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The History Collection

Nolen, John, 1869-1937 / Madison : a model city (1911)


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[note 3]

"In a similar way, the civic functions of the theatre could be safeguarded by instituting state theatres, organized on the basis of the state universities.

"For this an excellent precedent is the University of Wisconsin. Its history also proves the practical wisdom of plain American people in voting to safeguard their civic ideals by public endowment.

"In 1848, the land grants of the United States for the support of Wisconsin University were made a perpetual fund for its support. The university is now supported partly by the income of those federal grants, partly by taxation of the people of the state, and partly by private gifts.

'The government of the institution,'

says its official catalogue,

'rests upon the inherent obligations of members to the university and to the state. The university is maintained at the public expense for the public good.'

"How practically the public expense has resulted in the public good I have not time here to describe. The public enlightenment which emanates from it as a centre has made the University of Wisconsin the richest asset of the state in leadership. In a single department, Agriculture, it has revolutionized the methods and resources of a vast community to the enormous increase of their power, wealth, and happiness.

"And so of other universities, that have sprung up all over the land out of the common sense of the common people: young titans of the states, who have only just begun to use their civic sinews, still unconscious of their limitless strength as leaders.

"The common sense of the common people, I have said. Yes, but by the nature of our democracy that common sense can respond only to leadership. Sixty-two years ago, there was no City College in New York. Sixty-one years ago, there was no   [p. 156]   University of Wisconsin. Sixty-five years ago, wise leaders of education, wise civic leaders, were busy - burningly active - to bring into being those institutions, which now are commonplaces, but which then seemed to many impractical visions.

"The burning will - the clear ideal - the patience to organize - these are the unconquerable trinity which can create a new world out of chaos today, tomorrow, at any time.

"Surely today there are organizers wiser and greater than sixty-five years ago - in education and in civics. Let them, too, have the burning will, the clear ideal, the patience to organize the theatre, and our children will view as commonplaces a galaxy of institutions, to which our young titans, the universities, are themselves as pygmies. For we must remember that under Anglo-Saxon traditions never has the theatre been organized as a civic institution, publicly endowed. Once this has been accomplished throughout our nation, then for the first time the passionate resources of the dramatist will be pitted in noble competition against the paler resources of the scholar, for the crown of civic leadership: then for the first time the nation will witness the most splendid contest of educators: when Sophocles and Shakespeare shall vie with Socrates and Erasmus in service to the state.

"I return to public endowment. If the University of Wisconsin is a worthy precedent, it appears, then, that state theatres could be so organized as safely to perform their civic functions.

"What a practical vision this holds forth to the theatre and America! To realize it, all that is needed is civic organization. But civic organization already exists in many forms. Let it make right use of its power to solve this national problem."


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