Ask Abe: Alumni Chapters

An Alum

Where was the first Wisconsin Alumni Association chapter?

Abe

The first “official” Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) chapter meeting on record was in 1898 in Milwaukee. Its members met at the then-new Hotel Pfister , which is still a hotel to this day. But WAA was actually founded 37 years earlier in Madison. The Civil War had just begun, and the university was struggling. Charles Wakeley 1854 — one of the 20 students who attended the very first classes at the UW on February 5, 1849, a date now known as Founders’ Day — was concerned about the UW’s survival through the difficult years ahead. He established the alumni association to encourage other alumni to come together and support the UW at its most vulnerable time. Back then, the university had just 40 alumni. On June 26, 1861, Wakeley brought them together for dinner on the evening of commencement. The following year, they met again for dinner at the Capital House — this time with faculty, regents, and friends. They gathered to reconnect, celebrate the UW, and toast their classmates who had fallen in the war. Today, nearly 120 WAA chapters around the world still come together to support the UW and keep in touch with friends.