About the Martha Cook Building

Eve in the Martha Cook Garden

The Martha Cook Building opened its doors for the first time in September 1915. Martha Cook — described as the most beautiful college dormitory in the United States — has been home to thousands of women.

The building was a gift to the University from one of its most enterprising and loyal alumni, William W. Cook. Originally from Hillsdale, Michigan, Cook obtain his law degree from the University in 1882. He then embarked on a strikingly successful career as a corporation layer on Wall Street, where he built a fortune through shrewd investments. Sixteen million dollars of Cook’s bounty went to the University of Michigan. While a majority of his gift went to construction of the Law Quadrangle. His first major gift to the University constructed the Martha Cook Building.

In 1990, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the building, Martha Cook was designated a historic site by the State of Michigan.


The Martha Cook Building, a memorial to the donor’s mother, was the first of Cook’s gifts, and the first structure on campus to be designed in the popular Collegiate Gothic mode, in this instance, an adaptation of English domestic Gothic. The exterior is faced in patterned brick, with traceried windows and deep buttresses, capped by a crenelated turret. The work of designers York & Sawyer of New York reflected a widespread impulse to model academic buildings after the ancient colleges of Europe, whose Gothic architecture has expressed scholarship's religious and monastic roots. A statue of Portia, a character in The Merchant of Venice who has been described as "Shakespeare's most intellectual woman," guards the building's magnificent stone portico.

Mr. Cook hoped to provide an atmosphere of beauty and harmonious living that would nurture "the charm and grace and principles of cultured American womanhood." While Mr. Cook was raised on these principles and hoped to nurture them, he was a man of vision and foresaw the future of women’s education at the University of Michigan. Prior to 1915, women were expected to find their own housing off campus.

The Interior

Designed by the Hayden Company of New York, the rooms on the ground floor recall interior details of Gothic and early Renaissance times, with furnishings extending to the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Straight ahead is an airy, sundappled corridor, paved with marble and red flagging, paneled in oak and canopied by a majestic groined Gothic ceiling. Focal point of the corridor is a marble statue of the Venus de Milo, a full-sized replica of the original in the Louvre.

The Red Room, located at the front of the building, as an elaborate vaulted "wagon head ceiling," which combines English rose and French fleur-de-lis motifs. The woodwork in this room is of butternut with molding and details reproduced from measured drawings of antique designs. The Flemish verdure tapestry above the fireplace dates from the latter seventeenth century and depicts a hunting scene. Some of the furniture in the Red Room and Gold Room once graced Mr. Cook's New York home. Furniture in the room emulates Jacobean designs. The portrait of Martha Wolford Cook (1828 – 1909) was painted by Henry Caro-Delvaille.

Through the small "Sparking Room," a paneled alcove, one glimpses the Gold Room (formerly the Blue Room), with elaborately-carved paneling of Burma teakwood and a plaster ceiling modeled on that in Sir Paul Pindar’s house at Bishopsgate, England. A bust of Mr. Cook rests above the Angell fireplace, and Mr. Cook's own Steinway piano attracts the eye as well as the ear. It was specially commissioned in 1913 and given to the building after the donor's death. It has an inlaid case of Caucasian walnut with Italian Renaissance designs. A piano of this style, as well as most of the furnishings on the first floor, cannot be replaced today.

Paneled in oak, the dining hall has a beamed furred ceiling of fifteenth-century design. Here, a stone-mantled fireplace bears a motto chosen by Mr. Cook, "Home, the Nation's Safety." The round tables are of oak, as are the large buffet and mullioned doors. The Dining Room chairs are hand caned. Much care has been given throughout the years by residents and staff to maintaining and preserving the extensive wood paneling and furnishings, most of which are original.

The Garden

It was designed in 1921 by the prominent landscape architect and long-time superintendent of Central Park, Samuel Parsons. Paul Suttman's statue of "Eve" was a fiftieth-anniversary gift from the building's alumnae. Above the spreading lawn, Martha Cook’s long garden terrace is a delightful spot for outdoor dining, studying, and recreation during the warmer months.

Activities & Traditions

The Martha Cook Building, conveniently located on central campus, houses around 140 women, ranging from first year students to graduate students. The Martha Cook Student Organization coordinates various social events throughout the year.

There are several traditional social events that bring residents together. The start of the academic year begins with a Welcome BBQ. In September, Dinner for New Residents invites new women to the building with a special dinner. During dinner, resident are presented with a yellow rose and oak leaf cookie. The rose and oak are symbols of the building, representing beauty and strength. Another tradition is Friday Tea in the Gold Room. Tea is primarily for residents and their guests, but occasionally other groups are invited.

The holiday season is a very busy time. Special events hosted by House Board, the residents governing body, include Tree Decorating, Diwali, and Lunar New Year. The annual Messiah Dinner was a long time partnership with UMS which included visits from the guest soloists after the final performance of Handel’s oratorio in Hill Auditorium. Due to the busy travel schedule of the performers, UMS has ended this partnership with Martha Cook. In recent years, the Board of Governors have restarted the event as Governors' Messiah Dinner, as an opportunity to bring together volunteers of the building.

In the spring, Alumnae are invited to the building for Spring Tea. International Tea is another signature event which recognizes the cultures and foods of countries selected by the residents. Dinner for Graduates is hosted in April, each graduating resident receives a special gift.


In addition to a full round of social activities, the Martha Cook Building provides a variety of facilities for residents including a computer room, kitchenettes, recreation room with a television, tennis court, and laundry facilities. Two pianos are also kept in tune for musicians.

Onsite meals are available Monday-Friday in the Dining Room.


The Martha Cook Building is a part of the Office of Student Life and collaborates closely with University Housing, Residents Education, and Michigan Dining for administration and management. The day-to-day operations are overseen by the Director of Martha Cook Building & Grounds, Hall Director, Facilities Manager, and Dining General Manager. General oversight of the building is provided by a Board of Governors, whose members are appointed by the President of the University of Michigan and are typically connected to Martha Cook as alumnae.