Campus History

Founders’ Days Celebrate the UW’s Past, Present, and Future

A St. Paul, Minnesota, Founders’ Day in 1955 featured then-head football coach Milt Bruhn (center) as guest speaker. Apparently, Wisconsin cheddar was already a favorite featured refreshment more than half a century ago. UW–Madison Archives, #S12672

Alumni commemorate 165 years of Badger excellence.

February 5, 1849: twenty young men gather in a small brick building near the capitol for the University of Wisconsin’s inaugural class. For twenty dollars per year, they learned arithmetic, grammar, geography, and Latin. While only one-quarter of these students ever graduated, they laid the groundwork for the institution we know today.

Decades later, alumni chapters began to host Founders’ Day celebrations to commemorate that first day of class. In 1919, UW students organized the first campus Founders’ Day, and students, faculty, and alumni still gather today to hail the university’s beginnings and look to the future. Though current events and conversational topics have evolved as dramatically as the fashions of the day, the celebration’s mission remains the same: to provide UW graduates with the chance to connect with each other in honor of the UW’s past, present, and future.

This spring, UW-Madison alumni in nearly seventy cities across the nation will come together to commemorate their alma mater’s founding.

“Taking faculty speakers off campus and into communities to share their expertise with alumni is an important part of the Founders’ Day tradition,” says Mike Fahey ’89, WAA’s managing director of Alumni Advocacy and Leadership.

This year, for example, Badgers in Arizona will learn about dairy science from Dean Sommer MS’81 of the UW Center for Dairy Research. Morgridge Institute for Research CEO Brad Schwartz will visit alumni in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to speak about the institute’s role in research, technology, and economic development in the state. And Badger favorite Professor Bassam Shakhashiri will wow crowds with the wonders of chemistry in St. Louis.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Dean of Students Lori Berquam, and College of Letters & Science Dean John Karl Scholz will also hit the road to share what’s new on campus and discuss their vision for the university’s future.

Throughout the Founders’ Day season, all alumni are encouraged to share their pride in the UW and reconnect with each other and UW-Madison, whether by volunteering locally, supporting current students, or making a gift to support the university’s mission.

Visit and follow the Twitter hashtag #UW1849 to discover the many ways you can share your Badger pride with the world.

Published in the Spring 2014 issue


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