Sept. 12, Gwen Drury

Gwen Drury – “The Wisconsin Idea: How Do We Define the Concept that Defines Us?”

Photo of Gwen Drury
Gwen Drury

“When Gwen Drury started researching the expansive, 100-year history of the Wisconsin Idea, she was impressed by the university’s culture and the rich stories of how it manifested itself again and again during the last century.  But she also discovered that people’s knowledge and opinions about it had changed significantly, and the only way that today’s UW alumni and friends could truly appreciate their shared history was to learn about it — and more importantly, to discuss it with each other.”  Wendy Kraus Hathaway, WAA

Drury received undergraduate degrees in History and English at Frostburg State University.

Click here to view actual lecture from September 12th.

PLEASE JOIN US on Wednesday, September 13th at 7 p.m.for a special screening of “Howard’s End”, in the Marquee Theatre of Union South. (Film rental funded by a gift from Gerald Campbell, Professor Emeritus – Ag and Applied Economics and Former Vice-Chancellor of UW-Extension)

Assigned Readings:

“The Wisconsin Idea: The Vision That Made Wisconsin Famous” by Gwen Drury

Just read the essay,  links are optional.

“Great American Universities” by Edwin Emery Slosson

Chapter 7 ONLY, begins on page 210.

Gwen’s Suggested readings/resources for week of September 12, 2017

1) The 1848’ers (brief book review on the subject political refugees from a wave of
unsuccessful revolutions against absolute monarchy that swept many countries in
Europe around 1848. Many of these well-educated, middle class refugees settled in
Wisconsin, right as statehood was declared, especially Germans)

2) The “Dollar Princesses” and the potential rise of an aristocracy in America,
due to fortunes based on new technologies (steam ships and railroads, in the
case of the Vanderbilts)

3) Coronation of Edward VII in 1902
Silent film clip on Youtube:
No need to watch the whole film clip – but DO watch the segment from 3:05-3:10.
Note what happens at the exact moment the king is crowned…. (Crowns are not just
“bling” that rich people wear)
The entire English aristocracy – all present at Westminster Abbey – simultaneously
place their own family crowns on their own heads. The crowns symbolize their own
places – determined by family ties and inheritance – in the religious, social, and
governmental power structure of England. Consuelo Vanderbilt’s parents
purchased family ties in this power structure by forcing her to marry the Duke of
Marlborough, against her will.
American heiress Jenny Jerome, Winston Churchill’s mother, appears to have been
happy to marry into that same English family.

4) Whose Property Rights? Logging and rivers in Wisconsin
John Dietz Defender of Cameron Dam (very short piece)

5) How did Conservation, defined as “the greatest good, for the greatest
number, and for the longest time” come to be so important in Wisconsin? See
Curt Meine’s talk, from the 2016 course web page. But also consider this:
Passenger Pigeon – an extinct species
While learning to think in geological time frames, Charles Van Hise would also have
been watching the actual extinction of a species within a few decades, less than the
amount of time that he personally was actively connected to the University of
Wisconsin. Though humans had hunted these birds for generations on the years
when their nesting flocks were massive and hadn’t depleted their numbers, new
technologies quickly allowed humans to hunt the birds to extinction. Telegraphs
could alert people to the direction that the incredible flocks were headed, and
railroads could allow for shipping barrels full of bird carcasses to city markets for
Additionally, wealthy people in cities would pay a premium for a fashionable dish
called “Squab” – baby pigeons taken directly out of nests. Once their overall numbers
had been depleted, their habitat disrupted, and their efforts to raise their young
thwarted, Passenger Pigeons quickly went from most-populous bird in the United
States, to extinct species. People in Wisconsin would have witnessed this decline with
their own eyes.

Measuring time in Wisconsin –1871-1914 – in stone, and in birds.
1871 – largest nesting of Passenger Pigeons ever documented. This massive
nesting occured in Wisconsin
1874 – Charles Van Hise first associated with the University of Wisconsin, as
a freshman. Studies mining and metallurgy. Learns to think in geological
time frames.
1914 – Martha, the very last Passenger Pigeon on earth, dies in an Ohio zoo
(she had been hatched in captivityin Wisconsin)
1918 – Charles Van Hise, then the sitting president of the University of
Wisconsin and a famous geologist, dies unexpectedly of a post-operative
infection, after a relatively minor surgery.

(1910) Conservation of the Natural Resources of the United States , is the first
textbook ever written on the subject of conservation. The author is Charles Van
Hise, famous geologist and the sitting president of the University of Wisconsin. He
taught a course on the subject as well. The book is written in such a way that the
students and the people of Wisconsin can use it to become informed about the
situation, and as a reference. It has handy notes in the margins to make it easy to
find passages. Van Hise was fond of defining conservation as, “The greatest good
for the greatest number…for the longest time.” This book is available to read
online via Google Books. Conservation of the Natural Resources of the United States by Charles Van Hise

(1910) Great American Universities by E.E. Slossen
This book is a compilation of magazine reviews – one each – of 14 prominent
universities. Each university has its own chapter, giving this 3rd party’s opinion of
each of the universities. Mr. Slossen spent a week at each one prior to writing the
review of that school. It’s fascinating to see how Wisconsin’s university differs from
its peers – though the author considers them all to be top universities of his time
period. Also available to read online via Google Books.“Great American Universities” by Edwin Emery Slosson

1912 The Camp Randall Arch – a commemorative program of the dedication

1924 article in The Atlantic Magazine: “La Follette and La Follettism”
(note what they said about the Wisconsin Idea)

(1962) The American College and University: A History, by Frederick Rudolph
pp. 362-363 describe the Wisconsin Idea
This book is available to read online via Google Books:

You are welcome to leave comments about this lecture or topic below.  Please note these are moderated – no off-topic or inappropriate comments will be allowed.  Please remain respectful. We reserve the right to delete any that are not deemed appropriate.

4 thoughts on “Sept. 12, Gwen Drury”

  1. I must admit that, going into this lecture, I was very confused at the wide disparity of topics in the recommended readings for this talk. What have passenger pigeons and hyper-wealthy women, Camp Randal arch and logs on the river have to do with the Wisconsin Idea. Much to her credit, Gwen Drury painted an excellent portrait of the times using these and many more incidents to give a feel for all the divergent elements that came together for that “perfect storm” to create the Wisconsin Idea.
    Of all the pieces presented, I was most unaware of, and impressed by, the effects of the debate society. Their efforts and enthusiasm, I believe, brought the key element into play – the search for and fanatic dedication to, the TRUTH. There, I think, lies the key to why Wisconsin was so much different from the others. We had all the same problems and subject to same forces, but here in Wisconsin was a shining beacon to drive out the darkness taking over everywhere else.
    I especially was impressed on how the troubles of the early 1900s are repeating themselves today, with the same corruption and widely disparate wealth, rise of the corporations and increasing poverty, and especially how the democracy is crumbling to the power-seekers. Where is our new La Follete or Van Hise? What pulled them out a hundred years ago was a dedication to truth and spread of information to the common person.
    Here we sit now in the midst of the information age and social media. That TRUTH has been toppled by the cries of “fake news” and trolls on Facebook. Who are we to believe now? How are we going to sift and winnow in the haboob of hacking and 24-hour news chatter that disregards facts for highly volatile but ill-informed opinions. Where is our modern Charles McCarthy and the competing debate societies to do the competent research and get the TRUTH out to the people?
    Gwen Drury has done an excellent job of setting the stage, giving us the background to understand what was happening then, how all the pieces fit together to create the storm a hundred years ago. I look Forward to hearing how the other speakers in this series takes up those elements and applies them to today’s situation and hopefully offers a way Forward.

  2. What exactly happened in Wisconsin 100 plus years ago to set the stage for the creation of what we now know as the Wisconsin Idea? Does the Wisconsin Idea survive the passage of time? Do we even care?

    I would argue that we SHOULD care and even though it is occasionally beaten and tattered by current Wisconsin citizens, its meaning misconstrued, its purpose conflated or deliberately perverted.

    What happened in Wisconsin over 100 years ago is worth looking at a second time. But instead, my personal reexamination of the Wisconsin Idea is to determine if its success is formulaic – is there a simple methodology that we can extract and apply in 2017 to get us out of whatever social, economic, environmental problems that we as Wisconsinites face today? Do we require someone as charismatic an orator a Robert LaFollette to be able to communicate the truths of the moment? Or was the magic of the Wisconsin Idea as fleeting as the casual greeting of an acquaintance that we pass on the street? As an alum, what is my personal responsibility to share the knowledge I have gained with others to help elevate the human condition in my communities that I engage with regularly? And also as an alum, am I open to having my personal truths questioned or changed as a result of new information?

    Gwen’s lecture re-illuminates key elements in Wisconsin history that show us the Wisconsin Idea is not merely a brand that was concocted to sell a product but a legacy steeped in honor that ultimately required branding.

    I defy any thinking man to dig into the history of the Wisconsin Idea and walk away without being gobsmacked by the potential for a vigorous modern revival. There are those among us who would love nothing more than to see the Wisconsin Idea fade into blackness. Pay attention to those people: why would they want to deny a search for truth? What do they have to gain by stifling it?

  3. By the by, though not noted in this online bio, Gwen has two MSED Degrees, one from Southern Illinois University, in Higher Educational Administration, and the other from here, UW-Madison, in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, class of ’14.

  4. I appreciated the way this lecture provided a broad overview of many of the specific topics from last year. In light of this talk, it would be interesting to go back to David Hoeveler’s lecture from week 1 last year ( Drury noted that John Bascom was a powerful moral influence on the UW and its students and Hoveler explains Bascom’s philosophy in-depth.

    In week 2 last year (, Curt Meine identified a remarkable number early state and university figures as geologists by training. Drury said that while these leaders were trained to think in geologic time, they personally witnessed rapid ecological change (the clear-cutting of the northern forest) and extinction (Passenger Pigeons). Most contemporary Wisconsinites don’t think of our state as the site of an ecological catastrophe, yet the clear-cutting of the great northern forest seems to have profoundly shaken our early leaders and informed their sense of responsibility to the state.

    One note about Stephen Babcock and his butterfat test; Babcock refused to patent the test and never personally profited from it. In this and his other work, he put service to others ahead of personal gain. I read somewhere that when he couldn’t get the University moving fast enough on a building project on the Ag campus, he picked up his hammer and saw and did some of the work himself (he was a farm boy by origin). He donated his house on Lake Street to the University at his death and it became affordable housing for needy Ag students. The hollyhocks he cultivated in his garden at home became the official flower of Madison. He personally embodied the Wisconsin Idea. And he was a great Badger sports fan too!

Comments are closed.