The first student union was established at Cambridge University in England. Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, the first student union in North America, opened in 1896. But it was not until after the world wars that unions became popular on university campuses. Recently widowed Dorothy Straight met a Cornell Agriculture student, Leonard Elmhirst, who persuaded Mrs. Straight to visit the campus. Elmhirst and Straight together with certain faculty members decided that the best way to fulfill Willard Straight's bequest to make Cornell a more livable place is to build a student union building. Subsequent, Elmhirst and Dorothy Straight married in April 1925.
When the Straight first opened, the North entrance was reserved for men and women were relegated to a second entrance at the South end of the building. From its opening, the main desk was staffed by undergraduate students. In addition, the building's policies were set by a student led "Willard Straight Hall Board of Governors."
As Cornell built more dormitories on the West Campus and the North Campus, two additional buildings supplemented the Straight to serve students — Noyes Center on West Campus and the North Campus Union (later Robert Purcell Union) on North Campus. The combined operation constituted the Department of University Unions. In 1970, with the advent of the University Senate, University Unions became a part of the new Division of Campus Life. In order to end the duplication and tensions between the University Unions and the Dean of Students Office, University Unions merged into the later Department.
Prior to 1969, the upper floors of the Straight served as a hotel for Cornell's visitors and guests. The broadcast studios of the WVBR Radio station were in a lower level.
Ultimately, the Cornell Administration, particularly Vice President Steven Muller, negotiated an end to the building takeover. However, the photos of the students marching out of the Straight bearing rifles made the national news.
On campus, the Straight Takeover lead to the formation of the University Senate, a restructuring of the Board of Trustees, a new campus judicial system, and the Africana Studies and Research Center. By the end of the academic year, Cornell President James Perkins resigned.
Beyond Cornell, the Straight Takeover lead to the New York State Legislature enacting the Henderson Law which required each college to adopt "Rules of the Maintenance of Public Order. Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to the Straight Takeover in speeches as an example of the excess of college students.
CATHERINE MARIE CHARLTON, PIANIST/COMPOSER, CORNELL ALUM, RETURNS TO HEADLINE PICKARD SERIES CONCERT IN WILLARD STRAIGHT HALL, APRIL 10
Mar 23, 2006; Cornell University issued the following press release: The Catherine Marie Charlton Trio, featuring pianist and composer...