The Haresfoot Club was founded in 1898, making it the oldest dramatic group on campus. The club’s goal was to do something about the “matter-of-fact rut into which student activities had fallen.” The club featured faculty, students, honorary members and a keeper of the Haresfoot. (Sadly, after 1912, there was no longer a Haresfoot. That tradition ended with John Fraser, Jr., who was the keeper in 1911.)
The Haresfoot Club produced locally written farces, and later musical comedies, which they took on tour around the country, ending with a grand finale in Madison. The quirky club’s claim to fame came after a 1909 university ruling that barred male and female actors from touring the country together.
It is easy enough to guess what happened next, based on the overabundance of showgirls, nurses, maids and fairies that were written into the scripts. In protest, or maybe celebration, of the university’s ruling, the Haresfoot Club embraced the idea of all-male casts with hilarious results.
The club’s new motto, “all our girls are men, yet every one’s a lady,” showcased the enthusiasm for their new roles. Over the next 55 years, the club gave performances in Madison and around the nation, with plays themselves as raucous as the after-parties. In the mid-’60s, the club disbanded around the same time that the Greek “Humorology” performances were gaining popularity.
As to your Uncle John B. Nelson, we couldn’t find a record of the Haresfoot plays from the earliest years. After the 1909 ruling, the club began publishing its yearly playwright winners in the Badger, the UW’s yearbook. We can infer, however, that your uncle was a talented writer and comedian with a flair for music, having made it into the highly selective club.