Illini Union

The Student Life & Culture Archives was recently asked to create a small exhibit on the history of the Illini Union for the celebration of Founder’s Day on Wednesday, March 13th.

Dedication of the original building in 1941 completed a long planning process started early in the Twentieth Century.  Interest in a specially built Union building began with the inauguration of President Arthur C. Willard, who appointed a committee to investigate building plans and construction.  The decision to raze University Hall, built in 1871, to make room for the new building was unanimous.

President Emeritus Arthur C. Willard and Student President mary Wham at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Illini Union, 1951.

President Emeritus Arthur C. Willard and Student President Mary Wham at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Illini Union, 1951.

Construction began in 1939 and the Illini Union opened on February 8, 1941.   Reflecting at the 10th anniversary celebration, President Emeritus Willard stated that “The aim was to erect a building which would be not only a distinguished social center, open to all students, faculty, and alumni, but also to inspire those who use it with the best traditions of our early American way of life.”[1]

As the University population increased, so did the demand for facilities and services.  The Illini Union finally expanded in 1963 to support the many cultural, social, and recreational programs it sponsored.  In its first 25 years, the Illini Union more than doubled in size.  Homecoming, Mom’s Day, Dad’s Day, International Fair, Jazz Concerts—the Illini Union supported these and many more programs from its earliest years.

Not long ago, the Illini Union donated a large number of historical photographs that are now available via a University Archives’ webpage.  A select number of these photographs are part of the exhibit opening tomorrow at the Illini Union.


[1] General Publications, Illini Union Publications, RS 37/7/804, University Archives.

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