Milwaukee-Downer College

Category: Milwaukee-Downer College

Milwaukee-Downer College artifacts

MDC-OBJ-040This post comes from Kasie Janssen ’12, intrepid Archives volunteer:

After hours of assigning call numbers, cataloging, photographing, and re-housing, the collection of Milwaukee-Downer College artifacts have been processed.  You may have seen several of these artifacts on display in the Milwaukee-Downer room of the library, but the remainder being stored in the Archives is extensive and diverse.  The items span the school’s history, starting in 1895 to the consolidation with Lawrence in 1964: class jackets, beanies (which may one day make a come-back as a fashion staple around campus), a Hat Hunt toothbrush, and the yellow class’s “Foink” to name a few.

The completion of this project not only enhances the organization and use of space in the archives, but the accessibility will grow exponentially.  The artifact descriptions and images are now available to be viewed and researched in our online collections database, allowing students and alumni access to these pieces.

Milwaukee-Downer College collections fully processed

Milwaukee-Downer College aisle, LU Archives
Milwaukee-Downer College aisle, LU Archives

We’ve been working hard on our Milwaukee-Downer College records and manuscript collections in the Archives since last spring. As of this week, all of these collections have been fully processed! What does this mean? Close to a full aisle of material (almost 200 boxes, plus 300 bound volumes) documenting the administration, operations, faculty, curriculum, student life, and alumnae of Milwaukee-Downer College, a leading Midwestern women’s college from 1895 to 1964 and a proud part of Lawrence University’s heritage. Archives staff and students have arranged and re-housed the collections and written collection guides to enhance access:

Milwaukee-Downer College Records, 1848-2008 – the largest subset of the collections, containing records that were transferred to Lawrence with the consolidation in 1964 as well as records documenting alumnae activities since the consolidation

Milwaukee-Downer College People Files, 1850-1964 – files documenting people associated with Milwaukee-Downer College

Milwaukee-Downer College Subject Files, 1886-1964 – files documenting subjects associated with Milwaukee-Downer College, including athletics, campus buildings, and student activities

Milwaukee-Downer College Manuscripts – all of the collections of personal papers or scrapbooks that have been donated to the Archives by alumnae and others since the consolidation

All of these materials are open for research (except where noted otherwise in the guides). To spend some quality time with them, stop in during our open hours (M-F, 1-5pm). We’re thrilled to have such a large and rich body of materials accessible for anyone who wants to learn more about Milwaukee-Downer.

But we’re not resting on our laurels: a guide to the Milwaukee-Downer College artifacts is underway, and a digital collection of the student newspaper from 1945 to 1964 will be available in the next few months.


50 years ago: News of the consolidation

ARC2013-181On Tuesday morning, October 22, 1963, Milwaukee-Downer College students, faculty, and staff gathered for a special convocation. The chairman of the Board of Trustees, Charles Stone, delivered a brief address. He announced: “The Trustees of Milwaukee-Downer College and of Lawrence College have agreed to join together in the establishment of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.” The Downer campus was to be sold to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Students were shocked and many were in tears. Even the faculty had not been informed ahead of time. Reporters and photographers from The Milwaukee Journal were on hand, and they printed photos of Downer students receiving the news on the front page of the paper.

Consolidation_headlinesMeanwhile, Lawrence president Curtis Tarr (who had been formally installed only five days earlier) had gathered the faculty in Harper Hall to announce the consolidation. He told Lawrence students shortly thereafter. The press release was sent out to the papers and radio stations at the same time as the meetings, and the news dominated the headlines in both Milwaukee and Appleton.

This announcement was the first step in the consolidation process that was carried out in less than a year. For many, especially Downer students, faculty, and staff, it was a traumatic beginning.

But this year, we will commemorate and celebrate fifty years of “strength through union,” as a contemporary publication put it. The joining of Lawrence College and Milwaukee-Downer College created Lawrence University, and this shared history is reflected in our campus, our traditions, our alumni, and our mission today.

For more information about Milwaukee-Downer College and the consolidation with Lawrence, explore Milwaukee-Downer  written and oral histories or visit the Archives.

Collection preview: Milwaukee-Downer College Records

When Lawrence consolidated with Milwaukee-Downer College in 1964, a subset of the College records came to Lawrence. The University lacked a designated Archives at the time, so the administration opted to transfer only those records that were necessary for ensuring a smooth transition. The Board of Trustees of Milwaukee-Downer College donated the remainder of the College records to the Wisconsin Historical Society. This collection, 53 cubic feet of materials, is housed and available for research at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives.

The records from Milwaukee-Downer that were transferred to Lawrence eventually made their way to the Archives. Over time, these records have been supplemented by many generous donations of scrapbooks, papers, photographs, and memorabilia from Milwaukee-Downer alumnae. The collections as a whole represent an essential corollary to the records held by the Wisconsin Historical Society. They richly document the history of a pioneering women’s college in the Midwest, its operations, its traditions, and the life of its faculty, staff, students, and alumnae.

Here in the Archives, we have recently started processing our Milwaukee-Downer College collections, physically organizing and cataloging their contents to enhance their accessibility. We hope and are on track to complete the project within a year. So far, we’ve inventoried a full run of Board of Trustees minutes, 1895 to 1964; annual reports of the Presidents, Deans, and Registrar; and an extensive series of bulletins. From the latter, here’s a sneak peek – a bulletin on “A Student’s Eye View” at Milwaukee-Downer from February, 1961.

Materials from these collections, even the unprocessed portions, are still available for use. But the collection will be much more accessible once processing is completed. Stay tuned for updates!

Collection Feature: Department of Occupational Therapy at Milwaukee-Downer College

Carolyn Westgaard (MDC '60) helps Arthur Stewart sew leather with burnt arms, 1960

News report: A part of history saved for the ages! Although much of Milwaukee-Downer’s history is scattered, we have a great collection here at the Archives. It documents the organization at M-D C. of one of the first Occupational Therapy programs in the country. Much of the collection is comprised of photos, which advertise the achievements and daily tasks of M-D occupational therapy graduates around the world. Some of the more interesting photos reveal the work of therapists in Ireland during the war; there might have been a shortage of everything else besides occupational therapists and their crafts! Crafts, such as weaving, metal work, puppetry, etc., were the main activities which a therapist would have learned and taught. These crafts were meant to help a patient in recovery by entertaining him and exercising his muscles. The scope of patients for a therapist varied from sick children to wounded soldiers. Occupational therapy, which was a field dominated by women, became so popular at M-D C. that even Roosevelt commented on the school’s success at training therapists. And by 1944, the O.T. program had earned a contract with the War Department of the U.S. government! Although few know of the extensive work of occupational therapists, this collection shows just how prominent a role M-D C. played in national and international events from 1919 to 1963.

Note: This post was written by Archives intern, Laura Scholten ’13, who processed the MDC Department of Occupational Therapy Records this term. View the finding aid for more information or check out Laura’s display on the first floor of the library!

Collection feature: Emily Frances Brown Papers

The cover of Ms. Brown’s copy of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” copyright 1909

Did you know that the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was supposedly brought to the United States by a Milwaukee-Downer College professor? Popular opinion holds that you can thank (or blame) Emily Frances Brown for the ubiquity of this song during this time of year. Marguerite Schumann wrote colorfully about this attribution in a 1964 Post-Crescent article.

Ms. Brown was a professor of English at Milwaukee-Downer from 1900 to 1945. She is most often remembered for her coordination of Christmas and May Day pageants, as well as other plays. A remembrance published in the October 1958 issue of Hawthorn Leaves describes:

“A sense of the dramatic was always evident, even in Miss Brown’s announcement of the cast for her play. She would walk down the long aisle of the college chapel on the first fall day which carried a trace of snow in the air. Under her arm she carried a large book with two wide red ribbons hanging from its pages. Suspense would mount as she opened the volume to the current entry, and slowly divulged which of the three plays was to be produced. Then she would gradually reveal the cast, saving her major roles for the final announcement, which always met with a burst of applause.”

We recently processed a collection of Emily Frances Brown’s papers; you can view the finding aid for a full description of its contents. Among other things, the collection includes the sheet music for “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which Ms. Brown brought from Oxford, England to Milwaukee in 1910.

Post updated 2018 to correct Brown’s dates of tenure at MDC.

LU Archives FAQs

In our continuing recognition of American Archives Month, this week we’re talking about the kinds of questions that resources in the LU Archives are used to answer. We receive about 30 to 40 reference requests each month – through phone, email, and in-person visits from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the general public. There are certain questions that come up pretty often:

1. What can you tell me about my family member/ancestor who went to Lawrence?

This is the most frequently asked question around here. Family history researchers often contact the Archives looking for years of attendance, photos, and other biographical information pertaining to their ancestors. If the person in question attended in the 1800s, usually our only source of information is the course catalog, which listed all students in attendance annually from the first year of classes in 1849 through 1964. After the turn of the century, we can use yearbooks to find photographs and sometimes information about a student’s studies and extracurricular activities. We have similar resources for Milwaukee-Downer.

2. What can you tell me about this other Lawrence-or-Milwaukee-Downer-related person?

For faculty or staff members (and some alumni) at Lawrence, our first place to look for information is our vertical file. This file has folders containing biographical information, newspaper clippings, and photographs for over 3,400 individuals! You can view and search this very long list here. The Milwaukee-Downer vertical people file is available here.

3. Where is The Rock?

For those of you unfamiliar with this bit of Lawrence history, there is more information here and here. Alas, the current whereabouts of the Rock are unknown. Since it has been buried and unearthed years later once before, it’s possible that another class has undertaken this stunt.

4. Was Main Hall a stop on the Underground Railroad?

Unfortunately, we have no documentary evidence suggesting that Main Hall was ever part of the Underground Railroad, and there have been too many renovations for physical evidence to remain. Abolitionist sentiment was pervasive on campus, due in part to the college’s Methodist affiliation and the political leanings of its founders. Amos Lawrence was strongly in favor of abolition and was close friends with John Brown. He sent supplies and weapons  by boat through Appleton to Lawrence, Kansas. During the war, Main Hall served as an important meeting place for rallies and aid coordination for families of soldiers. But as for the Underground Railroad, we’ll have to label this a myth.

5. Anything and everything trivia-related, come January.

We have an ever-growing collection of materials related to the Annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest, dating back to its start in 1966. This includes the original, scribbled and scrawled copies of every single question compiled going back to the mid-1990s.

Are there other things related to Lawrence or Milwaukee-Downer history that you’re wondering about? You can visit the Archives in person any weekday afternoon, 1-5pm, or call or email anytime!