Think it’s hard to own a car on campus?

It was a lot harder in the 1920s.

In the early 1920s, University administrators were so annoyed by student-owned automobiles that they banned students from owning them outright.

Administrators thought the newfangled automobile gave students too much freedom. Students could escape the strict rules on campus and drive away to speakeasies or makeout sessions.

University officials had always been suspicious of the new invention and the mobility it offered. Marion Burton, the University’s fifth president, called them frivolous, according to the University’s Encyclopedic Survey, a database of University history.

In 1923 the Board of Regents decided to take official action to combat the threat of the automobile. The board passed a resolution that officially discouraged all students from bringing automobiles to campus.

The resolution was largely ineffective, though – students continued bringing their vehicles to campus as late as 1926. The University administration said student-owned automobiles “distracted students from the purposes for which they came to the University,” the Encyclopedic Survey said.

In 1926 the University forbade underclassmen – or upperclassmen who had received below a “C” in any class – from using an automobile while class was in session. Students also had to register their vehicles with the dean of students.

But administrators continued to view automobiles as a threat to campus. In fall of 1927, the University decided to ban motor vehicles outright except in “exceptional and extraordinary cases.”

Two police officers were dedicated to patrolling the streets of Ann Arbor looking for students violating the ban.

The ban spurred backlash from many students who saw it as an insult to their maturity and an attempt by administrators to act as surrogate parents. In one early protest, students mocked administrators by turning the Diag into a roller-skating rink and declaring, “If we can’t ride, we’ll roll,” The Michigan Daily reported at the time.

Student attitudes towards the ban shifted over time, though.

A Daily poll from 1933 found that students agreed with the ban by a ratio of three to one.

The University gradually relaxed the car ban over the years, but it was not totally repealed until 1968.


JAMES DEAN

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