About the History of Women at the University of Wisconsin


Several books on the history of women at the University of Wisconsin have been digitized by the UW-Libraries and collected in a History of Women at the University of Wisconsin Collection, which is itself a sub-collection of a University of Wisconsin Collection. The History of Women books include: Other material online:
  • The Dean of Women, by Lois Kimball Mathews Rosenberry, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1915. She was Dean of Women at the University of Wisconsin and though the book is more general, many of her examples come from Wisconsin (search the text for "Wisconsin.") The book has been digitized by Google and is accessible through the Hathi Trust library repository. Appendix A is the constitution of the Self-Government Association of the Women Studies of the University of Wisconsin.

  • The Status of Professional Women at the University of Wisconsin: Proposals for Change. Brochure prepared in 1971 by the Association of Faculty Women "to present facts about the status of professional women at the university, and recommendations for improving it." ERIC #ED075004, digitized from microfiche version at the Educational Resources Information Center.

  • Wisconsin, by J. F. A. Pyre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1920, is a history of the University of Wisconsin. It has been digitized by Google and is accessible through the Hathi Trust library repository. Searching within it for "women," "female," and "females" results in several hits.
Other Books and Theses:
  • Andersen House, 1928-1964: a brief history, compiled by Maxine Brandt House. Madison, WI: 2008. (on women's housing).

  • "Give us a little time to find our places": University of Wisconsin alumnae, classes of 1875-1900, by Amy Hague. M.A. Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1983.

  • Continuing Education of Women: a Descriptive Study of Women Students Over Twenty-Five Years of Age at the University of Wisconsin, by Shirley Peterson Wright. M.S. Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1965.

  • History of Physical Education for Women at the University of Wisconsin, 1889-1913 (Madison: University of Wisconsin, no date) and History of Physical Education for Women at the University of Wisconsin, 1898-1946(Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1951), are both by Blanche Mathilde Trilling. See also The Role of Blanche M. Trilling in the Development of the Women’s Sports Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1912-1946, by Jean W. Blanchard. M.A. Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1986.

  • Report on the E.B. Fred Fellowship for Mature Women, 1963-1968: A Program in Continuing Education, by Marian L. Thompson and Lawrence Sager. Madison: University Extension, University of Wisconsin, 1970.


The Wisconsin Alumni Magazine (1899-1936), called Wisconsin Alumnus, 1936-1990, and On Wisconsin, 1991-present) is a good source of articles about professors, departments, etc. It has been digitized through 1990 by the UW Libraries as part of a "University of Wisconsin Collection." Search the issues by keyword by selecting "Wisconsin Alumni Magazine" from the drop-down menu on the search page. It is also possible to browse by issue by selecting "browse" from the Wisconsin Alumni Magazine page. Issues of On Wisconsin since 1999 are archived on the UW Alumni site. Here are some examples of articles in the alumni magazine (click on an article from the table of content for the issue in which it appeared):
  • "Women in the University of Wisconsin," by Emma O. Lundberg, v. 9, no. 7 (1908): 263-269, gives some statistics on women/men enrolled in the College of Letters and Science (where women outnumbered men 154 to 105 in 1907)
  • "The Women of State University," by William J. Anderson. Wisconsin Alumni Magazine v.11, no. 2 (Nov. 1909): 53-55. (Anderson reviews a book by that title, which was based on the University of Wisconsin, by Helen R. Olin.)
  • "Marriage of College Women," by Helen R. Olin. Wisconsin Alumni Magazine v. 11, 2 (Nov. 1909): 56-57. (A letter to the editor)
  • "When Women Were First Admitted," by Annie Taylor Noyes. Wisconsin Alumni Magazine v. 30, 2 (Nov. 1928): 45-46. Recollections of a member of the class of 1865.
  • "Wisconsin Women," by Jeanne D. Lamoreaux, v. 45, no. 8 (1944): 4-7
  • "WSGA Marks 50th Anniversary" in ""The University As We See It" column, v. 49, no. 5 (Feb., 1948): 20-21 (on the Women's Self-Government Association) [For a fuller look at women in student government, see "Women and Student Government," by Buff Wright, in Wisconsin Women, Graduate School and the Professions, V. II of University Women: A Series of Essays (Madison: University of Wisconsin System, 1980): 109-119.]
  • "New Hours for Coeds: An Example of the Change in Student Affairs," v. 65, no. 5 (1964): 12-13
  • "Mother is Back in College," by Jean Clausen, v. 66, no. 10 (1965): 8-11.
  • "They Drive By Night," by Mary Decker Kilgore, v. 82, no. 4 (1981): 5-6 (on Women's Transit Authority)
  • "The Women's Studies Program," by Barbara J. Wolff, v. 83, no. 2 (1982): 18-19
  • "Nelly McKay's Mission," by Jeff Iseminger, v. 91, no. 1 (1989): 13-14
  • The column "Wisconsin Women" appeared in many issues throughout the 1950s, mostly written by Grace Chatterton. On the search page, select title search from the first drop-down menu and put in "Wisconsin Women;" select Wisconsin Alumni Magazine from the second drop-down menu, click on "search."
  • Issues of On Wisconsin since 1999 are archived on the UW Alumni site. Check the Library Catalog to find print issues of On Wisconsin from 1991-8 and print versions of the alumni publication under its earlier names. Examples of articles on women in On Wisconsin: "Uneven Lies," by John Allen in the Summer 2003 issue is on Title IX and women athletes, golfers in particular. "Badger Beauties," by Candice Gaukel Andrews in the Fall, 2003, issue describes the beauty contest held on campus from 1931-1969. "Dancing With Her Mind," by Michael Penn in the Summer 2005 issue is about dancer Li Chiao-Ping. "Reflecting on Joyce Carol Oates: Fellow Alumna and Friend," by Joanne Vanish Creighton in the Summer 2009 issue discusses Oates' time here as an MA student in 1960-61. It also includes an excerpt from Oates' Nighthawk: A Memoir of Lost Time.
The Wisconsin (Badger) Yearbooks are also digitized from 1885-to the present. From 1922-1933 there were separate sections in the Badger entitled "Wisconsin Women" covering women's organizations on campus. To retrieve those sections, search for the title "Wisconsin Women" within the specific title Wisconsin Badger.

  • Local Newspapers: There are likely to be articles on women's studies and women at the University in the Daily Cardinal, Badger Herald, Wisconsin Week, and Madison newspapers The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal. Try their websites for current and recently archived articles.
    For somewhat older articles, use Lexis-Nexis database. Once in Lexis-Nexis, select Power Search and enter your searches following this pattern:
    (publication (Badger Herald) OR publication (Daily Cardinal)) and whateveyouaresearchingfor. Source: All news . [Selected articles are available back to around 1997.]
    (publication (Wisconsin State Journal) OR publication (Capital Times)) and whateveryouraresearchingfor. Source: All news. [Articles back to 1992]
    There is also an online index back to 1960 to the Wisconsin State Journal and other state newspapers available through the South Central Wisconsin Library System. Within Linkcat, click on "newspapers" and then put your search term in the box for "Wis. State Journal Key Words." Selected articles from the Wisconsin State Journal are (through 1977) in NewspaperArchive.com. For Wisconsin State Journal articles from 1978-1991, or for those from other years not in the Newspaper Archive, use the Microfilm version in the Wisconsin Historical Society Library.

  • On the Wisconsin Week website, click on "archives" (menu on left), which goes back to Fall 1998. For earlier (print) issues, see the Library Catalog.

  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is good at covering women's studies events and other topics related to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and UW-System. For articles from the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel, as well as its current combined name, use Google News Archive Advanced Search and put in the source "Milwaukee" and whatever search terms you wish to use.

The Wisconsin Academy Review, (online 1954-2000), now called Wisconsin People & Ideas, and the Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, 1870/72-present (online 1878-2001) are parts of the "State of Wisconsin Collection" digitized by the University of Wisconsin Libraries. They occasionally have articles about women professors and their work. Select these periodicals from the search page and do keyword searches for people, etc. Check the Library Catalgo for locations of the print volumes.

Women's Sports history is celebrated in the history section of the Athletics Department website. Click on "30th Anniversary of Women's Sports," the anniversary video, and links to individual women's sports, by sport. See also "Women's Athletics at Madison and Title IX," by Kit Saunders, in Women Emerge in the Seventies (volume III of University Women), edited by Marian J. Swoboda and Audrey J. Roberts (Madison: UW System, 1980): 81-92; and for discussion of various protests about unequal facilities for women athletes, see pp. 71-72 of Transforming Women's Education: The History of Women's Studies in the University of Wisconsin System (Madison: UW System, 1999) and the footnotes to that discussion.

The Wisconsin Magazine of History, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society, occasionally publishes articles relevant to the history of the University, such as "The University in 1874-1887," by Florence Bascom, WMH 8, no. 3 (March 1925): 300-308, which discusses the status of women on campus during those years.

Digital Projects/Exhibits/Streaming Videos

Women's Athletics at UW-Madison -- history and exhibit from the UW Archives.

The Board of Regents meeting minutes from 1921-1991 have all been digitized as part of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections and can be searched (ex: "women's studies program").

Women and Science: Issues and Resources video was made in 1984 by Julie D'Acci and others. It includes interviews with several UW-Madison professors: Judith Leavitt, Mariamne Whatley, Nancy Worcester, and Ruth Bleier. Neuroscientist Bleier is shown teaching a feminist science unit. In addition, Women's Studies Librarian Susan E. Searing discusses library resources.

The UW School for Workers began in 1925 as the Summer School for Working Girls. Watch part one and part two of "The Birth of School for Workers" video.

Bread Upon the Waters slide show on women philanthropists in the history of the University of Wisconsin was created by Betty Ferris of UW Libraries Communications in 2001 for the University of Wisconsin Foundation's 6th Biennial Forum on Women and Philanthropy. Further information about the project is also available.

The challenge of constantly changing times: from home economics to human ecology at the University of Wisconsin--Madison 1903-2003, by Rima Apple, is part of the Home Economics to Human Ecology: A Centennial History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison digital collection, which includes numerous biographies of faculty (mostly women) who taught in the School of Home Economics, along with photographs and information on student experiences in the School.

University Housing named a renovated building for Vel Phillips: news story and background on Vel Phillips and the illustrious other women associated with UW-Madison for whom floors or other areas of the building are named: Kathryn "Kay" Clarenbach, Gerda Lerner, Nellie McKay, Ruth Bleier, and Belle Case La Follette.

Helen Constance White website describes the English professor who is honored on campus by having a building named for her.

For additional digitized material from the UW-Archives, including sample photographs from various activities on campus, visit the digital University of Wisconsin Collection. Click on "Search the Collection," then type "women" in the subject headings box, or do click on "Search" and then "Browse subject headings" for the term "women" in a sub-collection of UW Archive Images.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has mounted numerous digital collections. Some have relevance for the history of women at the University, including selected photographs of women at the University in the Society's Wisconsin Historical Images Collection. The photographs highlight classes, organizations, sororities, sports, and other student activities. There may be something about an individual woman in the Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles collection, which originated as scrapbooks of clippings from Wisconsin newspapers from approximately 1860-1940. Many of the clippings are obituaries, such as that for Anna Moody Flack (1830-1909), identified as the first woman teacher at the University.

WISELI (Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute) made a set of 3 videos: Part 1: History and Beginnings of WISELI: Advancing Institutional Transformation; Phase 2: Highlighted WISELI Programs: Building a Legacy and Phase 3: Summary of the First Five Years, and the Future of WISELI: Forward with Institution Transformation. They may be viewed through the WISELI website.

Since new material is being added all the time, be sure to try The University of Wisconsin Collection , its sub-collection on The History of Women at the University of Wisconsin and the State of Wisconsin Collection.


Wisconsin Women's History bibliography, maintained by the UW System Women's Studies Librarian, includes citations to material on several University faculty women, including Kathryn Clarenbach, Elizabeth Fennema, Zona Gale, Gerda Lerner, Dorothy Reed Mendenhall, and Helen C. White, as well as several people who attended the university as students.

Archives and Oral Histories

The University Archives is located on the 4th floor of Steenbock Library. It has biographical clippings' files, oral history interviews (some with transcripts), records of departments and organizations, and personal papers of some faculty and staff women.

A list of biographical files is online. The amount of material in the biographical files varies widely, from a single piece of paper to a folder full.

The oral histories are all catalogued in the Library Catalog. Check the Library Catalog for the person you are interested in, or use the Archives' Oral History Interviews page, which includes an alphabetical list of interviewees and procedures for using the tapes. A few of the audio interviews have been digitized by the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection, including those with Kathryn Clarenbach (educator and leader of the women's movement) and Cora Lee Kluge (Professor of German). To see an up-to-date list of which interviews have been digitized, browse the UW Campus Voices Collection. One sub-collection is Women in Science and Engineering. There also interviews with women and men concerning the TAA Strike of 1970.

Among the records for relevant campus units are The Dean of Women Records, 1920-1968. Library Catalog Record . See also references to "Wisconsin" in The Dean of Women, by Lois Kimball Mathews Rosenberry, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1915. She was Dean of Women at the University of Wisconsin and though the book is more general, many of her examples come from Wisconsin. The book has been digitized by Google and is accessible through the Hathi Trust library repository. Appendix A is the constitution of the Self-Government Association of the Women Studies of the University of Wisconsin.

The Madison LGBT Community, 1960s-Present Oral History Project also has several items on the site and accessible through searching Minds@UW, as explained on the site.

Catalog records for collections of personal papers are also in Madcat (ex: Madeleine Doran; Nellie K. McKay.)

The Wisconsin Historical Society Library-Archives also has material on some UW-affiliated people, particularly when their activities went beyond the University into local, state, or national affairs. The WHS Archives has its own catalog, Arcat. See also the Society's digital collections.

Since new material is being added all the time, be sure to try The University of Wisconsin Collection , its sub-collection on The History of Women at the University of Wisconsin and the State of Wisconsin Collection.


Relevant Archival Collections Not at UW-Madison:

The papers of Professor Gerda Lerner, who founded the women's history graduate program at UW-Madison, are in the Schlesinger Library, Harvard Unviersity. Finding Aid.

The papers of Professor Elaine Marks, who taught French literature and Women's Studies at UW-Madison, are in the Feminist Theory Archives, Pembroke Center, Brown University. Finding Aid. Online Exhibit.

There are letters to/from Professor Nellie McKay (Afro-American Studies, English, and Women's Studies) 1977-2005 in the papers of Nell Irvin Painter, at Duke University. Inventory. They are closed until forty years from the original date of creation of each item.

Women Members of the Board of Regents

From the founding of the University of Wisconsin, through the creation of the University of Wisconsin System in 1971, fourteen women served as members of the Board of Regents. As listed and described in footnote 53, pp. 28-29 of Transforming Women's Education, mentioned above, they were: Miss Almah Frisby (served 1901-6), Milwaukee, physician and professor of hygiene and sanitary science; Florence Buckstaff (1907-23), who received her B.A.(1886) and M.A. from the University, with a thesis on "Married Women's Property Rights in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman Law," Mrs. E. Ray Stevens (Kate L. Sabin Stevens) (1906-7), Madison, Dane County Superintendent of Schools; Miss Elizabeth Waters (1911-15, 1921-33), Fond du Lac, teacher and principal -- in 38 years of teaching, she never missed a day due to sickness; Miss Frances Perkins (1915-21), Fond du Lac, teacher, social worker, and American Association of University Women activist; Miss Leola Hirschman (1922-28), Milwaukee, long-time secretary to Milwaukee lawyer and author William B. Rubin, affiliated with many clubs, including the National Council of Jewish Women; Miss Zona Gale (1923-29), Portage, Pulitzer-prize-winning author, Progressive Party activist, chair of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, donator of scholarships in her name; Mrs. Clara T. Runge (1926-38), Baraboo, active in organizations, treasurer of the Wisconsin Foundation of Women's Clubs (1918), member of the Board of Regents of the Normal Schools (teachers' colleges) before appointment to the University Board of Regents; Mrs. Meta Berger (1928-34), Milwaukee, 19-year member of the Milwaukee School Board, member of the Board of Regents of the Normal Schools, wife of Socialist Victor Berger; Mrs. Jesse C. Combs (1933-39), Oshkosh, librarian, member of the Twentieth Century Club and Oshkosh Community Chest Board of Directors; Mrs. John Campbell (Mary) (1938-39), Dodgeville, nurse, Progressive Party activist, including State Chair of its Women's Division (1936); Mrs. Barbara Vergeront (1939-43), Viroqua, teacher, operated a farm with her husband, leader in Republican women's groups, member of the Statewide Committee on the Centenary of the University (1948); Helen C. Laird (1951-59), Marshfield, secretary of the family business, served on many community boards, delegate to the 1950 Republican convention, mother of Congressman and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, Jr.; Caroline T. Sandin (1968-71), Ashland, teacher, active in Ashland League of Women Voters, president of Tri-County Medical Society Auxiliary. This information uses the form of name provided in The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin During the Years 1849-1971, a looseleaf collection of brief biographies available in the University of Wisconsin Archives. The minutes of meetings of the Board of Regents from 1921-1991 have all been digitized as part of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections and can be searched by name or keyword/topic.