A new museum exhibition explores and celebrates the people and episodes connecting the University of Michigan and the city of Detroit, its birthplace 200 years ago.
Using historic images, rare books and documents, vintage film and 21st century sports memorabilia, the Bicentennial Office and the Detroit Historical Society are hosting “200 Years Young: Detroit and the University of Michigan,” through Oct. 8.
The exhibition is on display at the Detroit Historical Museum, located at 5401 Woodward Ave. in Detroit’s Midtown area.
“From the earliest days of planning the bicentennial, we knew we wanted to celebrate our founding in Detroit and all that has occurred since,” Bicentennial Office Executive Director Gary D. Krenz said. “The exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum allows us to explore some of the best-known chapters in our history with Detroit, as well as share stories that may be new to people.”
U-M was founded in Detroit in 1817 and functioned, essentially, as a primary school and high school. Financial shortfalls and leadership issues made for a rocky first 20 years and, under a new state constitution, the university moved to Ann Arbor in 1837.
Built around the six themes of the bicentennial, the exhibition features stories such as:
• Serving the People: Detroit mayors with U-M connections, ranging from the city’s first mayor, John R. Williams, who was an original trustee of the university, to current Mayor Mike Duggan, who holds two Michigan degrees.
• Pursuing Ideas: Alumnus and faculty member Henry F. Vaughan, who led the Detroit Department of Health as the city was dealing with an early 20th century boom in population and industry, and the related problems of overcrowding, weak housing codes and poor public sanitation.
• Teaching Powerfully: U-M’s early foray into televised teaching courses and a 1950s partnership with Detroit’s WWJ-TV.
• Creating and Inventing: U-M writers with Detroit roots, such as poets Robert Hayden and Dudley Randall, novelists Judith Guest and Marge Piercy, and journalists Daniel Okrent and Robin Givhan.
• Challenging Society: The 1925 murder trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, who was successfully defended by former U-M law student Clarence Darrow in a case overseen by Judge Frank Murphy, a Michigan graduate, and watched nationwide for its civil right implications.
• Forever Hailing: Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan, Lions tackle Jeff Backus and other U-M student-athletes who went on to star for the city’s professional sports teams.
The exhibit showcases scrapbooks, television footage, maps and rare books from several U-M repositories — the Bentley Historical Library, the Clements Library and the Special Collections Library — as well as objects from the Detroit Historical Society’s collections.
“We’re also pleased that the exhibit looks to the university’s third century by showcasing current initiatives in the city, as well as undergraduate and graduate students who call Detroit home,” Krenz said.
In conjunction with the exhibition and U-M’s bicentennial, the Detroit Historical Society is offering discounted memberships to faculty, staff, students and alumni. Anyone interested should contact membership manager Alaina Vacha at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-833-0158.
The Detroit Historical Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free.