Bringing Students Together: The Nebraska Union 1936 - 1939

During the mid-1930s, a revolution took place on campus. One that wasn't violent, or even really demonstrated. One that would result in a building being built on campus for one purpose: to bring the students of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln together under one roof for any activity desired.

Ever since its creation, the Student Union has been the centerpoint of student attention on the University of Nebraska's City Campus. Located at 14th and R Streets, it is one of the major hotspots in downtown Lincoln.

The Student Union's history is interesting to say the least. Many college campuses across the world have buildings dedicated to bringing the students together, but they haven't always existed. The idea of student unionism has been around for centuries, but never really implemented into modernized universities until the late 19th century. The Student Union at St. Andrews in Britain is the oldest union in the United Kingdom, having been established in 1864.

Nebraska's Student Union was an idea that had been shuffled around in the faculty for quite some time, a need addressed by Chancellor E. A. Burnett in his letter titled "Student Activities Building" in 1937. This idea was embraced by the student population immediately, and was spread to the rest of the city soon after. At the time, the city of Lincoln was much smaller; much more influenced by the University and its plans. The University was swallowing land the city had once owned extremely quickly.

News spread rapidly in December 1936 with the announcement of the construction of the Student Union. This led to the rest of the University rallying support for the Union, providing the other $200,000 in bonds that were to be paid back by February 1943. These bonds were used to pay the construction companies, while the bonds would actually be paid off with student / faculty fees over the next several years.

Planning took place, and letters were sent out. The Alumni Association volunteered to furnish the Union, and sent out donation letters discussing why the Student Union matters to the alumni. Other letters and memos were sent out discussing what faculty would want to pay for to use in the Union, what they would even use the Union for, and how they could become members of the Union.

Once the construction companies had been chosen, the real work began. The building was finished by May 1938, and when it was, the hype for the Union was already too much. Flyers, posters, and articles had already come out, discussing how the Union would revolutionize the University of Nebraska's campus.

Read through the documents to see for yourself how excited both the faculty and students were to finally have a place they could get away from all the classroom instruction, hallways, and the mess of grading papers. After that is all said and done, take a look at how significant the Union is to our University today.

Project Development

This website is part of the growing Digital History Collection here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was created by a student named Dustin Lipskey as part of the requirements for History 470, Digital History, a class dedicated to learning about digital humanities. This website is a product of digital humanities, and helps preserve our once book-only history in a digital format. It provides a non-linear, web-based approach to reading and understanding our history.

The topic discussing the Student Union was chosen because of the central impact the Union has on our every day lives attending the University. Since the history of the Union is so broad, it was chosen to only study the publications and the reactions of those surrounded by the idea of a student center on the University's land.

The purpose of this site is to show the reader the concrete evidence on how the people involved in this revolutionary project did their work, how they conveyed their feelings, and what it really did to impact the University the way it did.

What happened between the years of 1936 and 1939 just, to put it simply "got the ball rolling" on changing the social background of the University. It became a much more social, more inviting place to come and study. It kept the students wanting to come back for more learning, social experiences, and activities.

That all started with the Student Union.

 

Credits

Editor: Dustin Lipskey, History 470: Digital History, Fall 2009