John A. Hannah (b. 1902 d. 1991)

John A. Hannah President
Michigan State University
1941–1969

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 Sidney Shaw, eleventh president of MSU) on June 22, 1938. Four children were born to the Hannahs: Mary Elizabeth (b. October 28, 1939); Robert Wilfred (b. December 24, 1941); Thomas Arthur (b. May 16, 1945); and, David Harold (b. April 18, 1948).

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, 1950-1952; 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, 1954-1964. 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.

Finding aid to the John A. Hannah papers (UA 2.1.12)


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