The University Record, March 18, 1998

Student life of 1800s featured in Visitors Center exhibition

Jeanine Pray Ploger attended the dedication of her grandfather's 'Student Life Exhibit.' A replica of George Washington Pray's diary, as well as an original coverlet, trunk and books are on display. Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Rebecca A. Doyle

What was life like for the first students on the Ann Arbor campus of the U-M?

Dedicated last week, the George Washington Pray Student Life Exhibit in the Huetwell Visitors Center gives a glimpse into campus life the way it was for members of the class of 1845.

Robert Warner, dean emeritus of the School of Information, talked about the exhibit's history and about Pray's life as a student.

"George Washington Pray was a respectable and honorable man. He had no real achievements, though, except that he kept a diary while he was here in college. That is unique. There is no other that survived."

A replica of Pray's diary is part of the exhibit, and his original coverlet, trunk and books have been provided by his family for the display.

"We know from his diary," Warner said, "that replenishing the flowers in his room was something that he did regularly. That's why flowers are a part of the exhibit."

President Lee C. Bollinger told guests tradition is an important part of the University and that "we ought to be very concerned that we as a University have let slip too much of our past."

"It's not only a matter of saving physical things," he said, although that is important. He used as an example Robert Frost's home, which is now part of Greenfield Village. One of his dreams, he said is to erect a replica of that house where poetry reading could be held, where students could feel a part of the great history of Michigan scholars.

It is not only preserving the physical things that is important, "but most important is what happens in the mind when people encounter these things, what happens in the minds of students as they go around in the midst of these things," Bollinger said. "Students should feel that they are in a place where great people have walked and studied and discovered their own potential so that today's students can become a part of and continue that Michigan tradition," he noted.

Approximately 80 people attended the dedication ceremony, including Jeane Pray Ploger, granddaughter of George Washington Pray, who also is a U-M alumna.