 24, 1891 (MSU Archives, Madison Kuhn notes, UA 17.107, Box 2415)
- Annual Catalogue of the Michigan Agricultural College, 1914-1915
- Vail, Marion Louise (1950) A Study of Food Service Units in East Lansing, Michigan, Comparing 1929 with 1949. Unpublished M.S. thesis, Department of Institution Administration and School of Home Economics, Michigan State College, East Lansing.
- MAC Record, 2 No. 3, Oct 14, 1921.