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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 66, Number 2 (Nov. 1964)

Burke, Jack
The story behind a tradition,   pp. 10-11

Page 11

workers. Conservative politicians became enraged and
attacked Ely in the Nation and the New York Post,
among other publications.
  One of the most relentless attackers was Oliver E.
Wells, a former Appleton, Wis., school teacher who,
as state superintendent of public instruction, served as a
member of the University Regents. He charged the
economics professor with writing "malicious" socialist
books, with lecturing widely on socialism, with teach-
ing alien and revolutionary doctrines, with threatening
to cancel a UW printing order unless a firm signed a
union contract, and with entertaining union organizers.
  In an eloquent statement, Prof. Ely denied the
charges "in each and every particular." And University
Richard T. Ely
Pres. Charles Kendall Adams stepped forth to explain
in detail the vital difference between discussing some-
thing like socialism-and advocating it.
  Prominent educators -and citizens in all parts of the
country sent letters to be read in Ely's defense. De-
clared E. B. Andrews, president of Brown University:
"For your noble university to depose him would be a
great blow at freedom of university teaching in gen-
eral and the development of political economy in par-
  Albion W. Small, head of the University of Chicago
social science department, noted:   "In my judgment
no man in the United States has done so much as he
(Ely) to bring economic thought down out of the
clouds and into contact with actual human concerns.
Nothing could be more grotesque than to accuse him
of encouraging a spirit of lawlessness and violence."
  The Regents cleared Ely with a unanimous ballot.
The result was the report, written by Pres. Adams,
which concludes with the statement appearing on the
bronze tablet: " . . . whatever may be the limitations
which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the
great state University of Wisconsin should ever en-
courage that continual and fearless sifting and win-
nowing by which alone the truth can be found."
  Sixteen years later, the declaration still was only a
November 1964
sentence in an almost forgotten document. But in 1910,
E. A. Ross, professor of sociology and anthropology,
came under heavy fire for befriending Emma Gold-
man, a notorious anarchist who appeared on the cam-
pus to address a student organization.
  The Regents, now mainly conservatives, censured
Ross. But Pres. Charles Van Hise sided with the pro-
fessor, and warned the Regents that the faculty would
support Ross if they tried to fire him.
  Amid this storm and turmoil, the Class of 1910 met
to discuss a memorial for the school. Lincoln Steffens,
known as the "muckraking journalist," happened to be
on campus, and proposed the "sifting and winnowing"
plaque. The class promptly adopted the suggestion, and
a Madison brass foundry cast the message in bronze for
  Angry, the Regents refused to accept it. They con-
cluded, and correctly, that they and their conservatism
were being ridiculed. As a result, the plaque languished
in a University basement room for five years. At a re-
union in the spring of 1915, the Class of 1910 renewed
its plea that the plaque be mounted on Bascom Hall.
   By this time Regents' political complexion had
changed once more, and the plaque was given their
blessing. It was hung. Except for a month in 1956, when
it was stolen, it has been up ever since.
  Ely taught at Wisconsin for 33 years, and became
known everywhere as "the father of urban land econom-
ics." In 1925 he left Madison to become research pro-
fessor of economics at Northwestern University. Here,
at the age of 76, he married one of his graduate stu-
dents, Margaret Hahn. (His first wife, Anna Anderson,
had died some years earlier, leaving him four children).
At 79, he became the father of a son, and a year later,
of a daughter.
  At 84, he wrote a lucid, humble autobiography. In
it he expressed pride in the "sifting and winnowing"
declaration which, he wrote,"has become part of the
Wisconsin Magna Carta."
  Earlier this year University Regents rededicated
themselves and their efforts to the ideals expressed on
the plaque, with a declaration which stated in part:
  " . . . in serving a free society, the scholar must him-
self be free. Only thus can he seek the truth, develop
wisdom, and contribute to society those expressions of
the intellect that ennoble mankind.
  "The security of the scholar protects him not only
against those who would enslave the mind, but also
against anxieties which divert him from his role as
scholar and teacher.
  "The concept of intellectual freedom is based upon
confidence in man's capacity for growth in compre-
hending the universe and on faith in unshackled in-
telligence. The University is not partisan to any party
or ideology, but it is devoted to the discovery of truth
and to understanding the world in which we live.
  "The Regents take this opportunity to rededicate
themselves to maintaining in this University those con-
ditions which are indispensable for the flowering of the
human mind."

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