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John A. Hannah papers

 Record Group
Identifier: UA-2.1.12

Scope and Content

The Hannah papers include general files, speeches, materials relating to Hannah's work with the Commission on Civil Rights, the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, and the Michigan Constitutional Convention, publications and appointment books, ephemera, and audio-visual materials.

See large historical collection 00042 Waldo Family Papers for a folder of photograph christmas cards John and Sarah Hannah sent to Eleanor Waldo. The cards date 1982-1988, undated and are photographs of the Hannahs.


  • Creation: 1857 - 1991


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Series (11) RESTRICTED FILES contains restricted files.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

As twelfth president of Michigan State University, John Alfred Hannah served from July 1, 1941 to April 1, 1969. His tenure was characterized by extensive growth of the University, in both size and enrollments. President Hannah's activities were not limited to the University, however, as he filled a variety of positions in both the federal government and private industry.

John Hannah was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 9, 1902, to Wilfred Steele and Mary Ellen (nee Malone) Hannah. Hannah attended Grand Rapids Junior College, 1919-1921, the University of Michigan, 1921-1922, and graduated from Michigan State University in 1923 with a B.S. degree. Upon graduation, he took a job with the University's Extension Service as a poultry specialist. In 1933 he was granted a leave from that position to become managing director of the National Poultry Breeders and Hatchery Committee, formed under the auspices of the National Recovery Act. In 1934 he returned to East Lansing to serve as Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture (the ruling body of the University), and held that position until he was selected president.

Hannah married Sarah May Shaw (daughter of Robert Sidey Shaw, eleventh president of MSC) on June 22, 1938. Four children were born to the Hannahs: Mary Elizabeth, Robert Wilfred, Thomas Arthur, and David Harold.

During President Hannah's tenure the University grew from an enrollment of just over 6,000 to just under 40,000. This dramatic increase necessitated an extensive building program. Likewise the curriculum was upgraded and modified. In 1944 the Basic College, a prototype in the nation, was established to provide instruction to incoming students. Other improvements included Adult Education (1951), International Program (1950s), MSU-Oakland (1959), and the creation of a medical program (1960s).

Hannah was very concerned with both the faculty and the students at the University. In the late 1940s he began the Spartan Roundtable which provided students a forum in which to present their concerns directly to the president. He oversaw the reorganization of the faculty governance structure, as well as the creation of the "Rights and Freedoms of Students."

Hannah's government service included: International Development Advisory Board; Assistant Secretary of Defense, 1953-1954, Chairman of the Commission on Civil Rights, 1957-1964, and, Chairman of the United States Section of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense. In 1969, upon retiring from the University, he accepted a position as administrator of the Agency for International Development. Overall he served in the administrations of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan.

President Hannah received numerous honorary degrees from institutions from across the world. He was also accepted as a member in over 30 fraternal and honorary societies. Finally, he served on the boards of directors of several corporations, particularly those headquartered in Michigan.


140.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Series Description

(1) ADMINISTRATIVE FILES. 1925-1986, undated. [1958-1969] 15.0 cubic feet

Correspondence, reports, notes, and newspaper clippings relating to the operation of administrative units on campus and overseas programs. Letters constitute the bulk of the series. They range in content from in-depth discussions of administrative policies as they relate to particular units to meetings attended by the staff and invitations to retirement dinners and departmental functions. University deans and vice presidents are the most frequent correspondents. Arranged alphabetically, usually by administrative affiliation of correspondent but sometimes by subject.

(2) GENERAL SUBJECT FILES. 1928-1991, undated. [1958-1968] 23 cubic feet

This diverse series, composed mainly of correspondence, contains all materials directly related to the operation of the University not included in the ADMINISTRATIVE or COMMITTEE files. Of particular interest are Hannah's relationships with federal and state governments, especially his tenure as Assistant Secretary of Defense, under the United States Government. Arranged alphabetically by subject.

(3) COMMITTEE FILES. 1951-1969, undated. [1959-1968] 2.5 cubic feet

Records of various committees and governing boards that served during Hannah's tenure as President. The files consist largely of routine correspondence dealing with the committee appointments of various faculty members but also include some reports and meeting minutes. Arranged alphabetically by committee title.

(4) ASSOCIATION FILES. 1941-1989 [1958-1968] 37.5 cubic feet

Correspondence, reports and meeting minutes of various organizations with which Hannah was involved. The records are distinct from those in the GENERAL SUBJECT FILES in that they do not deal directly to the University but document the outside activities of Hannah in both academic and governmental capacities. The files on the American Council on Education, the Permanent Joint Board of Defense and the United Service Organization's Survey Committee are among the most important and most extensive in documentation. Arranged alphabetically by name of association.

(5) MISCELLANEOUS CORRESPONDENCE. 1929-1986 [1958-1969] 7.1 cubic feet

Correspondence from a wide variety of sources maintained in an alphabetical file by name of correspondent (person/organization). Also found under the generic heading of "Correspondence", with a general subject title or miscellaneous date to follow.

(6) SPEECHES. 1915, 1940-1985 [1954-1968] 9.0 cubic feet

Speeches, statements, dedications, interview, press conferences, Congressional hearing testimony, and introductions delivered by Hannah. In many cases, both a first draft and a final copy are included for each speech. Arranged by year and thereunder alphabetically by the occasion of the speech, or, in some cases, by the speech title.

(7) CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION. 1957-1969, 1978 [1959-1968] 13.5 cubic feet

Records dealing with Hannah's chairmanship of the Civil Rights Commission from his appointment by President Eisenhower to his resignation under President Nixon. The files on the various hearings on such issues as voting, housing and education together with committee reports are the most useful in detailing the activities of the Commission. Also of interest are the folders on Press periodicals and supply a wealth of information on the national reaction to the work of the Commission. Arranged alphabetically by subject.

(8) PUBLICATIONS. 1868, 1896-1897, 1915, 1921-1933, 1938-1991 [1958-1968] 10 cubic feet Numerous publications in the Hannah collection have been separated from the general files and placed in boxes. They are organized by the following general topics: Civil Rights, Financial, General Subjects, Higher Education, and International. Included here are Hannah’s personal appointment books. Some have been placed in folders for environmental protection. Within each topic, the publications are filed alphabetically by title.

(9) EPHEMERA/MISCELLANEOUS. 1857, 1874, 1895, 1907, 1933-1987 [1953-1957, 1966-1970]

Miscellaneous materials including VIP materials, envelopes, scrapbooks, plaques, awards, honorary degrees and citations contained in decorative folders, gifts and other assorted items. Oversized items are also found in this series, including large citations, scrapbooks, newspapers and other publications.


Items separated from the general body of the collection and placed in the Archives' audio recording, film and video, postcard, and photograph collections. Items are grouped according to media and listed thereunder.


Personnel and student records, police reports, donor records and correspondence relating to job searches, which are considered confidential by University policy. Three files of student disciplinary cases from 1941-1959 have had personal information redacted and are unrestricted (Box 764, folders 74a, 75a, 76a). Arranged by series and thereunder alphabetically by subject.




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Archivist's Note

It should be known to the researcher and the reference archivist that the processing history of this collection spans over 15 years. The processing of this collection, at times, reflects the gaps and shifts in staff who worked on this collection. Several people over the course of the years were involved in the processing of this collection, including several archivists, graduate assistants, and students aides. While those involved are too numerous to list here, major contributors include William McDaid and Mary Patton in the area of processing, Dick Harms in writing the biography, and Denise Anthony for editing, adding, processing and revision in all areas.

It can be noticed, at the end of each series in the container listings, at times a break in the order of the bulk of the arrangement for that series. This is because these "end items" were materials left stray by the project as a whole, and the last archivist involved, who was responsible for tying all the materials together, "forced" these items into series order, and mainly arranged them alphabetically to note the imposed order.

Furthermore, the collection is absent of materials relating to Hannah's "early years", his work prior to his administration at Michigan State University. The whereabouts of such materials is unknown to the MSUAHC, though his autobiographies and numerous biographies on Hannah provide insight into this time period. There are also limited pieces of information for this time period scattered throughout the collection.

Legal Status

Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to Michigan State University but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Copyright restrictions may apply. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Office of the President. John A. Hannah Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
  • TypeCollection

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US