The first student government organization was started at Penn around the time of the 1896 opening of Houston Hall, the first student union on a United States university campus.
Created by five undergraduates, the Houston Club Officers managed all activities held in Houston Hall through a system of committees in a democratic governance structure.
The president, vice-president, and recording secretary were elected officers. The secretary and treasurer were appointed by the Board of Trustees of the Houston Club.
Three committees also governed the Club: The House Committee was in charge of maintaining Houston Hall and its non-literary contents, including pool tables and chessboards; the Membership Committee directed the admission of new members to the Club; and the Library Committee was in charge of all the books, magazines, and other reading materials at the Club.
To become a member, students were required to fill out a form for other members to review. If no member objected, then the applicant was admitted into the Club and was required to pay dues.
Student government at Penn later evolved into other forms in the early- and mid-1900s.
In the 1922-23 academic year, the University began including the Houston Club membership fee in the cost of tuition, automatically making all tuition-paying male students Club members who were able to vote in its elections.
When Bennett Hall opened as the women’s version of Houston Hall in 1925, the Bennett Union Board (BUB) student governance organization was created.
As access to Houston Hall became more widely available to all tuition-paying male students, in 1929, the Houston Club was replaced by the Houston Hall Board (HHB). The HHB was open to a wider range of students who could participate in its activities.
The HHB and BUB merged in 1969 to form the Penn Union Council, which served the same role as today’s Social Planning and Events Committee.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.