My day job is Director of Admissions for a community college in Michigan. In that role, I’ve been a member of the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (MACRAO) for several years, and am serving as the group’s president for 2021, our 100th anniversary year. Last week, I wrote the following item for our website, celebrating the career of the association’s first president. Because she was such a pioneer for women in higher education, I thought I’d share it here as well.
MACRAO was born in 1921 on the campus of the Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti. America’s colleges and universities were experiencing rapid change, and the college registrars were responding by expanding and modernizing their work. These challenges motivated registrars from of four of the state’s colleges to meet in person to share ideas and work on standardizing processes between institutions. Besides the hosts from Michigan State Normal (later to become Eastern Michigan University), registrars from Michigan Agricultural College (later Michigan State University), the Detroit Teachers College (which later merged with other Detroit colleges to create Wayne University, then later Wayne State University), and Kalamazoo College attended.
After discussing their shared interests, the group decided to create a formal organization. About a decade earlier, Michigan had also been the first meeting place of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars (AACR), and since that group had grown to national prominence, it seemed like a good idea to have a similar group that would deal with the specific issues of colleges in Michigan. So the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars (MACR) was born.
Of course, every good organization needs leadership, and the newly minted MACR membership turned to one of the state’s pioneers in the profession: Elida Yakeley from M.A.C.
Elida Yakeley was born on April 4, 1876, in Trenton, Michigan, but grew up in Montana. After graduating from high school in Big Sky Country, she returned to her home state to attend college at Ferris Institute in Big Rapids, where she studied business. After graduation she worked in a series of short-term positions until she was hired in 1903 as the secretary to Jonathan L. Snyder, the president of what was then known as the State Agricultural College in East Lansing.
Yakeley was a diminutive woman, so sitting behind the huge desk in the anteroom of Snyder’s office meant she had to stand to greet everyone who came in. This made her the face of the college, which in those days had only about 500 students, and she quickly came to know each of them personally and was a great resource for them. As she pointed out later in life, registering students wasn’t terribly difficult in those days, since there were so few students and only three choices for programs to follow: agriculture, engineering, and the “women’s course.”
Over the next several years, however, the school added new programs and its enrollment started to grow significantly. Soon the registration process was becoming more difficult, and Yakeley took it upon herself to come up with a way to automate the system – at least as much as it could be in an age well before computers. Recognizing her genius in setting up one of the first modern registration systems of its kind in the country, Snyder appointed her the first registrar in the college’s history in 1908, just before the institution became Michigan Agricultural College the following year. This not only made her one of the first female college administrators in Michigan, but also in the United States.
In charge of all student records, she continued to make it a point to talk to nearly every student at the school throughout her 30 years at M.A.C. She also kept in touch with alumni, taking an interest in their success after they’d left East Lansing. Students were very fond of her and thought of her as a “thoroughly just, broad-hearted friend.”
She took a 27,000-mile journey around the world in the fall of 1923 with M.A.C. history and political science professor E.H. Ryder, his wife, and home economics associate professor Anna Bayha. During the trip, they were feared to have been lost during the Great Kantō Earthquake but had left Japan just five days before the disaster. They toured Japan, Korea, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Palestine, France, Italy, Switerland, and England. The travelers returned safely to East Lansing in January 1924.
Yakeley was elected Vice President of AACR at their annual meeting in Seattle in April 1929. Later that year in November, she was seriously injured while attending the AACR meeting in Buffalo. According to newspaper accounts of the time, she was struck by a car and thrown into the path of another vehicle and suffered head and chest injuries. Clemens P. Steimle, another early president of MACR, reported that she was barely conscious and was unable to speak. She did recover, though, and returned to her work at the newly renamed Michigan State College of Agriculture and Science (M.S.C.).
As registrar at M.A.C./M.S.C. she was also instrumental in maintaining the early history of the college. After turning over the registrar’s duties in 1939, she continued as a historical research associate at the college until she retired in 1941 due to ill health and moved to southern California.
In 1949, M.S.C. named a new women’s dormitory after its first registrar. Yakeley Hall is in the North Neighborhood, which at the time was all housing for female students; Yakeley is today the only remaining all-female residence hall on the MSU campus. Although the college named the building after her, they neglected to let her know about the honor! She found out during a visit to Lansing shortly after the building opened to students, reading about it in the State Journal while staying with friends.
Elida Yakeley died on April 18, 1970, in Chula Vista, California. She was 94 years old.