Early football teams at University of Detroit


Now that football season is upon us, a time take a look back at the early teams of the University of Detroit. Football was such a big part of the university that one of the first buildings that was constructed on the McNichols campus was a football stadium. But the move to the McNichols campus did not take place until 1922 and there was no space on Jefferson Avenue where the school was located to play home games. They sometimes used Navin Field (the location of the old Tiger stadium) or in one report in the Varsity News, in an auditorium called the Princess Rink, where the city held horse shows and staged prize fights. It was not always possible to have enough college students for the team, so sometimes on the early teams even senior UD high school students were enlisted for the football team. The football team even had to buy their own uniforms. You do have to realize that things like helmets, shin guards and shoulder pads were not part of a football uniform back in those days. As one team member reported he “emerged from every game with a black eye.”


As popular as football might have been, it was not until 1917 that the school would provide the equipment and secure a regular practice field. The red and white stripped turtle neck sweaters, modeled after Princeton’s, and purchased by Doctor W.E. Keane, served to identify the “Red and White Tigers.” The team name did not get changed to “Titans” until 1924.

All the members of the first team of 1896-97, went on to successful careers as physicians, lawyers, business men, an internal revenue collector and one clergyman. Even the first coach, William F. Robison, S.J. became President of St. Louis University (1920-1924).

Varsity football eventually died at the University of Detroit, but that story will have to wait for a future blog.

Pat Higo, Archives and Special Collections Librarian


UDMercy Freshmen-Some rules and regulations for Freshmen in past years


Typical faces of the class of ’42

Freshmen today don’t know how lucky they are that they don’t have to put up with some of the restrictions that past UD freshmen had to follow. The most noticeable was the rule that they had to wear these caps (tams for girls) or “pots” as they were sometimes called, whenever they were on campus. This tradition was around from the early 1900′s until about 1960.


The rules may have changed over the years, for example the 1930 freshman could “NOT smoke cigarettes, cigars or regular pipes on campus. Smoke only corn-cob pipes.” From a 1942 list, “A girl freshman can’t wear rouge or lipstick on campus.”


Violators of the freshman code were given tickets by sophomores. The freshman could then plead his case before a kangaroo court where some kind of punishment was meted out. Hazing was not allowed, but the punishment was usually something humorous like wearing all clothing backward during class or wearing a head bandage and a sign: “I Talked Back to a Sophomore.”

If there were any freshman rules today, there is probably at least one that still is in effect today as it was back in the early college days: “STUDY their lessons.” A warm welcome to ALL new students!

Pat Higo, Archives and Special Collections Librarian


Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Detroit 1921-1965

Ever wonder why there is such a huge open area in the engineering building? Well, you need a pretty big space if you are going to be working on airplanes-even a small one. The University of Detroit was the first university to offer a complete five-year program leading to a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1921. The new department had the backing of the United States Government, Aerial League of America and Detroit Chamber of Commerce. During World War II, the University conducted both primary and secondary Civil Aeronautics Authority flight training programs.

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However, with bigger planes and the advancement of technology, the cost of staying up-to-date with the developments in the aerospace industry became prohibitive. It was decided in June 1965, to phase out the Aeronautical Department. Although much of the technology associated with the automobile industry was concentrated in the Detroit area, the aerospace firms were located on the west coast.

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Fr. Edward J. Dowling: Artist, More than Just Great Lake Ships

Father Edward J. Dowling taught for many years in the College of Engineering at the University of Detroit. His life-long interest in the Great Lakes made him an expert in maritime shipping. The archives holds more than 58,000 items related to his love for the Great Lakes. Although the majority of the items are photographs and negatives of ships, it also has some of his art works. He was an artist of some distinction and most of his works were about the ships that would travel through the Great Lakes. He did, however have drawings other than ships. I thought I would post a few of them here. These scans really don’t do justice to the art work, the colors seem a bit muted from the original work. An entire list of all his art works can be found on the University of Detroit Mercy Special Collections page: Father Edward J. Dowling, S.J. Marine Historical Collection.

Night Train Express, St. Mary's Kansas, 1934

Night Train Express, St. Mary’s Kansas, 1934

St. Mary's College, Kansas Buildings, 1938

St. Mary’s College, Kansas Buildings, 1938

Books on Desk, 1937

Books on Desk, 1937

Sunset on Lake, 1937

Sunset on Lake, 1937

Before there was a UDMercy McNichols campus-some of the early residents and workers

Back in the early 1800′s, the site that is currently the McNichols campus of University of Detroit Mercy, was a swamp surrounded by tamaracks, willows and cranberry bushes. The land was drained and cleared to be converted into truck farms. These are some of the early residents and workers in the area before some of the land was purchased by Father McNichols for $120,000 back in 1921. Other sections of the campus were either gifted or purchased a bit later.


John Eugill, one of the original settlers of the University districts. His farm of 40 acres adjoined the present campus. Picture taken July 26, 1925 on his 90th birthday.

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A Celebration of Heritage: Our Lady of Mercy Chapel

stainglass1Mercy College of Detroit opened on September 24, 1941, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy.

From the back of the picture card: “For over 60 years, the Chapel was a place to “be” with God. Because is was the Motherhouse of the Detroit Region of the Sisters of Mercy until 1966, all the Sisters gathered in the chapel four times a day for Mass, recitation of the Office, meditation and spiritual reading. Students often joined the sisters for the early morning Mass, and frequently throughout the day, Sisters, students and visitors would visit the Chapel for personal prayer and reflection. In the 40′s and ’50′s alumni often returned to campus on thier wedding days and the bide and groom would ask God’s blessing on their life together. The spirit of the Chapel, represented by the stained glass windows, will endure on the McNichols campus for future generations.”


The stained glass windows of Our Lady of Mercy Chapel were moved to the College of Health Professions facility on the McNichols campus after the campus on Outer Drive was sold and the Administration building taken down.

1925 INDIA: A Night in the Orient at University of Detroit


The University of Detroit Alumni Association sponsored a lavish production about India. The purpose of the program was to “assist the Faculty Board of Trustees in the $10,000,000.00 building expansion program for a greater University of Detroit”. At the time of this event, the stadium was about the only building complete on the Livernois Avenue/Six Mile campus. In the program they did show a potential plan for the buildings. The plan to build a fairly large church never got off the ground.


The setting for the drama in the stadium was built on an elaborate scale, five hundred and fifty feet in length and portrayed the temples and tombs of the Mughal Emperors of Ancient India. From the program:”The opening of the drama shows the city at dawn. Natives are seen winding their way from Ghat, or Holy Bathing Place, to the Temple. The gates of the Temple slowly open, showing the funeral pyre of a departed Hindu, and as the fires are set on the Altar, the ancient custom known as “Suttee,” or “The immolation of the widow on her husband’s pyre” is depicted.” Seems to me a bit of a downer way to open a program. The rest of the first half have scenes of a bazaar and a parade with elephants, and horses, with entertaining performances by acrobats and even a ballet!

The second half of the program depicted a major battleĀ  with “the roar of artillery…flash from the great guns…crash and roar of crumbling temples and the vivid leaping flames from the burning building. (T)he British troops gain access to the city and soon subdue the rebellious insurgents, and order replaces chaos as the beautiful city smolders in flames.” After the battle scene there is a big display of fireworks.

Apparently the spectacle was a big success. The local papers claimed that 100,000 people attended and there were still a couple of more performances yet to go.

Since this program was produced over a summer, there is no student newspaper coverage of the event. All there is in the archives is the program booklet. It does however, have some interesting ads.






















Pat Higo, Archives and Special Collections Librarian

From UD High School Student to UD College Student to UD President-THREE Times!

The initial founding of the University of Detroit in 1877 included a collegiate and an academic or what we would consider today “high school” division. This system continued until 1928, when the UD high school was academically separated from the collegiate division. It was not until 1947 that the administration and financial connections between the high school and college were separated into two distinct institutions.hs1929

In another one of my ebay purchases, I picked up a 1929 University of Detroit High School class picture. There was one name that had a familiar ring-Laurence V. Britt. Turns out, he became President at the University of Detroit from 1960-1966. A research check through Fr. Muller’s book to find that he was not the first UD High School student to come into the position of college president at the University of Detroit. As his two previous predecessors of UD High School to university president, he also attended UD as a college student (Class of 1933).


The first alumnus president was William J. Millor, S.J., graduated from the high school in 1918 and college in 1923. He served as the president of the university from 1944-1949.


The next UD President to come from the high school was Rev. Celestine J. Steiner, S.J. The high school register show he graduated in 1917 and then attended UD where he played on the UD college football team for two years 1917-1918. He served as president of the university from 1949-1960.


Just as a side note, Mercy College of Detroit also had an alumnus serve as president of the college, Sr. Agnes Mary Mansour graduated in 1953 and served as president of Mercy College from 1971-1982.

I tried to google to see how many other colleges had alumni serve as president of their college. Maybe someday someone with a lot of time on their hands can create that kind of list. What I did find is an article about Dartmouth College which has to be tops in the category, they have had TEN alumni serve as president of their college!

So while the university can put on their alumni list lawyers, politicians, engineers, business men and women, etc., they can also list university presidents as leaders of the community produced through education at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Pat Higo, Archives and Special Collections Librarian



7/11 Are you feeling lucky? Las Vegas Night as U of D


St. Francis Club at the University of Detroit sponsored a Las Vegas Night back in February, 1975. For a $5 admission fee, you would get $500,000 worth of play money gambling chips, all the beer and wine you could drink (!), dancing, gambling and a chance at 50 door prizes given away throughout the evening. The door prizes included dinners, merchandise, clothing, books and many other items donated by local businesses. The profits from the evening would be used to repair the St. Francis Club facilities.

The available games included Black Jack, roulette, craps, and fortune wheels. The tables were open from 7 pm to midnight.cegas

At midnight there was a special auction for items that could be “purchased” with the paper money that the gamblers had accrued during the evening’s events. The items that were auctioned included a dinner and evening for four with Fr. Malcolm Carron S.J. U of D President at one of Detroit’s finer restaurants , one month passes to a local health spa, a case of wine, a gothic kneeler complete with red velvet pads donated by the Office of Campus Ministry and $10 of merchandise from Wrigley Foods (all those old time Detroiters raise your hands if you remember Wrigley foods!).

According to the Varsity News, the evening was a big success. About a thousand people attended the event. About half were students at UD, students from other schools made up the rest. Invitations had been sent out to other local colleges and the St. Francis Club provided free bus service to UD for students attending Mercy, Madonna, and Marygrove Colleges and Grace, Mercy and Henry Ford Schools of Nursing. Technical problems with the transportation left only three of the seven buses available. There is no report as to who got left out.

Between 11 pm and midnight, two million in additional chips could be purchased for only one dollar. Promptly at midnight the crowd moved to the student lounge for the auction. Only the chips received at the door, won gambling or purchased throughout the evening could be used in the auction. Several items in the auction went for over one billion casino dollars; the evening with Fr. Carron went for a bid of two billion. A total of $12 billion in chips was collected at the auction.

The first Las Vegas Night was such a success, a second one was held in October 1975. Alas, only about half the number of people attended and that was apparently the end of casino type gambling on the U of D campus. I guess you could say their “luck” ran out.


Pat Higo, Archives and Special Collections Librarian




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