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A Brief History of Michigan State University Name Changes
Transcript of A Brief History of Michigan State University Name Changes
Official Names of Michigan State
February 12, 1855 Agricultural College of the State of Michigan
March 15, 1861 State Agricultural College
June 2, 1909 Michigan Agricultural College
May 13, 1925 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science
July 1, 1955 Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science
January 1, 1964 Michigan State University
Michigan State’s original nickname was the “Aggies,” due to the college’s agriculture focus. In the early 1900s, a live bear cub named Montana, or Monty, was used as our mascot.
Michigan Agricultural College
Since “State Agricultural College” was vague, people more commonly referred to the college as “Michigan Agricultural College” or “Michigan State Agricultural College.” On April 12, 1909, Hon. L. W. Watkins introduced a bill to the Michigan Senate to officially change the college’s name.
The name “Michigan Agricultural College” was considered inadequate as the college had numerous non-agricultural areas of study. In 1912 there was a campaign to change the name, but it was abandoned because it inflamed legislators who were already trying to eliminate the engineering program.
Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science
Hon. Arthur C. MacKinnon, of Bay County (M.A.C. class of 1895) introduced a bill to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1925. He argued that the name “Michigan Agricultural College” was a handicap to those who graduate with anything other than an agriculture degree. Prospective employers did not believe an agriculture college prepared students for careers in other fields. Likewise, it was more difficult to recruit high schoolers interested in non-agriculture fields
Colonel Mark L. Ireland (M.A.C., class of 1901) suggested “Michigan State College of Agriculture, Engineering, Arts, and Science.” President Shaw and the State Board of Agriculture approved.
This seal was created by liberal arts student John O. Sunderlin. Prior to 1925, Michigan State did not have a seal; instead, the State of Michigan seal or the intertwined M.A.C. logo was used.
The Michigan Business Farmer opposed the name change; they believed M.A.C. had a great reputation and thus change was not necessary. It was feared that agriculture would be relegated to an inferior position at the college. Of readers polled, 95% opposed the name change.
After Rep. MacKinnon introduced the bill in the House, Senator Norman B. Horton (M.A.C., class of 1902) introduced a similar bill to the Senate. He couldn't remember the exact name and so wrote “Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science.” His bill passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House by a substantial majority.
May 1924: President Robert Shaw has students polled about the name change. Seven to one were in favor.
With this pen Michigan Governor Alex J. Grosbeck signed the bill which changed Michigan Agricultural College’s name to Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science.
In 1925, since agriculture was no longer Michigan State’s middle name, the college needed a new nickname. A contest was held to determine our new moniker. The people chose…. STATERS! Fortunately, George Alderton, sports editor of Lansing State Journal, and Dale Stafford of Capital News, felt Michigan State deserved better. In the rejected contest entries they found Perry J. Femont’s suggestion - SPARTANS.
Prior to December 15, 1934, the date on Michigan State’s seal was 1857, the year the college opened. The date was changed to our founding year, 1855, to show that Michigan State was the oldest land grant college.
Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science
During John A. Hannah’s presidency, Michigan State expanded rapidly, and quickly outgrew its designation as a college. According to an administrative document, one of the advantages of becoming a “university” is that it will attract a higher caliber of professors, as they prefer to be associated with “universities” rather than “colleges.” Likewise, alumni would be viewed more positively by potential employers.
University of Michigan president Harlan Hatcher and the Board of Regents considered the change “an infringement upon the name of the University of Michigan” that would lead to “continuous confusion.”
Suggestions for Michigan State’s new name received by President John A. Hannah
Lewis Cass University (Michigan politician)
Lansing State University
State University at East Lansing
Michigan State College: the University of Applied Science and Art
University of the Great Lakes, or Great Lakes University
Wolverine State University
Michigan State Capitol University
Michigan Lakes University
Michigan University State Improved College (MUSIC)
President Hatcher’s argument fell short as many people were already confused about Michigan State’s name.
Graffiti painted in blue and yellow on the sidewalk in front of Beaumont Tower during the period when legislation to change the name of M.S.C. to M.S.U. was being debated in 1955
“It was a bitter fight, as the alumni of the University of Michigan considered us as upstarts and inferior educationally.”
- Frederick H. Mueller, Board of Trustees, 1945-1957
Michigan State students lobbied the state legislature for the change from “college” to “university” in 1954, armed with an 8000+ signature petition. The bill passed on April 13, 1955 by a 23-2 margin.