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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 62, Number 15 (July 1961)

The first fifty years,   p. 13


Page 13


The First Fifty
",THE WISCONSIN ALUMNI
     Association was organized on the
evening of Commencement Day, June
26, 1861," according to the Associa-
tion's first minutes. It was a difficult
time for the University and for the
Union-the United States had been split
asunder by the outbreak of the Civil
War, and the University was in finan-
cial and administrative difficulty. Still, as
historian J. F. A. Pyre described it, "A
little band of University graduates"
gathered on that evening in 1861 for
the purpose of "keeping alive, amidst
other excitements, the spirit of loyalty to
their tottering Alma Mater."
  Officers elected at that first meeting
were: Charles T. Wakeley, one of the
University's first two graduates, presi-
dent; J. F. Smith, vice president; J. M.
Flower, corresponding secretary; Wil-
liam F. Vilas, recording secretary; T. D.
Coryell, treasurer; and Sidney Foote,
S. W. Botkin, and Henry Vilas, mem-
bers of the executive committee.
  At this initial meeting, "It was voted
that the Association should be annually
addressed by an orator and poet in con-
nection with the commencement exer-
cises of the University." The first alumni
dinner was held the following year
(June 25, 1862) at the Capitol House
in Madison. Both faculty and members
of the Board of Regents were among the
invited guests.
  Due to the scantiness of the records,
little is known about the activities of the
Association during its first few years of
development; but the orations and the
poetry seemed to be the strongest attrac-
tion drawing the alumni together at
Commencement time.
  In 1873 the Association voted to help
celebrate the 25th anniversary of the
opening of the University. The next
year, when women ceased to graduate
separately, the Association held its first
public reception "in which all friends of
co-education were invited."
  The first constitution of the Associa-
tion was adopted in 1879. Its chief man-
date was that the Association should
Wisconsin Alumnus, July, 1961
These men represent the entire Class of 1861 which graduated the year the
Wisconsin
Alumni Association was founded. The class included: Farlin Q. Ball, James
Britton, Jr.,
William W. Church, Almerin Gillet, Shedrack A. Hall, Michael A. Leahy, John
D. Park-
inson, William E. Spencer, and Henry Vilas.
"promote by organized effort the best
interests of the University."
  While the literary tradition of the
alumni meetings was popular for a
while, the times began to change. It
soon became obvious that the presence
of a poet and an orator would go the
way of theDodo.
  But the general alumni spirit was far
from flagging. In 1891, the University
had nearly 3,500 graduates and the re-
union activities at Commencement time
were becoming increasingly popular.
  And the University was growing. As
Charles W. Morris, secretary of the
Wisconsin Alumni Association, writing
at the time, noted, "the University is in
a very prosperous condition. There are
nearly eleven hundred students now in
attendance, the faculty is being con-
stantly strengthened and enlarged, the
new buildings which are in course of
erection are well under way . . . and the
increased facilities for college work will
be much increased by these additions."
  As the University and the Association
turned the corner into the twentieth
century, a new spirit was beginning to
form at Wisconsin. The Association had
begun the regular publication of the
Wisconsin Alumni Magazine in the fall
of 1899. The Magazine was to provide
alumni a closer contact with their Uni-
versity in the years to come. Also, just
after the turn of the century, the Asso-
ciation and the alumni were an impor-
tant f-actor-in--the--s tion-of-Charles--
R. Van Hise as president of the Univer-
sity. Van Hise, who was the first Wis-
consin alumnus to be chosen to the post,
was to lead the University into a new
era under the banner of the "Wiscon-
sin Idea."
  Inspired by the progressive thinking
of Van Hise, and realizing their grow-
ing responsibility toward shaping the
destinies of their University, Wisconsin
alumni, through their Alumni Associa-
tion, began to move forward with a
program that has been of significant
importance to the University in the in-
tervening years.
  On the following pages, we present
some of the big stories of the Associa-
tion's second fifty years. These develop-
ments illustrate how   the Wisconsin
Alumni Association has been instrumen-
tal in implementing its credo of service
to the University.
                                   13
Years


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