In 1930, the Michigan Socialist Club was founded to find a way to help students with their struggles to meet their basic needs, like regular meals and reliable housing.
Several students are credited with coming up with the idea of a house – a co-operative – run by its residents with the intention of providing an affordable place to live for students. The concept was later introduced at colleges around the country and grew into the co-operative movement.
The club rented a house on East Ann Street and opened The Michigan Socialist House, the first student-housing co-operative in the nation, on Aug. 20, 1932.
Its first 18 members were all male graduate students who probably would not have been able to return to the University without the co-op.
The co-op was dubbed “The Two-Dollar House” for its weekly charge, which along with four to five hours of housework, entitled residents to room and board. The co-op also offered a barber, canning and laundry services.
The house was managed through a series of meetings in which each member had equal vote.
Soon after the Michigan Socialist House opened, the first women’s co-op was opened in the fall of 1937 down the block from the men’s house.
The University regulates co-ops. Initially, University involvement was restricted because of qualms over alcohol and various incidents with social conduct.
One of the earlier clashes between co-op and administration was over the University rule that unmarried men live in houses under housemothers, older women who helped with domestic chores and supervised their behavior.
The Socialist Club avoided housemothers and bristled under the University’s demands, but Ruth Buchanan, a librarian on campus, volunteered to be the house’s landlady to skirt the policy.
As the co-op movement expanded, the University gradually passed more requirements for co-ops that included closing hours for women’s houses and an advisory board to help regulate operations. Students, however, insisted on keeping control over member selection and finances.
In 1947 the house on East Ann Street was sold, so the recently renamed Michigan Cooperative House relocated to the current house on North State Street.
Today the Inter-cooperative Council consists of 18 group houses and one apartment house. At capacity, about 580 University students call the co-ops home.