On and On and On Wisconsin

The UW’s alumni magazine celebrates its 125th anniversary.

Photo collage of old covers of On Wisconsin

In 1899, this publication began life as the Wisconsin Alumni Magazine. In 1936, it rebranded as Wisconsin Alumnus. Single life was fun for a while, but we re-pluralized in 1988 and became Wisconsin Alumni. In 1990, we became On Wisconsin. UW Archives

In 1899, 125 years ago, the University of Wisconsin’s alumni association decided to offer something new and substantial in its effort to build support for the university: it began publication of a magazine. This periodical, in the words of editor Charles Adams 1899, was intended “primarily for the alumni, [though] it will aim, I suppose, to interest those whose thoughts often turn to matters of higher education.”

This was the launch of the Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, which later became Wisconsin Alumnus, and later still, in 1990, On Wisconsin. We’re not the world’s first alumni magazine — that’s believed to be Greetings, first sent by Wayland Academy of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1882. But we’ve certainly been around awhile.

In that first issue, Adams and his colleagues — who included future Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Frederick Jackson Turner 1884, MA1888 — spent 60 pages relating news of the students, faculty, and alumni. We do much the same today.

It can be disorienting to read the articles in that first issue, published an eighth of a millennium ago. Adams warned that there was frequent conflict between campus and the state government: “it often happens that a legislator comes to Madison with a vigorous determination to lessen the appropriations to the university.” Who can imagine such a thing, as we look back from this era of amity and common purpose?

But the aims that inspired Adams and his colleagues still drive us today. Like Adams, we on the On Wisconsin editorial team believe that, “in educational matters, at least, knowledge is the surest possible cure for skepticism and hostility.”

And so we continue to offer you a look at the ways that UW–Madison changes lives for people, and the ways that extraordinary people change the UW. Our name has changed a few times, but our purpose hasn’t.

Thanks for reading and for keeping us going all these years.

Published in the Spring 2024 issue


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