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The Founding of Social Institutions

In Wisconsin's early years, most of the wealth generated through trade, manufacturing, and land sales was directed toward construction projects and land investment, leaving few resources to develop cultural and intellectual institutions. As a predominantly producing and distributing center, Milwaukee exhibited a pattern of building construction centered primarily on the stores, hotels, warehouses, and factories needed to supply the local trade and to accommodate the immigrants pouring in through the harbor. Despite the more practical and functional economic objectives of Wisconsin's early white settlers, however, many also expressed an underlying concern for cultural and social improvement.

Some among these early settlers felt the need to found institutions with a higher regard for the intellect and spirit than those they had known in their former homes. Others, especially those from New York and New England, were anxious to establish the cultural opportunities they had known before coming to Wisconsin. Some leaders began organizing musicals and theater productions. An ever-growing number of towns constructed churches where Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, Lutheran, and Presbyterian ministers competed with Catholic priests for members. A primary feature of this movement toward cultural development was an impulse to form discussion groups, libraries, and most important, schools.

Wisconsin's first public schoolteacher was Electa Quinney, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans. Quinney had come to Wisconsin in the massive Indian removal from New York in 1827 and was especially interested in teaching the children of the Stockbridge-Munsee settlement around Kaukauna. In 1828, she opened the first school in the state without an enrollment fee, allowing families who had been unable to afford school fees the luxury of an education.

Many of the New Englanders among Wisconsin's white settlers were shocked at the condition of Wisconsin's schools and ardently supported the creation of a public education system. Teachers were scarce, though, and few Wisconsin communities had schools comparable to those in parts of the East. These teachers, usually fresh out of school themselves, often taught several grades within crowded schoolhouses. People in Madison and Milwaukee often sent their children to private schools because the public schools had no more room. Schools in the lead mining region were so inadequate that many children attended private boarding schools in nearby states. Until statehood, financial support for territorial schools could come only through taxes, and many citizens fought hard against high taxation rates. It took time to convince people of the necessity of voluntary taxation to educate other people's children.

Yet, in a time when few, if any, schools in the United States were entirely free, Wisconsin's constitution provided for both a state university and a system of free common schools. They were to be funded by taxes and land sales, making education widely available for school-age children between the ages of four and twenty. Unfortunately, limited resources and money constrained school improvements until the Civil War. Though the legislature established the University of Wisconsin in 1848, classes did not meet until 1850 and the university received no state funding until 1866. Before statehood, though, the Wisconsin legislature had incorporated four private colleges: Carroll College, Beloit College, Lawrence Institute (now Lawrence University), and Sinsinawa Mound College.

At the same time that Wisconsin's Indian lands were being taken over to make room for the economic and social endeavors of the new white settlers, the U.S. government, the Catholic hierarchy, and various Protestant missionary societies expanded their efforts to "civilize" the remaining Indians through missionary schools. The Menominee had been early objects of Christian missionary endeavors, but the departure of the Jesuits from Green Bay in 1728 spared them until the next century. Around 1830, two schools (one Episcopal and the other Catholic) opened in Green Bay. The greatest concentration of missionary efforts was on the shore of Lake Superior, though many missions sent missionary teachers to live among the tribes. By 1836, ten Indian missionary schools with an attendance of 1,300 students were in operation in upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin.

To many of these teachers, and to most Americans, Christianity and civilization were inseparable. The mission schools taught and demonstrated what they saw as the only proper religion and the only way to work, farm, raise children, and keep homes. Rather than build up the culture and condition of the Indians already displaced and disrupted by white settlement, the Americans tried to tear down these cultures. Reminiscing a half-century later on what he had seen when he arrived in Green Bay in 1822, General Albert Ellis proclaimed the debasement of the Indians a "painful commentary on [the Americans'] Indian civilization" program.

[Sources: The History of Wisconsin vols 2 and 3 (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin); Kasparek, Jon, Bobbie Malone and Erica Schock. Wisconsin History Highlights: Delving into the Past (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2004); Thwaites, Reuben Gold. History of the University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Electronic Reader (online at http://www.library.wisc.edu/etext/WIReader/Thwaites/Contents.html); Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2001)]


Original Documents and Other Primary Sources

Link to article: Catherine Beecher and the development of Milwaukee-Downer College  Catherine Beecher and the development of Milwaukee-Downer College
Link to article: Missionaries defend American-style schools for Indian children in the 1830s.  Missionaries defend American-style schools for Indian children in the 1830s.
Link to article: A Green Bay girlhood in the 1820s.  A Green Bay girlhood in the 1820s.
Link to article: A newspaper produced by prisoners at Waupun, 1886  A newspaper produced by prisoners at Waupun, 1886
Link to article: An early description of the Milwaukee Public Museum (1891)  An early description of the Milwaukee Public Museum (1891)
Link to article: Electa Quinney, Wisconsin's first public school teacher  Electa Quinney, Wisconsin's first public school teacher
Link to article: Madison parties in 1837  Madison parties in 1837
Link to article: A college student begs for cookies from home in 1867  A college student begs for cookies from home in 1867
Link to article: Letters from Milwaukee in its infancy, 1836-1846  Letters from Milwaukee in its infancy, 1836-1846
Link to article: Recollections of Old Superior  Recollections of Old Superior
Link to article: A look at the life and legacy of Frances Willard  A look at the life and legacy of Frances Willard
Link to article: A former student recalls Milwaukee Female College in the 1860's  A former student recalls Milwaukee Female College in the 1860's
Link to book: The infant state legislature writes its own rulebook, 1853.  The infant state legislature writes its own rulebook, 1853.
Link to book: Susan Frackelton recalls the Wheelock School for Girls (1926)  Susan Frackelton recalls the Wheelock School for Girls (1926)
Link to book: Baraboo women found their own cultural organization, 1880  Baraboo women found their own cultural organization, 1880
Link to book: Population figures for every Wisconsin community, 1850-2000  Population figures for every Wisconsin community, 1850-2000
Link to book: An account of the First Congregational Church, Prairie du Chien, Wis., 1834-1891  An account of the First Congregational Church, Prairie du Chien, Wis., 1834-1891
Link to book: Opening of the La Crosse Public Library, 1888  Opening of the La Crosse Public Library, 1888
Link to book: Women's charitable work before 1876  Women's charitable work before 1876
Link to book: Conditions in state prisons, schools, and hospitals, 1955  Conditions in state prisons, schools, and hospitals, 1955
Link to book: The Stockbridge-Munsee Constitution, 1857  The Stockbridge-Munsee Constitution, 1857
Link to book: A guide to the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters, 1900  A guide to the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters, 1900
Link to book: A short history of prison industries, 1852-2002  A short history of prison industries, 1852-2002
Link to book: An Abolitionist Recalls Anti-Slavery Days in Wisconsin  An Abolitionist Recalls Anti-Slavery Days in Wisconsin
Link to images: Pictures of Wisconsin school buildings, 1868-1950  Pictures of Wisconsin school buildings, 1868-1950
Link to images: Increase Lapham examining a meteorite, ca. 1868  Increase Lapham examining a meteorite, ca. 1868
Link to images: Classroom rules for Milwaukee public schools, 1846  Classroom rules for Milwaukee public schools, 1846
Link to images: Prairie du Chien merchant and judge James H. Lockwood, 1856.  Prairie du Chien merchant and judge James H. Lockwood, 1856.
Link to manuscript: The Milwaukee Public Museum is born, 1848.  The Milwaukee Public Museum is born, 1848.
Link to manuscript: Northern settlers try to join Minnesota, 1847  Northern settlers try to join Minnesota, 1847
Link to manuscript: An Episcopal bishop's diary of his 1834 visit to an Indian mission.  An Episcopal bishop's diary of his 1834 visit to an Indian mission.
Link to places: Stonefield, home of Gov. Nelson Dewey and the State Agricultural Museum  Stonefield, home of Gov. Nelson Dewey and the State Agricultural Museum
Link to places: The University of Wisconsin's first building, North Hall  The University of Wisconsin's first building, North Hall
Link to places: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin  The State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Link to places: The University of Wisconsin's Red Gym  The University of Wisconsin's Red Gym
Link to places: The first kindergarten in the United States  The first kindergarten in the United States
Link to places: Frederick Pabst helps to build a theater in Milwaukee  Frederick Pabst helps to build a theater in Milwaukee
Link to places: Lumber riches fund a Menomonie theater  Lumber riches fund a Menomonie theater

Primary Sources Available Elsewhere

Link to book: Wisconsin Gazetteer from 1853  Wisconsin Gazetteer from 1853
Link to book: A history of women's education at the University of Wisconsin  A history of women's education at the University of Wisconsin
Link to book: An Italian missionary recounts his work in the upper Great Lakes  An Italian missionary recounts his work in the upper Great Lakes
Link to book: Collected historical documents from the Wisconsin Historical Society  Collected historical documents from the Wisconsin Historical Society
Link to book: A historical, documentary, and descriptive history of Wisconsin to 1854  A historical, documentary, and descriptive history of Wisconsin to 1854
Link to book: Wisconsin Blue Books  Wisconsin Blue Books
Link to book: A history of UW- La Crosse  A history of UW- La Crosse
Link to book: Rev. W.G. Miller describes missionary work in the Fox Valley, 1845-75.  Rev. W.G. Miller describes missionary work in the Fox Valley, 1845-75.
Link to book: Memoirs of an influential Kenosha schoolteacher  Memoirs of an influential Kenosha schoolteacher
Link to collections: Biographical sketches and writings of some Wisconsin pioneer women  Biographical sketches and writings of some Wisconsin pioneer women
Link to collections: A timeline and history of Beloit College  A timeline and history of Beloit College
Link to collections: Documents and images of Milwaukee schoolchildren, 1887-present  Documents and images of Milwaukee schoolchildren, 1887-present
Link to collections: The history and development of Lawrence University  The history and development of Lawrence University
Link to collections: Documents relating to child welfare organizations  Documents relating to child welfare organizations
Link to images: Theater posters from a Madison opera house, 1890s  Theater posters from a Madison opera house, 1890s
Link to images: An 1861 guide to the University of Wisconsin  An 1861 guide to the University of Wisconsin
Link to images: Images of schools and libraries in central Wisconsin  Images of schools and libraries in central Wisconsin
Link to manuscript: Broadside describing the organization of the University of Wisconsin, 1868  Broadside describing the organization of the University of Wisconsin, 1868

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