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Bound and Determined

The class of 1849 was tenacious in its efforts to preserve memories of life at U-M

by Brian A. Williams

When the members of the University of Michigan class of 1849 graduated, they had daguerreotypes made, preserving their likenesses on a polished silver surface covered with glass. Their individual portraits were mounted in an ornate mahogany frame intended to be displayed permanently in the U-M library. When the class members returned for their 40th anniversary in 1889, they found that their framed portraits had faded and had been removed and forgotten, shoved under the eaves in the attic of Old Mason Hall.

Determined to memorialize themselves, the class of 1849 reproduced the daguerreotype images on paper and prepared biographies of all 23 graduating class members along with information on non-graduating classmates. They added their recollections of the campus, faculty, and student life. A skilled bookbinder was asked “to make the volume last 500 years, regardless of expense.” The class invested $150 in the 800-page project.

In November 1898, the Regents officially received the book and voted unanimously for the following resolution:

That the University of Michigan tenders its thanks to her beloved sons of the Class of 1849 for making her the possessor of this precious record, and pledges them that she will carefully guard and keep it for the benefit of coming generations.

University of Michigan Bentley Library copy work for magazine.

A drawing of the student suites in the North Wing (Old Mason Hall) show a much more rustic student experience that included a room for storing firewood.

A sketch of campus shows two buildings and four professors’ houses. A cistern supplied students’ water, and a wood yard contained firewood purchased from local farmers, which had to be carried up stairs to heat the sparse rooms.