in Wisconsin History
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)]