From the Archives

The Michigan Daily: You probably remember it as a constant companion for four years.
By Terrence J. McDonald


Read time: 3 minutes

The Michigan Daily: You probably remember it as a constant companion for four years. Perhaps you read it with breakfast and a cup of coffee, or—horrors!—during your first lecture class of the day. I can remember fraught faculty discussions in my department that centered on what to do about students reading the Daily in class or, even worse, what to do if they refused to put it down.

The Michigan Daily is one of the most important student newspapers in American history. Standard accounts suggest that the first student newspaper appeared as a weekly at Dartmouth College in 1849. But the greatest such newspapers were those that shared three characteristics: daily publication, journalistic ambition, and, most important, editorial independence.

These were The Michigan Daily (daily from its inception in 1890), the Harvard Crimson (daily beginning in 1883), and the Yale Daily News (daily beginning in 1878).

The Daily was “born” independent from the University administration, both financially and editorially. It was the project of a group of students, calling themselves “the University of Michigan independent association,” who proposed “a journal representative in every way of the entire university life in all its activities.” This well-established tradition of financial and editorial independence continues to this day. (For more on the life of The Michigan Daily, see page 22.)

U-M Library staff prepared a state-of-the-art archive and website for the project.

The sheer ambition of the student staff led the Daily to join the Associated Press, a journalistic news cooperative, in 1916 and to install a teletype, bringing the AP news of the nation and world to the Daily newsroom in 1936.

A breadth of concern and coverage unique in student journalism produced some of the Daily’s most famous stories—from the Flint sit-down strike and Cuban revolution to inside the Southern civil rights movement, to name just a few.

But day in and day out, the Daily’s most important role has been defining the community that is the University of Michigan—what it means to be in this place at a certain time and over time. The Daily plays a major role in building that community by answering three questions every day: Who are we? What is important in this community? What are we going to do? 

Generations have cared about the Daily because they care about the answers to these questions. We all still do.

It was both its historical significance and this crucial role in campus life that led three partners—the Board for Student Publications, the Bentley Historical Library, and U-M Library’s Information Technology Division—to work together with the financial support of the four-generation alumni family of John B. Kemp to produce the magnificent digital, searchable archive of the Daily. U-M President Mark Schlissel presided over a March 30 dedication ceremony that launched the archive.

The digital archive was a daunting task at the outset. The 316 bound volumes of the Daily at the Bentley each had to be disbound by staff so that every one of the more than 200,000 pages could be prepared (and in some cases repaired) for digital scanning. U-M Library staff prepared a state-of-the-art archive and website ( for the project.

And then, as if by magic, the past began to appear: A 1931 story about a freshman from Grand Rapids named Gerald Ford who handled himself “more like a football player should.” An announcement in 1937 that two-time Hopwood Award winner Arthur Miller was contributing a new article on rooming houses to the Gargoyle. A report that Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke on the steps on the Michigan Union. Coverage of the horrors of Sept. 11 and the moving campus response to it.

The Daily is, in short, an astonishing documentation of University and American history.

And it is there for you to discover. Pick a date, a name, a topic—your family, your friends, yourself! Anything between 1890 and 2014 is now at hand in an archive that will be updated annually. Or just look for inspiration.

Terrence J. (Terry) McDonald became the director of the U-M Bentley Historical Library in 2013 after serving as dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts for 10 years. He joined the faculty after receiving his doctorate in American history from Stanford University and is currently an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Professor of History in LSA.

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