The Coed's Predicament: The Martha Cook Building at the University of Michigan
- Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
- University of Minnesota Press
- Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2017
- pp. 26-45
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- Additional Information
A women's dormitory required a plan that facilitated genteel surveillance. The Martha Cook Building (York & Sawyer, 1911–15) at the University of Michigan manifested early twentieth-century ideas about gender, race, class, and higher education. The residence hall, named in honor of donor William W. Cook's mother, had one main entry on its narrow end, with a door facing the street and a matron's office adjacent to it. When the University of Michigan built a men's dormitory soon after, paid for by the same patron and designed by the same architects, it used a staircase plan, which afforded less control over the students. One might think that a donor who funded a lavish dorm would have as his motive the promotion of woman-centered education. Instead, Cook employed architecture in the service of social exclusion; he objected to the presence of Asians and poor women in the dorm and imagined that the elegant semipublic rooms would civilize brutish young men. As had been the case at Oberlin College, the women's residence hall served as the social hub for the entire campus.