Charles Van Hise

An Alum

Who really was Charles Van Hise, and what did he do?

Abe

A born-and-bred Wisconsinite from Rock County, Charles Van Hise 1879, 1880, MS1882, PhD1892 earned not one but four degrees from UW–Madison, including the university’s first-ever PhD, which was in geology. Van Hise then spent the next 24ish years in the geology department, contributing to the US Geological Survey and conservation efforts. He also discovered how the Baraboo Range formed — he got a rock named after him for that one. In 1903, he became the first UW alumnus elected as the university’s president, and in his inaugural address, he said these famous words: “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every home in the state.” These words launched the formation of the Wisconsin Idea,  but he wasn’t content to stop there. In his 15-year presidency, Van Hise led the UW through the tumultuous times of World War I, was instrumental in the founding of the Division of Extension and the Graduate School, and laid the foundation for the medical school. So, you could say he was something of a UW “rock” star. Photo courtesy of UW Archives, S14732