Looking Back: The Meadow Brook Ball

The rumor many of us have heard is that the very first Meadow Brook Ball was for the first class of graduates, where Matilda Dodge Wilson graciously gave all in attendance the cost of their class rings back.

This, however, isn’t completely true. On May 12, 1961, The Oakland Observer ran a very brief article about the ball held at the Wilson’s mansion.

“…Mr. and Mrs. Alfred G. Wilson opened Meadow Brook Hall to 125 guests for the Scholarship Ball last Saturday night,” the article read in part.

An article detailing the ’62 event revealed that the May ’61 event was actually the very first of the university’s fundraising events. The first-ever Meadow Brook Ball was a fundraiser which cost $100 per couple and led to the creation of a scholarship fund.

Adjusted for inflation, tickets would have been over $400 each. That makes the current $20 or $25 ticket cost seem significantly less outrageous.

This ball was held at the Meadow Brook Mansion, and sadly was the only one Alfred Wilson was able to attend. He passed away in ’62, just prior to the second Meadow Brook Ball.

In ’61, the Michigan State University Oakland Foundation raised over $40,000 in scholarship funds for incoming freshman who, without these scholarships, could not afford the cost of a college tuition. The chairs of the ’62 dance said there was no overhead cost for the dance, and that all food, decorations and the band which played live music for attendees were all the result of donations.

At the time, about 16 percent of the student body received scholarships. Today, over half of all OU students receive some kind of financial aid to help them get through college.

Now, you may ask about that first illusive dance, where students were given those class rings.

In ’63, Matilda Wilson held a “prom” for graduating seniors the night before their graduation. There was an orchestra playing music and dinner served. One student there called it a “fairy tale.”

See, Oakland University officially became Oakland University just before the class of ’63’s graduation, so students could not order their class rings until about January. This meant they wouldn’t get their rings until the day of graduation.

Matilda Wilson called the students to her study, where she presented each soon-to-be graduate with a box. Inside was a gold ring, and the deposits they had paid for their class rings.

Back then, students were able to roam the mansion more freely, as the mansion was not yet seen as a historical site or museum as it currently is. Unlike at this year’s Meadow Brook Ball, students in 1963 could actually enter Matilda Wilson’s study.

This prom could be the beginning of what we now see as the Meadow Brook Ball. The dance we see currently on campus has nothing to do with scholarship money but all to do with fun and spending time with the university’s founder, Matilda Wilson.

However, what’s funny to point out is that in ’63, this event was referred to as a “Midnight Breakfast,” another tradition still celebrated here at OU in the Housing department each spring semester, where students cram into the Vandenberg Dining Hall to enjoy breakfast food, free t-shirts and other giveaways.

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