who the hell was george johnson, and where did he eat his lunch?

I just received my copy of the University of Michigan alumni newsletter. There was one article that I found to be particularly interesting. It was on a 1943 dating guide provided to UM students. It had all the stuff that you’d expect, like the following advice on how to handle “wolves” and their demands for “favors,” but what really interested me was a passage toward the end… First, here’s that advice on “giving favors”:

…If a boy asks you when you are going to grow up and act like a college girl because you won’t kiss him good night, ignore him… Boys respect girls who deserve respect!… Social success at Michigan definitely does not depend upon humoring the passions of other people. It may result from a tactful practice of doing just the opposite…. Girls don’t have to ‘give’ to be popular, and, as a matter of fact, it usually turns out that the most discreet and unkissable girls draw the better class of men — not the wolves, but the good guys that are going places, and who like girls with ideals as high as their own!…

OK, now here’s that passage in the article that I found really interesting:

…”Remember to escort your girl through the side door, for there is an old Michigan tradition that the front door of the Union is for men only. It may be that the gallantry of the Michigan man will not permit him to allow his fair lady to enter an uncanopied doorway, but, just in case you should forget, there is a gentleman at the front door to deter you.” (This was a reference to George Johnson, a cigar-chomping 76-year-old who had been guarding the Union’s front door against females since the Harding administration. He had infuriated women in 1935 for suggesting in public that the appearance of that year’s entering class of co-eds failed to meet the Michigan standard.)…

I’m not shocked to learn that women were asked to enter the union through a side door in 1943. Even though I believe the University of Michigan began accepting women in 1870, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that they were still treated unequally up until the second world war. The thing that I found interesting is the fact that UM employed an old man to keep women from a certain entrance. I was intrigued, so I started poking around some more. I found the following in another UM publication:

…The current Union building for many years remained a facility predominantly for ‘Michigan Men.’ George Johnson, hired as Michigan Union doorman in 1920, occupied the east entrance and told all females attempting to enter the facility, “‘please use the side door, ma’am.'”

In 1932, a female student disguised herself as a reporter and entered through the east doors. She was quickly apprehended and taken to the police station for “violation of the city ordinance forbidding masquerading in the attire of the opposite sex.”

The rule was lightened the next year when the Union board of directors voted to allow female visitors and guests to use the building–but only on football Saturdays.

After Johnson died in 1946, the Union’s east entrance stood unmanned and the front door rule, like many of the old traditions, gradually faded away…

If I weren’t so busy with other stuff, I’d keep digging. I’d like to find out more about George Johnson, and this woman who was arrested for dressing like a man. It’s weird what little things fascinate me. I’ve just got this cigar-chewing doorman stuck in my head and I’m wondering, for some inexplicable reason, what he looked like and where he ate his lunch.

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10 Comments

  1. mike kabat
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    The tradition continued unabated until the Union was remodeled in 1954 and the side entrance was closed for remodeling of the cafeteria and snack bar. The only entrance became the front door and the reopening of the side entrancedid not deter women from using the front door.

  2. egpenet
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Don’t call him George, and don’t refer to him as Johnson, or old G.J. … it’s Mr. Johnson!

  3. mark
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    But WHERE did he eat lunch? And who watched the door when he was eating? And did he have beer at lunch? These are the things I need to know.

    And thank you, Mike. I was not aware of that things stayed that fucked up for that long. i jsut assumed that the “no women” rule probably disolved immediately after WWII.

  4. Cat
    Posted February 14, 2008 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I wonder if his job was to just keep out women. He may also have been charged with keeping out non-whites. It would be interesting to see his job description, if they had such things at the time.

  5. egpenet
    Posted February 14, 2008 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    He ate lunch in the kitchen at the League.

  6. Posted February 15, 2008 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    My guess is that he was tall, thin, and ate sardines out of a can for lunch right there by the door.

  7. Captain Pinecone
    Posted February 15, 2008 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    The thing I gained from this was….U of M alumni newsletter?!
    So your one of them eh, Maynard.
    So sad.
    I would assume that Mr. Johnson had the same thing all Wolverines dine on, their own sense of satisfaction and the loathing of others.
    Tastes like smoked salmon, I’m told.

  8. Ypsipologist
    Posted February 15, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard legend of a fat white man who came here from Ann Arbor.

  9. Crum
    Posted February 15, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    George Jetson was probably too busy f-ing that robot maid to watch the door.

  10. JustMe
    Posted February 28, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    A picture of him here:

    Not sure how long his replacement lasted:

    Sept. 24, 1947: The Michigan Union’s new doorman swore he would do a better job than his predecessor at keeping women out of the all-male Union.

    He pointed out that the previous doorman has been somewhat “lax” about the unwritten rule.

    The new doorman, Neil Fox announced that “I intend to maintain the hallowed Michigan tradition: ‘Through these portals, no woman shall pass.'”

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