Today is the 150th anniversary of the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter, the opening action of the American Civil War. Like other academic institutions during these years, Lawrence was greatly affected by four years of the most brutal war that the country had yet seen. William F. Raney notes in his The History of Lawrence University, 1847-1925: “About 81,000 men from Wisconsin served in the armies of the Union at one time or another. To this number Lawrence made its contribution, both in those who left college and in those who, because of the war, never got there at all.” (82) Every graduating class from 1858 to 1870 included students who served. The war also had tremendous effects beyond the front lines. Main Hall served as a meeting place for the wider Appleton community during these years, where patriotic speeches were delivered and women met to coordinate aid for families of soldiers. Though classes continued at Lawrence throughout the war, the college struggled with plunging enrollment and other problems that lingered years beyond the end of the war.
To commemorate this extended sesquicentennial, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the stories of Lawrence students and faculty from 1861 to 1865. This is the inaugural blog post of what will be a series of posts exploring this part of Lawrence history. If you have any particular aspects of this history that you are interested in hearing more about, let us know in the comments.