Foreign-Born in Milwaukee: 1890

Foreign-Born in Milwaukee: 1890


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Country

Number

Per Cent

55,000

69.0

25,000

31.0

Total Foreign Born

80,000

39.0


Neighborhood storytelling through photography -->

Milwaukee/Kimball/Diversey [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

The beauty and lore of this avenue was captured over a century ago in a book by a Jefferson Park resident:

What Soho is to London this diagonal avenue is to the Garden City. By turns the Greek, Italian, German, Scandinavian, Russian, Lithuanian and Pole monopolize the street signs, the corner news-stands, the sidewalks and the cars, or proclaim to the passing nose one aspect of their national delicacies.

Every half-section line exhibits in its ganglia, as the crossing of the thoroughfares, a sharp-angled picturesque frontage, akin to Seven Dials or Five Points in their palmy days.

—Alfred Bull, amateur historian describing Milwaukee Avenue in 1911

In the first part of this series, we’ll look at the early history of Milwaukee Avenue, and follow it until the boom years of the 1920s. Next we’ll cover the Chicago School of architecture, and later, the transition to the Machine Age and Art Deco.

Contents

The most obvious feature of this arterial road is its path, running diagonal to the city’s grid network of streets.

Though many believe the grid system came as a result of planning after the Great Fire, it actually dates to the original surveying of the city in 1830. This early date of the grid makes this conspicuous diagonal path (especially to pedestrians) even more puzzling.

The simplest answer to this minor riddle is the correct one–Milwaukee Avenue existed long before the City of Chicago did.


Poles

People of Polish immigrant origins and ancestry have made up the second largest European origin and ancestry grouping in Milwaukee since the 1880s, after the far greater population of German immigrants and their descendants.[1] Millions of Poles wound up emigrating from every region of their country from the 1850s onward in quest of work opportunities (along with religious and political liberty) that were absent in their impoverished, overpopulated and foreign-ruled homeland. Most of those who settled in Milwaukee (and Wisconsin) followed German immigrants from the empire to the Badger state.[2]

Polish immigration to Wisconsin and Milwaukee dates back to the late 1850s and became particularly noticeable from the 1870s onward. The Poles who settled in Milwaukee and the state came overwhelmingly from the German ruled provinces of Posen (Poznań in Polish), Silesia (Śląsk or Schlesien), and the Baltic seacoast (called Pomerania by the Germans). Indeed, a 1905 Wisconsin census reported that 80.5 percent of Milwaukee’s Poles were from these territories. These areas, however, constituted just 15 percent of the Polish lands that had been seized by Prussia (the forerunner of the German empire), tsarist Russia, and imperial Austria between 1772 and 1795, when they combined to erase the vast but militarily weak Polish Commonwealth from the map of Europe. The Polish immigrants who later settled in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey came more heavily from the poorer and more rural Russian and Austrian ruled Polish lands in search of jobs in the coal mines, steel mills, and automotive industry. But few Poles from those territories made their way to Milwaukee.[3]

The Milwaukee Polish connection with the German empire was significant in another way. The repressive, widely publicized, assimilationist policies the German empire implemented in its Polish provinces sparked wide resentment there and among Polish immigrants in America. They received great attention in Milwaukee’s widely read Polish language newspaper, the Kuryer Polski, which deepened national feelings among the city’s Poles.[4]

From the first Polish immigrants who arrived in Milwaukee in the 1850s, the number of Poles in the city rose to 7,000 in 1874, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel. This number grew to 30,000 by the end of the 1880s. The Polish population in Milwaukee by 1910 reached 70,000. The Kuryer Polski claimed even higher numbers, suggesting that as many as 100,000 Polish immigrants and their American-born offspring called the city home in 1915.[5]

Interestingly, in 1900, the U.S. census counted 17,854 Polish immigrants in Milwaukee (to 53,854 Germans), a number that excluded their “second generation” American-born children. In 1930, Milwaukee’s Polish immigrant population numbered 19,593 in a city of 569,000. In 1970, Polish immigrants, together with their “foreign stock” American-born sons and daughters, amounted to 28,865 in a Milwaukee of 717,000. By then the overwhelming majority of Polish Americans were the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants. Many were already only partly of Polish ethnic heritage. In comparison, in cities like Chicago and Detroit, the number of Polish immigrants continued to grow.[6] In contrast, far fewer Poles came to Milwaukee during the second wave (1939-1959) and the third wave, the “Solidarity Emigration” taking place from the late 1970s to early 1990s.[7]

Early on, the Poles who settled in Milwaukee congregated in a number of neighborhoods where their presence was underscored by the many institutions and establishments they built there. The largest was on the city’s near south side—originally west of Lake Michigan to about 27 th Street and south from Greenfield to Lincoln avenues, then spreading further south and west. From the late 19 th century into the 1960s Mitchell Street, known popularly as the “Polish Grand Avenue,” was the center of “Polonia” commerce and community life in this section of the city.[8]

A second, smaller Polonia community arose on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side—from Humboldt Boulevard and Brady north to Capitol Drive. Smaller communities also formed in the adjacent towns of South Milwaukee and Cudahy. From the 1870s until 1925, a small but distinctive group of newcomers were the Kaszubs from Poland’s Baltic seacoast. They established a fishing community of as many as 1,600 residents on nearby Jones Island, on Lake Michigan. Having no title to their dwellings, they were evicted from the island to make way for new port facilities and a sewage treatment facility.[9]

Since the 1960s, many people of Polish origin have moved out of the South Side to areas south and west of the city of Milwaukee and in smaller numbers to the north and west.[10] By 2010, only 9.6 percent of the city’s population was Polish, or about 57,000. In Waukesha County, 9.2 percent of the population was listed as Polish in 2010. Smaller numbers also moved to other neighboring counties.[11] An important explanation for this development has been Milwaukee’s decline as a heavy industrial center providing a plethora of decently paying jobs. At the same time, along with a general population decline since 1960, the overall ethnic character of Milwaukee also changed dramatically. The ethnic makeup of Milwaukee’s South Side in 1980 was still predominantly Polish, with 40 percent of the residents classifying themselves as such. By 2010, 70 percent of this area’s population was Latino, with another 11 percent African American. The Polish residents who remained in the area were largely older and often poorer.[12]

From their earliest days in Milwaukee, Poles found work in the steel and iron works, at the Polish-owned Maynard Steel Company, in the meat processing plants, tanneries, and in construction. Such companies as Pfister & Vogel, Allen-Bradley, A.O. Smith, and Allis-Chalmers employed Poles in large numbers. Polish workers took part in the tragic Bay View Rolling Mills protest in 1886 later many became active in the organized labor movement.[13]

Poles initially were on the low end of the wage scale however, their industry, frugality and willingness to call on their working-age children to turn their earnings over to the family led to remarkable rates of home ownership. The distinctive “Polish flat”—a single-story, frame building set three to four feet above the street to permit a partly above-ground basement apartment and storage area—was a popular type of dwelling it was readily expanded to include a second floor addition with more rooms in the back of the lot too.[14] Already by the 1950s, growing numbers of Polish Americans were attending college and finding employment in management, the professions, and in public service as teachers and in the police and fire departments.[15]

The vast majority of Poles in Milwaukee (and everywhere in the U.S.) were and remain staunch Roman Catholics. In Milwaukee their first parish church, St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr, was purchased in 1866 near Mitchell Street and was soon complemented by the very first Polish parochial school in America. In 1872 an impressive brick and stone church (now a national historic site) was erected on Mitchell and 5 th Streets.[16] In 1871 a second parish, St. Hedwig’s, on Humboldt and Brady streets on the city’s Lower East Side was dedicated. As the Polish community mushroomed, five more parishes were established by 1900: St. Hyacinth in 1883, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Josephat in 1888, and Saints Cyril and Methodius in 1893 on the South Side and St. Casimir in 1894 on the Lower East Side. All were ornate and richly decorated and all maintained parochial schools staffed by orders of Polish women religious, most notably the Felicians, the Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. A Polish orphanage and an enormous cemetery named in honor of St. Adalbert were also functioning. A half century later no fewer than twenty flourishing parishes established by Polish immigrants and their offspring could be found in the city and its adjacent communities.[17]

Along with the parishes, Polish Milwaukee early on saw the rise of a large number of voluntary organizations. The first, in 1874, was the Kosciuszko Guard, a south side unit of the Wisconsin National Guard. Founded by men inspired by the heroic service of General Thaddeus Kosciuszko in America’s war for independence and Poland’s fight for freedom, the unit served with distinction in both World Wars before being disbanded in the 1950s.[18]

Milwaukee Poles were also soon active in both the local and national affairs of the mass member fraternal societies, most notably the Polish National Alliance, Polish Roman Catholic Union, Polish Women’s Alliance, and Polish Falcons, and formed dozens of neighborhood-based lodges of these organizations. The fraternals’ mission was to provide life insurance protection for their members, along with a variety of cultural, educational, and social benefits—all linked to their commitment to the cause of Poland’s independence and its people’s material needs, before, during and after both World Wars.[19]

Two Polish American fraternals originated in Milwaukee. One, the Polish Association of America, was formed in 1895 and had a distinctly Catholic character.[20] Federation Life Insurance of America, founded in 1912, owed its existence to Michael Kruszka, editor and publisher of the Kuryer Polski newspaper. One of its goals was to push for the appointment of a clergyman of Polish origin to be a bishop in Milwaukee. This goal was realized in 1914 with the elevation of Rev. Edward Kozlowski to this office.[21]

After World War I, many Polish veterans from the American armed forces joined the newly formed Polish Legion of American Veterans. Those who had served in the Polish army that fought in France and Poland on behalf of Poland’s independence joined the Polish Army Veterans Association. Both groups, together with post-World War II newcomers to America who had fought for Poland and formed the Polish Combatants Association, were visible and influential forces in Milwaukee Polonia into the 1980s and beyond. The first Polish Legion of American Veterans post in Wisconsin was established on Milwaukee’s South Side in 1923. The Polish Army Veterans Association established two posts in Milwaukee, the first already in 1920. Both groups actively raised money for veterans’ relief and to assist in devastated Poland’s reconstruction after World War I. Like the fraternals, they were active in purchasing war bonds and in supporting Poland’s freedom during World War II.[22]

Though supporters of the Democratic Party, from the 1900s until the early 1930s many Poles turned to the Socialist Party. Between 1908 and 1932, ten Milwaukee Polish socialists won elective office to the city council and state legislature, compared to eight running as Democrats, four as Republicans, and ten as non-partisans. John C. Kleczka, a Republican, won election in 1918, becoming the first Pole to enter the U.S. House of Representatives. Progressive Republicans such as Robert La Follette and his son Philip did well among Poles in Milwaukee. But the disastrous Great Depression saw Poles returning overwhelmingly to the Democrats. In 1932 the four south side city wards with the largest Polish populations gave Presidential nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt 92.6 percent of the vote over the Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover (to 67 percent of the citywide tally). FDR did about as well in winning reelection in 1936, 1940, and 1944. In the years after, Milwaukee’s historically “Polish wards” remained Democratic but by smaller margins.[23]

By the 1980s, however, many were “Reagan Democrats”—in other words, conservative or even Republican voters. This was especially true among those who had moved out of the city and had a higher social and economic standing than Poles of earlier times. If one political outlook reflected the views of most Polish Americans by then, it was that of long time U.S. Congressman Clement Zablocki. A devoted supporter of federal programs like Social Security and Medicare and an advocate of a strong U.S. military, Zablocki took an anti-communist stance in supporting Poland’s freedom and was a conservative on the hot button religious and social issues that had surfaced.[24]

Early on, ambitious Poles benefited from their organizational ties in succeeding in local politics. While no Polish American has been elected Mayor, between 1890 and 1972 five Polish Americans held the city-wide office of Comptroller, Milwaukee’s “Polish Mayor.” Most prominent was Louis Kotecki, in office from 1912 to 1933.[25] Three Polish Americans were appointed to be the city’s chief of police, most recently Robert Ziarnik, who served from 1984 until 1989. Following in the footsteps of John Kleczka, four other Milwaukee Polish Americans later won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives—Democrats Thaddeus Wasielewski (1941-1947), Zablocki (1949-1983), Gerald Kleczka (1985 to 1993), and north side Republican Charles Kersten (1947-1949, and 1951-1955).[26]

Over the years a number of Milwaukee Polish Americans have achieved broader recognition for their activities. From the 1860s to the end of World War I in 1918, the Kruszka brothers were prominent figures, Michael as newspaper publisher and political leader, and Wenceslaus, a clergyman working for the appointment of Polish bishops in America and Polonia’s first historian. Socialist and labor union activist Leo Krzycki was a powerful force in this era and after, locally and nationally. During the era between 1920 into the 1950s, Francis X. Swietlik played a national leadership role in the Polish community and headed Polonia’s Polish relief effort during and after World War II.[27] Two Catholic clergymen, out of the many Poles who served their parishioners in Milwaukee, merit mention here as church and community leaders—the Rev. Felix Baran, pastor of St. Josaphat Basilica parish (1914-1942), who wiped out its enormous debt and raised the funds to decorate the church in regal fashion, and the Rev. Raymond Punda, the “big thinking” pastor (1958-1979) of the “mother church of Milwaukee Polonia,” St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr parish, and head of its very own high school.[28]

The first community-wide Polonia federation of organizations was the Casimir Pulaski Council of Milwaukee County, established in 1928 to honor the tenth anniversary of Poland’s independence. Representing at its height as many as 100 local groups, the Pulaski Council worked to influence local civic and political affairs and encouraged primary and secondary schools to include information about Poland’s history, art, and culture in their curriculum. Led by individuals like Judge Frank Gregorski and William Kowalkowski, the Council sponsored a heavily attended summer school at Kosciuszko Park for many years. Founded in 1944, the Wisconsin Division of the Polish American Congress (PAC)—under a series of dedicated activists, among them Edmund Banasikowski, Thomas Czerwinski, and Edward Tomasik—focused their efforts on opposing Communist rule in Poland. In 1953, Harriet Gostomska, Felicia Kwasieborska, Maria Laskowska, and Angela Mischke organized the Polish Women’s Cultural Club of Milwaukee, ‘Polanki.’ They and successors like Janet Dziadulewicz Branden worked to promote knowledge of the Polish heritage in a host of ways. Over the years Polanki hosted and supported countless public lectures about Poland, performances of Polish classical and modern music, and theatrical events, and sponsored a significant scholarship program for outstanding college students of Polish heritage. In the early 1950s yet another initiative, one led by Polish newcomers to Milwaukee, resulted in the creation of the Polonia Sport Club, an organization which has grown to involve hundreds of participants on teams for children, young adults and older players and which manages its own set of soccer fields and a community center.

The members of these organizations later gave their support to the creation of the Polish Heritage Alliance of Wisconsin, sponsor of the annual Polish Festival in Milwaukee and the Polish Center of Wisconsin. The annual Polish Festival, inaugurated in 1982 on Milwaukee’s lakefront Summerfest grounds, today is America’s largest such event. The Polish Center of Wisconsin, located in the adjacent city of Franklin, was dedicated in 2000 and hosts a plethora of Polish American cultural and social events each year.[29]

In addition to creating the Polish Heritage Alliance, community activists joined forward-thinking faculty and administrators of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and Polish Americans in the state legislature to create what became its very productive Polish Studies Committee in 1979. They restored St. Josaphat Basilica (1990-1998), supported the Milwaukee Art Museum exhibition, “Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland” (2002-2003), and funded the restoration of the Kosciuszko monument in 2013. Another achievement is the UWM Library’s preservation of the remarkable Roman Kwasniewski photograph collection of pre-World War II Polish Milwaukee.[30]

In the 1980s Milwaukee’s PAC led local Polish American and community-wide humanitarian relief work on Poland’s behalf. A vibrant dialog with Milwaukee’s Jewish community was established. After 1989 Polish Americans took a lead role in obtaining federal funding to support improved medical services and the transformation of local government in the newly democratic Poland and played a visible role in working for Poland’s entry (in 1999) into the NATO Alliance. Milwaukee County established an ongoing sister cities relationship with the city of Bialystok.[31] With the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Milwaukee’s Polish community created a parish for Polish newcomers who began arriving in the 1970s.

Polish Americans in Milwaukee are fewer in the 21 st century than they were in the past. Most Polish Americans in metropolitan Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin are fully assimilated Americans. As a result, fewer are more than tangentially involved in Polonia’s life (aside from attending the annual Polish Fest). There are fewer active secular and church-based Polish American organizations. Nevertheless, and decades after the end of mass Polish immigration to Wisconsin, a cadre of well-informed activists continues to play a real role in enriching the cultural life of Greater Milwaukee.

Over the past 160 years and more Milwaukee’s Polish community has evolved greatly. Initially a fast growing but separate settlement of immigrant newcomers, Milwaukee Polonia by the 1920s had grown into a highly organized community of gradually Americanized, still largely working-class people. From the 1950s and 1960s increasing numbers of Polish Americans, two, three and more generations removed from the immigration experience, were making their move—both into the middle class and out of the city. Today, while there are fewer Polish Americans in metropolitan Milwaukee, their ranks include dedicated individuals committed to sharing their knowledge of the Polish heritage with the public. Their efforts keep alive the history of Polish Milwaukee. At the same time their very existence testifies to the enduring meaning of cultural pluralism in America.

Footnotes [+]

    Donald E. Pienkos, “The Polish Americans in Milwaukee Politics,” in Ethnic Politics in Urban America, ed. Angela T. Pienkos (Chicago, IL: Polish American Historical Association, 1978), 67. Donald Pienkos, “Politics, Religion, and Change in Polish Milwaukee, 1900-1930,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 61 (Spring 1978), 179-180. Pienkos, “Politics, Religion, and Change in Polish Milwaukee, 1900-1930,” 179 Piotr S. Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795-1918 (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1974), 8-11. Anthony J. Kuzniewski, Faith and Fatherland: The Polish Church War in Wisconsin, 1896-1918 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980), 14-17, 82. Susan Gibson Mikos, Poles in Wisconsin (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012), 58 Kuzniewski, Faith and Fatherland, 19. Pienkos, “The Polish Americans in Milwaukee Politics,” 67-68, appendix 3c. References to the various “waves” of Polish immigration are found in “Milestones in Polish American History and Contributions,” on the Polish American Congress website, last accessed June 9, 2017. John Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society, 1999), 133-136. Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee, 135 Edward S. Kerstein, “The Kaszubas of Milwaukee’s Jones Island” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, edited by Thaddeus Borun (Milwaukee: Nowiny Publishing, 1946), 121-122. Tim Cuprisin, “Milwaukee’s Polonia: One of the Nation’s Oldest,” The Milwaukee Journal, December 27, 1993, B3. “Waukesha County, Wisconsin” and “List of U.S. Cities with Large Polish-American Populations,” both in Wikipedia, last accessed June 9, 2017. John Gurda, “Milwaukee’s Historic South Side: Poles Then, Latinos Now,” jsonline.com, August 2, 2013, last accessed June 9, 2017. Thaddeus Borun, “Poles in Milwaukee Industry,” “Sylvester J. Wabiszewski,” “Greetings and Congratulations,” and Thaddeus Borun, “The Role of Milwaukee Poles in Our Larger Industrial Plants,” all in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 63, 64, 112, 242 Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee, 153-156. Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee, 173-174 Szymon Deptula, “Poles at University of Wisconsin,” Edward S. Kerstein, “Poles in the Police Department,” and Stanley Witkowski, “Poles in the Fire Department,” all in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 145-150, 73-74. Historic Properties and Districts, City of Milwaukee website, accessed May 30, 2017. Separate entries on each of these churches, as well as churches in Cudahy, South Milwaukee, and West Allis, can be found in Thaddeus Borun, ed., We, the Milwaukee Poles, (Milwaukee: Nowiny Publishing, 1946), 3-40. “History of Company K,” We, the Milwaukee Poles, 123-128 The Polish American Encyclopedia, ed. James S. Pula (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), s.v. “Kosciuszko Guard,” 237-238. “From Polish Women’s Alliance to Our Neighbors in the North…” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 168-204. The Polish American Encyclopedia, ed. James S. Pula (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), s.v. “Polish Association of America,” 388 Waclaw Kruszka, A History of the Poles in America to 1908 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1993), 231. Angela T. Pienkos, A Brief History of Federation Life Insurance of America, 1913-1976 (Milwaukee: Haerlein Graphics Incorporated, 1976), 2, 13, 17-18. Joseph Karas, “Woodrow Wilson Post No. 11, Polish Legion of American Veterans,” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 211 Joseph Karas, “Polish Army Veterans Association of America Posts No. 3 and No. 94,” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 205-207. Pienkos, “Politics, Religion, and Change in Polish Milwaukee, 1900-1930,” 185-186, 188-196 John Jakusz-Gostomski, “The Democratic Party and Polish-Americans,” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 289-190 Pienkos, “The Polish Americans in Milwaukee Politics,” 71. Donald Pienkos, “How Will Polish Americans Vote in the 2012 Presidential Election and How Influential Might They Be?,” November 4, 2012, Polish American Congress website, last accessed June 9, 2017 The Polish American Encyclopedia, ed. James S. Pula (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), s.v. “Clement Zablocki,” 557-558. Pienkos, “Politics, Religion, and Change in Polish Milwaukee, 1900-1930,” 184 Pienkos, “The Polish Americans in Milwaukee Politics,” 81. Edward S. Kerstein, “Milwaukeeans of Polish Extraction Serving on the Police Department,” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 289-190 Pienkos, “The Polish Americans in Milwaukee Politics,” 73 The Polish American Encyclopedia, ed. James S. Pula (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), s.v. “ Thaddeus Wasielewski,” 536, “Clement Zablocki,” 557-558, “Gerald Kleckza,” 228, “Charles Kersten,” 224-225 and Pienkos, “The Polish Americans in Milwaukee Politics,” 76. The Polish American Encyclopedia, ed. James S. Pula (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), s.v. “Michael Kruszka” and “Wenceslaus,” 249-251 Kuzniewski, Faith and Fatherland, 45-47 J.A. Kapmarski, “The Kuryer Polski,” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 53-55 The Polish American Encyclopedia, ed. James S. Pula (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), s.v. “Leo Krzycki,” 251 and “Francis X. Swietlik,” 510-511. “St. Josaphat Parish” and Albin C. Waligorski, “St. Stanislaus Parish,” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 16-17, 7. Angela T. Pienkos, A Brief History of Polanki, Polish Women’s Cultural Club of Milwaukee, 1953-1973 (Milwaukee: Franklin Press, 1973), 5-6, 12 Carl Glazewski, “History of Pulaski Council,” in We, the Milwaukee Poles, 59-61 “History,” Polish American Congress, Wisconsin Division website, last accessed June 9, 2017. “Milwaukee Polonia: The Roman Kwasniewski Photographs,” University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Libraries website, last accessed June 9, 2017. Press Release, “Milwaukee County to Host Leaders from Bialystok, Poland,” Milwaukee County website, October 9, 2009, last accessed June 9, 2017.

For Further Reading

Borun, Thaddeus, ed. We, the Milwaukee Poles. Milwaukee: Nowiny Publishing, 1946.

Gurda, John. Centennial of Faith: The Basilica of Saint Josaphat, 1888-1988. Milwaukee: Basilica of St. Josaphat, 1989.

Gurda, John. The Making of Milwaukee. Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society, 1999.

Kruszka, Waclaw. A History of the Poles in America to 1908, Part I. Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1993.

Kuzniewski, Anthony. Faith and Fatherland: The Polish Church War in Wisconsin, 1896-1918. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980.

Maass, Christel T., comp. Illuminating the Particular: Photographs of Milwaukee’s South Side. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2003.

Mikos, Susan Gibson. Poles in Wisconsin. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012.

Pienkos, Angela T. A Brief History of Federation Life Insurance of America, 1913-1976. Milwaukee: Haertein Graphics, 1976.

Pienkos, Angela T. A Brief History of Polanki, Polish Women’s Cultural Club of Milwaukee, 1953-1973. Milwaukee: Franklin Press, 1973.

Pienkos, Donald. “Politics, Religion, and Change in Polish Milwaukee, 1900-1930.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 61, no. 3 (Spring 1978): 179-209.

Pienkos, Donald. “The Polish Americans in Milwaukee Politics.” In Ethnic Politics in Urban America, edited by Angela T. Pienkos, 66-91. Chicago, IL: Polish American Historical Association, 1978.

Kapmarski, J. A. “The Kuryer Polski.” In We, the Milwaukee Poles, edited by Thaddeus Borun, 53-56. Milwaukee: Nowiny Publishing, 1946.

Pula, James S., ed. The Polish American Encyclopedia. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

Wandycz, Piotr S. The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795-1918. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1974.


Eugene Field, 7th and Scott Streets

Eugene Field, named for the American poet, was built in 1893 as District 8 No. 3, though it also served as the earliest site of the South Division High School program from 1893 until 1899 when South's own building opened on Lapham Boulevard. The Field building &ndash called Second Avenue School from 1912 until 1930, when the street was renamed 7th Street &ndash was ravaged by fire, thanks to arsonists, after having been targeted for demolition in 1975. This photo was taken two years before the blaze and razing.


The New Land: A Look at Milwaukee’s Changing Immigration Landscape

They came to Milwaukee to flee strife and persecution, and to seize opportunity. And despite the rhetoric from Washington, they’re here to stay.

Along with his wife and four sons aged 1 to 9, Muhammed has settled in a wood-frame, 1908 home on Mitchell Street on Milwaukee’s near South Side – once at the center of Polish immigration.

Muhammed and his family spent about a decade as refugees in Malaysia after fleeing Myanmar, and were resettled in Chicago two years ago. But living in Chicago was expensive, and his two older kids often missed school because of the long walk. So last fall, with the help of cousins who live on the near South Side, they moved to Mitchell Street.

Today, his children attend Grant School and “it is good,” Muhammed says in halting English. “The bus picks them up.”

As with many new immigrants who lack English skills, Muhammed’s job options are primarily in entry-level, manual labor. He cleaned planes in Chicago and hopes for a similar job in Milwaukee, or perhaps at the box-making factory where a cousin works.

Milwaukee is believed to have more Rohingya than any other city in the United States, but they’re just one immigrant group changing the face of Milwaukee. Our city prides itself on its ethnic heritage – it was the Germans, Poles, Italians and Irish who built Milwaukee into an economic powerhouse a century ago. In the 21st century, it is immigrants such as Latinos, Somalis, Eritreans, Burmese, Russians, Hmong, Indians and Saudis who are transforming the city and region.

There are myriad factors in current immigration. One is the increasingly worldwide nature of manufacturing, agriculture and technological innovation, from the dairy industry to high-tech companies such as GE Healthcare and, soon, Foxconn. Another is the global migration and refugee crisis, the most severe since World War II, spawned by war and political upheaval in dozens of countries. Together, these developments are shaping the Milwaukee region, putting students in our schools, workers in our factories and highly skilled professionals in local tech industries.

Given the policies and rhetoric coming from the highest office in the land, questions abound about the future of immigration. But if history is any guide, immigrants will continue to be essential to Milwaukee’s future.

“Milwaukee is changing, that’s just the reality,” says Pardeep Singh Kaleka, a Sikh immigrant active in promoting peace and racial healing. “And I believe that Milwaukee, because of its appreciation of immigrants, will change for the better.”

It’s easy to look through rose-colored glasses and forget the conflicts that are at the core of U.S. history, from the enslavement of free Africans to the displacement and disenfranchisement of Native peoples, including the forced removal of the Potawatomi from the Milwaukee area in the 1830s.

While today’s upsurge in anti-immigration sentiment may seem unique, it has lengthy precedent in U.S. history. Most infamously, in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and in 1917 it instituted an “Asiatic barred zone” that prohibited immigrants from India, most of Southeast Asia and almost all of the Middle East.

Here in Milwaukee, residents born outside the U.S. and their children made up 86 percent of the population by 1890, leading some to call it the most “foreign” city in America. At the time, there were fewer restrictions on European immigration, and the modern system of passports and immigration quotas had not yet been established.

Amid the global conflicts of the 20th century, the country grew suspicious of even well-established immigrant communities. Not even Milwaukee’s large and powerful German population was immune from the hysteria of World War I. Speaking German became unpatriotic, sauerkraut was renamed “liberty cabbage” and the German-English Academy dropped “German” from its name en route to becoming Milwaukee University School (now University School of Milwaukee). During the next world war, 117,000 Japanese Americans, mostly citizens, were forced into internment camps on the West Coast.

Over the centuries, the main evolution in Milwaukee immigration centers on where one was born and the color of one’s skin. Immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries were principally white Europeans. Today’s immigrants primarily come from countries considered “non-white.”

At the same time, evolving immigration patterns complicate but do not replace the central transformation in Milwaukee’s demographics – the migration of African Americans from the South in the decades after World War II, providing essential labor for the city’s still-vibrant manufacturing economy. Race and racism, whether toward immigrants or the descendants of enslaved Africans, remain overarching issues.

Shortly after taking office last year, President Donald Trump temporarily halted all refugee admissions and banned travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries. The news sent a wave of fear through immigrant communities, including Milwaukee’s.

Behind the headlines are human beings – people such as Ubah Abdi, a 43-year-old Somali businesswoman in Milwaukee. Somalia is included in Trump’s bans, and under the administration’s policies, she might not have been allowed into the U.S.

Ubah Abdi at her Kids Land Learning Center photo by Lacy Landre

Thirty years ago, in the middle of the night, Abdi gathered a few small belongings. In a group of six families, she left her home in Somaliland, a region in northern Somalia that was fighting for independence. To evade enemy soldiers, they traveled at night, on foot. Younger children were carried. After 50 miles, they reached Ethiopia. Four years later, via a refugee camp in Ethiopia, then Djibouti, then Cairo, Abdi arrived in Milwaukee.

A graduate of Washington High School and UW-Milwaukee, today Abdi operates Kids Land Learning Center at North 80th Street and West Capitol Drive. Her family recently moved to Fox Point, and her two children attend Whitefish Bay High School.

Unlike many Somali immigrants in Milwaukee, Abdi was not a refugee, because her deceased father had acquired U.S. citizenship during World War II. Along with her mother and six siblings, she moved to Milwaukee because a distant uncle lived here.

With a background in social work, and skilled in cross-cultural complexities, Abdi notes significant differences within the Somali immigrant community. First, she is from Somaliland, which considers itself an independent state even though most of the world views it as an autonomous region of Somalia. Second, the most recent wave of immigrants is made up largely of Somali Bantu, an ethnic group from southern Somalia who are racially, culturally and linguistically distinct.

The majority of the immigrants to Milwaukee speak varying dialects of Somali and are predominantly Muslim. There are close to 1,000 Somalis from the first wave of refugees, mostly on the South Side, according to Abdi. The Somali Bantu population is significantly higher, and most live on the North Side. About 90 percent of the children at Abdi’s day care are Somali Bantu.

While the current political climate is worrisome, the Somali Bantu she works with are more concerned about issues that affect many North Side residents. “I have kids who say, ‘We didn’t sleep last night because there were gunshots,’” Abdi says. “And it is heartbreaking, because they left Somalia because of gunshots and war.”

Abdi wears the Muslim headdress known as the hijab, and she marks 9/11 as the date when her life changed: “After that, especially for women, your clothes showed that you are Muslim. So you always worried you might be a target.”

Recent refugees are a fraction of Milwaukee’s immigrants, and tend to be the least well-known. Take the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Last August, the Buddhist-dominated government intensified longtime persecution of the Rohingya with a campaign of mass rapes, murders and burning of villages that one United Nations official called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” In one of the fastest displacements of a people since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar between August and the end of the year.

Shaukhat Ali at the Rohingya American Society photo by Lacy Landre

It is likely to take years before those Rohingya resettle in other countries or return to Myanmar, but even before the latest crisis, Rohingya refugees had been resettled in Milwaukee. Shaukhat Kyaw Soe Aung Ali, 50, is from the first Rohingya refugee family to settle in Wisconsin, more than 15 years ago. Today he is the founder and executive director of the Rohingya American Society on South 16th Street and West Oklahoma Avenue.

Ali, married with three children, two born in the U.S., is in regular touch with Rohingya groups across the country. He estimates about 2,000 Rohingya live in Milwaukee, more than any other U.S. city, with the next-biggest number in Chicago. Overall, 7,086 Rohingya refugees were settled in the U.S. from 2009 through July 2017, according to figures from the State Department.

Ali fled because his political activism made him a targeted man – originally going to Thailand, in 1990, then to Malaysia. In 2002 his family was resettled in Hartland, and a few years later they moved to Milwaukee to be closer to the Muslim community.

As with many recent immigrants, Ali initially found work through temp agencies at low-level hospitality and factory jobs. In 2008, he was hired by the Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement program, becoming a key player in Rohingya settlement in Milwaukee. Today, Ali heads his own business as an interpreter.

Ali became a U.S. citizen in 2007, and he has a deep respect for American protections of freedom of religion and expression and what he calls “freedom of opportunity, especially education.” He beams when he mentions his 17-year-old daughter has been accepted at UW-Madison.

Why have the Rohinyga settled in Milwaukee? One reason, Ali says, is its many well-respected refugee resettlement and social service agencies, especially the local Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services organizations. Another is that the Rohingya are primarily a rural people, and Milwaukee is less intimidating and less expensive than many cities.

Ali, echoing comments made by many immigrant leaders, says that language is perhaps the biggest obstacle for new arrivals. Language barriers not only limit job opportunities but also reinforce isolation. This in turn makes it difficult for immigrants to counter stereotypes.

“Because English is new and it is very difficult to communicate, education is the highest necessity,” Ali stresses.

People fleeing conflict or persecution are protected under international law, and the U.S. State Department tracks their numbers. From 2001 to September 2017, nearly 10,000 refugees were resettled in Milwaukee County. The top countries of origin were Myanmar, Somalia, Laos, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

No group in Milwaukee has been more affected by Trump’s anti-immigration policies than the Latino community. And yet in recent decades no group has been more essential to stabilizing Milwaukee’s population and economy.

After years of quiet community-building, Milwaukee’s Latino population burst onto the political scene on March 23, 2006. As part of a national mobilization against a sweeping immigration proposal, thousands of people marched from Milwaukee’s near South Side across the Sixth Street Viaduct. Organized by Voces de la Frontera, it was the first major demonstration by Milwaukee’s Latino community. (The bill, sponsored by longtime Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, failed.)

According to a Greater Milwaukee Foundation report, the city’s Latino population grew from 39,000 in 1990 to more than 108,000 in 2014. Without this surge, the city’s population would have declined significantly. In roughly the same period, the number of Latinos in the metropolitan region tripled to more than 160,000.

With that growth has come increased economic and political clout. Latinos have been elected at the local and state level, organizations such as the United Community Center have expanded their influence, and major business players include Agustin Ramirez of HUSCO International.

Voces de la Frontera remains at the forefront of organizing for immigrant rights. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the group’s executive director, says Trump’s initiatives, especially the repeal of protections for undocumented youth known as “Dreamers,” have generated intense fears. “The announcement was like a shock wave that hit people at their core,” she says. “There was a lot of tears, a lot of fear, an uptick in bullying.”

Neumann-Ortiz also says there has been an increase in raids and deportations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including arrests at two dairy farms in Washington County this January.

At the same time, Neumann-Ortiz is optimistic – particularly about Milwaukee, where schools, churches and public officials have shown support for immigrants. Perhaps most important, she says, the Milwaukee Police Department has resisted pressure from the federal government and has maintained its policy that police will not routinely profile and question people about their immigration status.

The Latino community has been organizing for so long, with significant victories along the way, “that we have become aware of our own importance,” she says. “It’s like we have been in training, and so we are ready. I feel hopeful.”

After Latinos, Asians – a term applied to dozens of widely distinct nationalities – are the most numerous of Milwaukee’s new immigrants. The Hmong, who have been arriving in Wisconsin for decades, are the largest of this group, followed by Indians.

The Hmong are an ethnic people in Southeast Asia who allied with the U.S. during the Vietnam War. After the war’s end, thousands were resettled in the U.S. Wisconsin has the third-largest Hmong community in the country, after California and Minnesota. The highest percentage live in the Milwaukee area.

Three decades ago, Milwaukee’s Hmong faced issues common to new immigrants: learning English, finding housing and good jobs, establishing a community. Today, there are new issues. The younger generation, for instance, is increasingly Americanized, not only losing touch with the culture and language of their elders, but resentful of parental expectations that seem out of touch with life in the U.S.

Dawn and Thay Yang, both in their 40s, have made it their life’s passion to address contemporary concerns in the Hmong community. Last September, in the finished basement of their Oak Creek home, they began producing a weekly Hmong news show – “Nyob Zoo,” a traditional Hmong greeting roughly translated as “Hello, how are you?”

Thay, who works by day at Milwaukee Public Television, views “Nyob Zoo” as a way to counter stereotypes in the mainstream news. Dawn, who works in social services, sees it as a way to unite the Hmong community, which traditionally is organized by clans that keep to themselves.

Her experiences as a refugee and mother of a grown daughter also allow her to help bridge generational rifts among the Hmong. Dawn was born in a Thai refugee camp in 1975, and her family was among the first wave of Hmong to the U.S. She has lived in both worlds.

The Yangs estimate that more than 20,000 Hmong, both immigrant and U.S. born, live within “Nyob Zoo’s” viewing area in Southeastern Wisconsin.

While the Hmong are centered primarily in Milwaukee, the second-largest Asian population in the region has gravitated towards the suburbs.

The Indian community’s cultural and religious focal point sits on 40 acres in Pewaukee, across the street from a Costco and Walmart and next to a Lutheran church: the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin, which opened in 2000 and expanded in 2016 to accommodate the growing number of Indians.

Susmita Acharya, president of the temple’s board, and her husband are representative of the region’s Indian population in that they’re professionals who came to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies, a common path in the 1960s and ’70s. Acharya, 70, was a chemistry professor at Cardinal Stritch University from 1985 to 2014, while her husband, Kishore, was an electrical engineer with General Electric.

“Most of the Indians originally came as professionals – doctors, professors,” she says. Today, a growing number of Indians in metro Milwaukee work in information technology and related fields. Acharya does not know any Indians who entered as refugees, or who do not have legal documents.

The Indian population differs from other immigrant groups in a few key respects. Because English and Hindi are the dominant languages in India, most came to the U.S. knowing English. Second, the disproportionately professional profile means the Indian community is generally more affluent, which has led them to prefer the suburbs. “We bought a house in Brookfield because of the school system,” Acharya says. Asian students comprise almost 15 percent of the student body in the Elmbrook district that serves primarily Brookfield and Elm Grove.

The number of Indians more than doubled in metro Milwaukee between 2000 and 2010, to about 12,000, Acharya says, citing census figures and adding that the number today is considerably higher. Nationally, foreign-born Indians are now the second-largest immigrant group, after Mexicans.

A century ago, immigrant communities in Milwaukee were unified by language, culture and national origin. Older Catholics in Milwaukee can readily recall which parishes were identified with the Polish, the Italians or the Irish. But for a key immigrant community in today’s Milwaukee – Muslims – religion is the only reliable common denominator.

Othman Atta, operations manager at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, is well versed in the history of Muslims in Milwaukee – his grandfather came to the city in the early 20th century. Atta, a Palestinian born in the West Bank, arrived in Milwaukee in 1966, attending Rufus King High School and earning a law degree from Marquette University.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Muslim community was dominated by Arabs, he recalls. They were later joined by Muslims from the Indian subcontinent, many of them medical professionals. Today, many are from the more recent points of origin: Somalia, Myanmar, Iraq, Syria. Overall, Atta estimates there are 15,000 to 20,000 Muslims in the metro area. They have no single language or nationality. “At the Islamic Center, the sermon is required to be in English,” he says. “That’s the only common language.”

Atta dates the beginning of Milwaukee’s contemporary Muslim community to 1982-83, when the Islamic Society of Milwaukee formed. Establishing the Salam School in 1991, which provides a religious-based education and is part of the Milwaukee voucher program, was another important step. Families have even relocated to Milwaukee because of the school, Atta says.

Atta views himself as a bridge between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. He is committed to his religious identity but not necessarily to an ethnic identity. “I am a Muslim, but I am an American,” he says. “And my kids are American. That’s their culture.”

As both an American and a Muslim, Atta worries about the “normalization” of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric. “If a politician running for the highest office in the land is able to say things that sound hateful, discriminatory, inflammatory, that will empower the normal guy who will crawl out from under the rock they have been hiding under,” he says. “That’s my biggest fear.”

It is a fear that, unfortunately, came true for Milwaukee’s Sikh community. In 2012, a white supremacist from Cudahy burst into the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek and fatally shot six people before committing suicide. Among the dead were 65-year-old Satwant Singh Kaleka, a founder of the temple.

The Sikh religion is centered in the Punjab region of what is now northern India and Pakistan, and political tensions in the region have played a role in Sikh immigration to Milwaukee. Pardeep Singh Kaleka, Satwant’s 41-year-old son, explains that his uncle was among the first wave of Sikh immigrants to Milwaukee, in the 1960s and 1970s. Most were well-educated, and Kaleka estimates that today there are about 2,000 Sikhs in greater Milwaukee.

In 1982, Pardeep Kaleka’s uncle, a veterinarian, sponsored the Kaleka family so they could come to Milwaukee. “The long and short of our story is that my family came here with $20 in their pocket, fulfilling that immigrant dream,” Kaleka says. His mom worked at Eagle Knitting Mills making OshKosh B’gosh clothes, and his dad worked at a gas station. Eventually they saved enough money to buy a gas station/market on the South Side. He and his brother were the first two in the family to graduate from college, from Marquette University.

Kaleka first worked as a police officer, then an educator. Since the massacre, he has dedicated his life to healing and now works as a therapist specializing in trauma.

Both his religious beliefs and personal story lead him to value peace, Kaleka explains. But that does not mean ignoring unpleasant realities, and he worries about today’s “toxic, anti-immigrant environment.”

“What are we saying?” he asks. “That we want the world’s resources, but we don’t want the world’s people?”

Kaleka has not lost faith in Milwaukee, but he believes it is at a crossroads. Will it embrace the world’s new realities, or yearn for a past that can never return? “I’ve been around Milwaukee long enough to have seen the exodus of jobs in the 1980s,” he says. “Right now, the immigrants and refugees coming here, we need them to help rebuild Milwaukee.”

Five years ago, Kaleka had a tattoo engraved on his palm: 8-5-12, the date of the killings at the temple. The tattoo is wearing off, but that’s OK with Kaleka: “I see it as a metaphor, to embrace our impermanence.”

And, yes, it could also be a metaphor for Milwaukee. “Change,” he emphasizes, “is the only certainty in life.”

What’s an Immigrant?

The term immigrant is broadly defined to include all residents who were not U.S. citizens at birth and is used interchangeably with “foreign born.” It encompasses those with legal documents, such as naturalized citizens, permanent residents and refugees, and those without legal documents. Data on ethnic groups refer both to immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants.

MPS: Home Base For Immigrants

Of the institutions serving immigrants, none is more important than the Milwaukee Public Schools.

When a student enrolls, the first questions are the student’s address and whether the family is doubled up with relatives, which makes them eligible for services for homeless students. MPS also asks the student’s primary language. That’s about it. “As a matter of policy, we do not ask for documentation or immigrant status,” notes Lorena Gueny, who oversees the district’s Division of Bilingual/Multicultural Education and was herself born in Chile.

MPS students speak more than 54 different languages and come from more than 70 countries. The district routinely translates documents into six languages: Spanish, Arabic, Hmong, Somali, and Burmese and Karen, two languages spoken in Myanmar. This school year, almost 8,500 MPS students receive English language services in MPS, up from about 7,000 in 2013-14. In October, I met with nine students at South Division High School who are part of a “new arrivals” program for new immigrants. South has about 200 students speaking more than 15 languages in the program. The school, with a total of about 1,100 students, has an additional 350 students in the Spanish bilingual program.

Many students in the new arrivals program suffered significant trauma in fleeing their homelands, followed by years of limbo in refugee camps. But these young people also have undeniable strengths.

Take the issue of language. While many students struggle with English, especially writing, overall their linguistic skills put U.S. students to shame. For example, 19-year-old senior Mona Mohammed moved from Saudi Arabia to the United States in 2015. Her conversational English is strong, and she also speaks Arabic and French, and is learning Spanish and Sudanese Arabic.

The students are also resilient and resourceful. In those first months when everything about the U.S. was new and their English was limited, they used hand gestures, drew pictures, or went to a translation app on their smartphones. They would also use a common language to help each other, whether Arabic, Burmese or Thai.

The most complicated problem, however, is not academics but attitudes from other students. Some of the new arrivals try to ignore hurtful comments, some get angry and some fight prejudice with information.

Farok Rashid, from Myanmar, told how one student complained during a class that “immigrants should not be allowed in this school,” and he decided not to let the comment slide. “I gave her more facts,” he said, “and at the end of class she came up to me and apologized.”

Eduardo Martinez at home with his wife, Lisbeth Sanchez, and son, Aiden photo by Lacy Landre

Eduardo Martinez, a Milwaukee Dreamer

Three years ago, Eduardo Martinez thought he had it made.

Although he had illegally crossed the border from Mexico when he was 13, he applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. An Obama-era executive order, DACA allowed young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” to live, work and go to school without fear of deportation. It cost Martinez a lot – almost $500 for the application, plus lawyer’s fees – and it wasn’t a path to citizenship. But DACA was important to Martinez, 29. He had a new son and was thinking of the future.

Perhaps most important, Martinez could get a driver’s license and a Social Security number. No longer having to work low-level jobs that paid under the table, he found a factory job at about twice the pay. In August 2017, he and his girlfriend bought a house in Bay View. A few months later, they married.

In September, however, President Donald Trump repealed DACA, and the fate of Dreamers took center court in a game of political ping-pong.

Martinez’s DACA status expires this August. If DACA ends and he cannot re-apply, he will lose his driver’s license. He’ll take his chances driving without a license and risk serious consequences if caught, including possible deportation. But bicycling or walking to work aren’t feasible, nor is public transportation.

There are other worries. Will he lose his factory job? His credit rating, home ownership or Social Security? His wife is a U.S. citizen, but it’s unclear how that will affect his status because, contrary to popular thinking, marrying a citizen does not automatically protect one from deportation.

A lawyer might have answers, but lawyers are expensive. And even if Congress finds a way to temporarily protect Dreamers, what if the Trump administration – or Congress – changes the rules again?

Martinez tries not to dwell on questions he cannot answer. But he knows one thing. “Without DACA, I am going backwards, to a worse life,” he says. “I don’t want to go back to Mexico. It’s been 15 years already, and this is my home now. My life is here.”

Just under 800,000 people signed up for DACA after it began this includes about 7,500 in Wisconsin, with the highest percentage in the Milwaukee area. Multiply Martinez’s story by the thousands and you get a glimpse of the human impact of DACA.

For now, Martinez is taking it day by day, trying not to obsess or get angry. When I ask if he’s worried about giving me his name and address, he shrugs. “They have that information anyway, because when you apply for DACA, you give it to them,” he says. “They know where they can find me.”


Assessment & Taxation Records 1839-1887

Scattered volumes for Bay View (village), Milwaukee (city) and Towns of Franklin, Granville, Greenfield, Lake, Milwaukee, Oak Creek, and Wauwatosa.

Books

The library book catalog includes volumes relating to local and state history dating from the 19th century.

Business Index

Alphabetical index by firm name. Includes published business information and pamphlet files.

Census Records

  • Territorial Censuses 1836, 1840, 1842, 1846, and 1847, indexed.
  • Federal Censuses of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 are available for all Milwaukee County. Note: MCHS has an index for the 1850 census only.
  • Wisconsin State Census of 1905.

These records can be requested through an online form .

Church Records & Pamphlet Files

Microfilm baptisms, burials, marriages, confirmations, for the following churches- Episcopal:

  • St. James (Milwaukee)
  • St. John Chrysostom (Delafield) St. Luke (Racine)
  • St. Peter’s (West Allis)
  • St. Paul’s (Watertown, Columbus, and Ashippun)
  • St. Mark’s (Beaver Dam)
  • St. Edmund’s (Elm Grove)
  • Our Savior’s Lutheran (Milwaukee)
  • Ascension Lutheran (Milwaukee)
  • St. Peter’s Lutheran (River Hills)
  • West Granville Presbyterian
  • St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church (Milwaukee)

No indexes are available. Individual church files include anniversary publications and church histories indexed by denomination and church name.

City Directories

1847-1990, 1992-1993, 1996-1997, 2002
Helpful in determining when a person or business was in the City of Milwaukee, addresses and occupations for heads of households. Business subject listings. Reverse directories begin in 1921 these indicate who or what business occupied a particular street address in a given year.

Civil Court Records

Bound alphebetical name indexes and microfiche by court and years until 1974. Court cases after 1974 must have the court case case number obtained from the courthouse. Civil court cases and divorce records only, no criminal records. Post-1932 cases are not on-site and may take several days to pull them.

Civil War Roster of Wisconsin Veterans

  • Alphabetical lists by name, rank, company, regiment, residence at enlistment, date of enlistment, cause and discharge from service.
  • Indexed and quote Personal War Sketches and quote of E. B. Wolcott Post #1, Robert Chivas Post #2, and Rank and File Post #240.
  • Soldier’s Relief Commission pension forms indexed by veteran or survivors. State censuses of veterans alphabetically arranged for 1885, 1895, and 1905.

Coroner's Inquests

1873-1935 1960-1969
Full alphabetical name index available. Files contain death certificates and inquest testimony.

Jail Registers Sheriff’s Department

  • 1855-1869
  • 1881 [name index only]
  • 1889-1926
  • 1929-1960
  • 1964
  • No name index: includes name, offense, and court, some disposition and release dates.
  • Additional women’s registers 1836-1969.

Manuscript Collections

Detailed finding aids to primary material relating to individuals, businesses, organizations, institutions, and government. Also an index of unpublished monographs and theses. Some finding aids are available to view here.

A wide selection of city, county, suburban, and state maps. Helpful for locations and old street names. Fully indexed.

  • Milwaukee County plat maps (excludes City of Milwaukee) for 1858, 1876, 1893, 1916, 1926, 1954, and 1961, which show owner’s name and may include acreage.
  • Local and state atlases. The 1898 Baist’s Atlas and 1910 Sanborn fire insurance set show individual structures on enlarged street sections. Incomplete set of Sanborn fire sets for 1927, 1929, 1930, and 1937, and 1966 are available.

National Defense Program

Post World War II era registration cards for Milwaukee County employees only, name index. 13,150 fingerprint cards include name, date and place of birth, address, physical description, job applied for, citizenship status, and photograph.

Naturalization Papers 1836 - May 25, 1941

Final Petitions for Naturalization and Declarations of Intent. Alphabetical card index for naturalizations, bound indexes for intents. Papers after September 1906 are more detailed than those before that date. Women did not fill out naturalization papers until 1922 when they were granted the right to vote. Prior to 1922, a woman was naturalized through the action of her father or husband.

These records can be requested through an on-line form.

Obituaries & Biographies

Six volumes of Old Settler’s Club obituaries and memorials, indexed.

Ordination Papers 1836-1934

Name index includes date and denomination. Papers include Catholic, Protestant, and other denominational certificates of credentials as ordained clergy.

Photographic Collections

The Milwaukee County Historical Society has more than one million photographs in its collections. Most photographs are housed on-site and are readily available for patrons. The collections are arranged by subject category, street, and family or individual name. We also have collections from several Milwaukee photographers.


The Yankee Empire, 1820-1890

Early migration to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the east came disproportionately from New England and New York. That pattern was mightily reinforced by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which funneled Yankees and ex-Yankees from New York into the southern portions of the Upper Midwest. Each state in turn for a time dubbed itself "the New England of the West." Yankees soon became a minority, but they long continued to sit atop economic and political hierarchies and to set the general tone. Yankee hegemony was evident in countless ways. The many varieties of New England-based Protestantism were seen as nondenominational, whereas Lutherans and Catholics were seen as sectarian. New England-style blue laws kept the Sabbath holy. The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization of Yankee Civil War veterans. For most of the nineteenth century, under this Yankee dominance, a mostly rural population eagerly went about the business of developing the transportation and banking systems that would allow the region to realize its thoroughly commercial ambitions.

Each state went through a boom when the government put its land on the market at the prescribed low price. As an extreme example, in 1836, the peak year for land sales in Michigan, one-ninth of the state's total land area went on the block. In short order, a semi-subsistent farm life established itself in each of the states, as a means of going on from there to something better. With increasing wealth, New England-style houses, sporting classical proportions, replaced their homely predecessors, and New England-style churches raised their spires to the skies.

"This drawing by John T. McCutcheon appeared when Battle Creek was booming wheat flakes and cereal stocks. W. K. Kellogg liked the cartoon so much that he reproduced it later in a cornflake advertisement. The building in the background was the Sanitas food factory." Cornflake crusade, by Gerald Carson (New York, 1957).

The great cash crop of this pioneer economy was wheat, which stored easily and sold well. The grand imperative for the farmer was to get the crop to market. Roads were built, but they were rough and slow-going. The closer to water, the closer to market. Southeastern Wisconsin was favorably located close to Lake Michigan, and with otherwise favorable conditions developed into a nationally competitive center of wheat production for a short period. Locations lacking water transportation were at a big disadvantage. As the nineteenth century progressed, everyone agreed that a railroad system was essential for getting wheat to market, and schemes for railroad financing and construction abounded. In a helter-skelter way, railroads got built and by the time of the Civil War the flow of agricultural products followed the railroad to the east rather than the river to the west and south. Financing the railroads and other enterprises required money, and the region was characterized during the antebellum period by vast opportunities and slender means. Grotesquely underfunded "wildcat" banks compounded the problem.

From the outset, immigration was actively and even officially promoted in the Upper Midwest. Immigrants flooded in for example, by 1880, 71% of Minnesota's population was either foreign-born or the children of foreign-born parents. Wisconsin was a magnet for German immigrants in particular. German influence was especially strong in Milwaukee, so much so that politics there had its own, often socialist, flavor. Islands and even small regions of immigrant settlement were, in effect, ethnic colonies, often promoting their particular religious and educational institutions in the name of preserving ethnic traditions. All three states were dotted with small, usually short-lived intentional communities pursuing utopian goals.

The new Republican party originated in the Upper Midwest in the 1850s, and the region remained a center of Republican power for most of the rest of the nineteenth century. Politics in the area adopted a moralistic tone, advocating strong antislavery sentiments if not initiatives to expand black rights. The Republicans always ruled by means of coalitions with immigrant populations, and so anti-immigrant nativism was seldom strident.


A White Utopia: How a segregated Milwaukee created the arrogance of suburbia

Utopia: an imaginary island described in Sir Thomas More’s book “Utopia” (1516) as enjoying perfection in law, politics, etc. an ideal place or state. any visionary system of political or social perfection.

I am often asked why Milwaukee’s suburbs are so segregated. People then ask a follow up question. What can we do about it? The answers to both questions are complicated yet at the same time simple.

Suburbia was built as a place for White people to escape central cities. Why do I say White people you may ask. Well it is clear from studying the history of suburbs, whether here in Milwaukee or elsewhere, that they were designed to be all-white spaces. When we look at how white they are today, it is evidence of how white they have been since their inception. It was not accidentally all-white, they were planned to be all-white and still remain mostly white to this day in metro Milwaukee.

This comes as a shock to some. We have all been told that people “self-segregate.” Let me correct this myth. Only White people have had the power and inclination to self-segregate. They exclusively, had the assistance of local, state and federal government agencies, the real estate industry, urban planners, bankers and other lenders as well as laws and courts to create segregated spaces. The only exceptions were all-black towns created by formerly enslaved Blacks after the Civil War which generally did not last into the twentieth century.

At the turn of the twentieth century, America was becoming more integrated. This continued until the period right around WWI. Prior to the war, in states that bordered the South, White people began to create a method to keep people out of their neighborhoods that were not White. They passed zoning ordinances which restricted neighborhoods to just White occupants.

Why did they do so? Because Black people had begun fleeing the Jim Crow South in large numbers to get away from lynch mobs and anti-black race riots and came close to White neighborhoods.

Most of us did not learn about lynchings or anti-black race riots in school. In the late 1800s lynchings across America were a regular occurrence. During the 1890s there were an average of 154 documented lynchings per year with mostly Black victims. Every three days during that decade a Black person was lynched somewhere in the land of the free and home of the brave.

In 1898 a raging mob of angry Whites, upset that Blacks had been elected in Wilmington, North Carolina staged the only known coup d’etat in United States history. At least fourteen Blacks were killed and many fled the city, never to return. Just seven years later another mob of angry Whites killed dozens of Blacks in Atlanta, Georgia. In Lincoln’s birthplaces, Springfield, Illinois, Whites killed Blacks in another orgy of anti-black violence.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, anti-black race riots in the North were all the rage. Evansville and Greensburg, Indiana, New York City, and Springfield, Ohio were the sites of anti-black race riots. They continued in 1919 with over two dozens such riots by Whites as well as the Race Massacre in Tulsa in 1921, the most well known and infamous twentieth century anti-black race riot. At the same time these violent events were occurring around the country, massive numbers of immigrants from Europe were arriving at Ellis Island seeking a new life.

From 1880 until 1920 over 20 million immigrants arrived in the United States. Most of them were from Europe, with lesser amounts from Canada and Latin America. The European immigrants came mostly from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe in the 1890s. They were quickly indoctrinated in the racial dynamics of America. They witnessed and participated in the anti-black violence.

More than 4 million Italians arrived from 1890 through 1920. Over 2 million Jews escaping the pogroms in Eastern Europe arrived between 1880 and 1920. Nearly 1.5 million immigrants arrived in 1907, the largest number for any year. Many of these newly arriving immigrants arrived in big cites like Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. In the early 1900s Milwaukee was the most foreign born city in the country with a higher percentage of foreign born residents than any city in the United States.

Big cities became overcrowded, and with the invention of and purchase of automobiles, they became places that were considered anything but desirable. If the arrival of all of these White immigrants wasn’t bad enough for the native born Whites, Blacks began to arrive as well. In the oldest residential neighborhoods in Milwaukee, these immigrants and Blacks lived in close proximity. The area known as the “black belt” was populated by both Blacks and recently arriving Jews just north of downtown. Poles and Italians were mostly on the South side of the city. The growing industrial base of Milwaukee employed large numbers of immigrants but very few Blacks. Blacks preferred to go to places like Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit instead of coming to Milwaukee until the 1940s.

Across the country, Whites began to show their great displeasure by pushing for the draconian 1924 Immigration Act which drastically cut immigration into the U.S. They also started to propose and write racial zoning laws to keep Blacks out of their neighborhoods. These racial zoning ordinances spread far and wide leading to a court challenge by Blacks.

The 1917, Warley v. Buchanan U.S. Supreme Court case made these racial zoning ordinances illegal. The court ruled that these ordinances were a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, infringing on contractual freedom by interfering with private property sales between Whites and Blacks. The caveat to the decision was that it only applied to legal statues and not private contracts.

This led to the use of racial restrictive covenants, a private contract with the same impact as the racial zoning ordinances but much more widespread. The first known instance of this tool of segregation in metro Milwaukee was in 1919, when the Washington Highlands subdivision homeowners association in Wauwatosa wrote a covenant restricting the space to Whites only.

“At no time shall the land included in Washington Highlands or any part thereof, or any buildings thereon be purchased, owned, leased, or occupied by any person other than of the white race. This prohibition is not intended to include domestic servants while employed by the owner or occupant of any land included in this tract.”

This set the trend for dozens more subdivisions around metro Milwaukee. According to the report, Racially Restrictive Covenants: The Making of All-White Suburbs in Milwaukee County, by Lois Quinn and the Metropolitan Integration Research Center, eventually sixteen of the eighteen suburbs in Milwaukee County used these covenants to keep Blacks out. They did not find any in Oak Creek or River Hills but did not rule out that they might have used them as well.

“By the 1940’s at least sixteen of the eighteen Milwaukee County suburbs were using racially restrictive covenants to exclude black families from residential areas…For example, subdivisions established in 1927 in Cudahy, Shorewood, West Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay, and Wauwatosa excluded all non-Caucasian families. In the 1930’s subdivisions created in Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale, Greenfield, Hales Corners, St. Francis and South Milwaukee categorically excluded blacks. In the 1940’s Brown Deer, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, St. Francis, and West Allis were still using covenants to exclude blacks from newly created subdivisions. As late as 1958, ten years after the United State Supreme Court outlawed judicial enforcement of these covenants, race restrictions were recorded in the courthouse for a new subdivision in Greendale.”

Decades later, White people ask me why the suburbs are so segregated and what we can do about it. There is an underlying assumption that Black people want to move to these communities in large numbers. I doubt that they do. There are more than enough Blacks in Milwaukee that could easily afford to live in the burbs but chose not to.

The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2019 show a population of 945,276 residents of Milwaukee County, 404,198 in Waukesha County, 89,221 in Ozaukee County and 136,034 in Washington County. The percentage of Blacks in those places is instructive. Milwaukee County (26%), Waukesha County (1.6%), Ozaukee County (0.6%), and Washington County (1.6%).

In Milwaukee County 245,476 Blacks are residents but most (224,284) live in the city of Milwaukee. That means that 91.4 percent of all Blacks in Milwaukee County live within the borders of the city of Milwaukee. That is the lowest percentage in the suburbs of any of the most highly segregated metro areas in the country. By comparison, in Buffalo (75.1%), Detroit (77.5%), Chicago (65.7%), and Cleveland (51.6%), a significant percentage of Blacks live in the central city within their respective counties of Erie, Wayne, Cook and Cuyahoga respectively.

So what is it that keeps Blacks out of Milwaukee’s suburbs? According to a 2005 report entitled City of Milwaukee Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC) there are multiple barriers still in place many years after local, state and federal laws were passed making housing discrimination illegal.

They listed issues in the city of Milwaukee as well as in our suburbs. In Milwaukee they listed these: Lack of Required Enforcement Mechanism for Complaints of Discrimination City of Milwaukee Housing and Employment Discrimination Ordinance Lack of Housing Units Accessible to Persons with Disabilities Overcrowded Housing Affordable Housing Supply Group Homes or Community Living Arrangements Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funding Policies Fair Housing Litigation Involving the City and Milwaukee Public Schools.

The report states that the city Equal Rights Commission did “not have the capacity to conduct intake or investigation of housing discrimination complaints.” It also stated that the City ordinance protecting residents form discrimination in housing “includes provisions that are inconsistent with, and in some instances more restrictive than, federal and/ or state fair housing laws. Moreover, the Ordinance provides vague and inadequate enforcement mechanisms for persons who bring claims under this Ordinance.” It listed limited supply of affordable and accessible housing for poorer residents and those with disabilities. The report said, “the City’s failure to leverage Block Grants for increased private investment Block Grant dollars are increasingly allocated to fund City departments and the lack of post-purchase housing counseling.” It also discussed two major legal actions initiated against the city related to zoning issues and Milwaukee Public School “development of alternative school options for area students” as being problematic.

In the suburbs they listed “opposition to housing for families with children, opposition to affordable housing through NIMBYism, impact fees, exclusionary zoning codes, exclusionary public housing or Section 8 Rent Assistance Vouchers and inadequate public transportation” as well as “obstacles to fair housing in the housing production, mortgage lending, homeowners insurance, rental, and home sales markets” and “a lack of programs that provide financial incentives to developers to build accessible housing” and stated that, “Discrimination in mortgage lending prevents or impedes home seekers from obtaining the financing normally required to purchase a home.”

State and federal impediments listed in the report include: Cuts in funding to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program No Regional Housing Strategy or Plan Attack on the Community Reinvestment Act Efforts to Weaken Wisconsin’s Smart Growth/Comprehensive Planning Law The Lack of Resources and Incentives for Affordable Housing Developers Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority’s (WHEDA) Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program and The Lack of Infrastructure Between Medicare/Medicaid and Section 8.

An October 2020 report, Regional Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing, by a collaborative formed by the City of Milwaukee, City of Wauwatosa, City of West Allis, Jefferson County, Milwaukee County, Ozaukee County, Washington County and Waukesha County looks at current issues. This report was “required by federal law and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations.”

“More important, the creation of the Collaborative was groundbreaking for the geographic area these jurisdictions encompass. It recognized the reality that the many factors inhibiting or denying individuals fair housing choice and access are rarely confined or isolated to a single community, particularly in and adjacent to urban areas. In addition, these impediments are by their nature contentious, systemic, and longstanding. To address these issues comprehensively, multiple jurisdictions must be: able, first, to identify them willing to acknowledge them open to understanding how they affect access to fair housing in the region as a whole and prepared to actively and jointly pursue strategies to remove them.”

They identified 15 impediments: : Lack of a Regional Housing Strategy or Plan Lack of Regionally Dispersed Affordable Housing Restrictive Local Land Use Regulations and Other Ordinances Restrictive Zoning Regulations for Group Homes and Community Living Facilities Prevalent “Fear of Others” Exists among Residents, including NIMBYism Strong Jobs-Housing-Transit Mismatch Lack of Fair Housing Guidance and Enforcement Lack of Accessible Housing for Persons with Disabilities Gap in Homeownership by Racial and Ethnic Minorities Compared to White Households Overcrowded Housing Extensive Use of Evictions Lack of Private Investment in Specific Neighborhoods in Milwaukee Gentrification of Some Neighborhoods Surrounding Downtown Milwaukee Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mortgage Lending, Insurance, and Appraisal Practices and: Lack of Awareness.

It is easy to see that many of the impediments they identified are the same as those listed by the MMFHC in 2005. What has changed is that very little has been done to address these impediments over the past fifteen years. There has been a lack of real action by policy makers and elected officials to do something substantial about these impediments which contribute to the segregated nature of metro Milwaukee.

People talk a good game but don’t walk the walk. Segregation in metro Milwaukee is endemic meaning that it is “persisting in a population or region, generally having settled to a relatively constant rate of occurrence.” It is not a simple fix because it developed over decades and continues because of a very complicated set of circumstances. However, going back to its’ basic foundation, it is clear that the desire of Whites years ago to keep their communities all-white is still alive in policies and practices despite rhetoric about equity.

The 2020 report tells us that, “Race and disability are the most frequently cited bases of housing discrimination complaints that are filed with the State of Wisconsin, HUD, and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Fair Housing from the Collaborative area.” NIMBYism is alive and well. Many whites in our suburbs claim to support integration. However, that support only exists as long as it is not in their neighborhood.

Blacks in metro Milwaukee realize we are not welcomed in the suburbs. Racial profiling by police, racial profiling while shopping and microaggresions expressing whites disenchantment with Blacks being in their spaces as well as challenges with our suburban schools treating students and parents of color as outsiders and a “nuisance” are clear signs that tell us we are not welcome.

There is no rational reason Black people would be in a big rush to move to suburbs around Milwaukee in large numbers. It makes more sense to leave Milwaukee and move to Texas, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and other more welcoming places in the South. How ironic that Blacks left the South to escape racism but are now returning to those places to escape the racism in the North.

If white people continue to believe we can fix segregation with check-the-box practices and policies they are delusional. Your neighborhoods that you cherish so much are not that attractive to Black people. We don’t want to sit in rush hour traffic every morning and afternoon so we can live in the burbs. Black people want to see diversity in their neighborhoods. Being the first or only Black on the block is not something many of us aspire to be.

Get over the arrogance of thinking your little “utopias” in the suburbs are so desirable to Black folk who live in Milwaukee. They are not for many of us.


The chain discount stores that took hold in the 1960s (Target, Kmart, Wal-Mart) spelled the end of the department store era. The push for cheaper prices stripped away the niceties of free delivery, gift wrap, holiday parades, and other extras once taken for granted. The small elevators in stores were unable to accommodate shopping carts, now seen as a need for most shoppers, and stores looked for ways to spread out. Where could open real estate be found? Not at the city center, but at the outskirts of town. Downtown areas started to suffer.


Foreign-Born in Milwaukee: 1890 - History

The first GAR department was officially organized at Madison, Wisconsin on June 7, 1866.

At that meeting, Gen. James K. Proudfit was elected Department Commander. within 3 months' time, eight posts had been established in the state, the first being the Cassius Fairchild Post #1, chartered at Madison on June 10, 1866 with 17 members.

The GAR made its first appearance in Milwaukee on July 31, 1866. Two independent organizations had been formed and from these were recruited Phil Sheridan Post, No. 3, which was chartered on the above date. On September 16, 1875, General John Sedgwick Post, No. 12, was chartered and held its meetings at the National Home (now on the VA grounds).

It was disbanded within a short time after its organization and many of its members joined Veteran Post, No. 8, which had at the Home one of the finest post rooms in the state.

Interest in Sheridan Post lagged and it died a natural death. Some of its members organized Robert Chivas Post, No. 2 (Robert Chivas was a nephew of the late Alexander Mitchell and a lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin, who was killed at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863).

Following an initial period of enthusiasm, the GAR experienced a general decline in membership and interest not only in Wisconsin, but throughout the nation as well. GAR historians attribute the decline to the neglect of proper reports and organizational work, the use of grades or degrees of membership, participation in partisan politics, and a waning interest among some of the early members.

To its credit, the Department of Wisconsin maintained its organization and held annual encampments during the lean years of 1868 to approximately 1879.

But so ineffective had the GAR in Wisconsin become, that when the department encampment was held at Berlin, Wisconsin, in January, 1879, there were but 3 posts represented.

The most important business that came before the meeting was the proposition as to whether the Wisconsin department should surrender its charter and become part of the Illinois department. At the time, a Wisconsin Reunion Association was organized in Berlin, Wisc.

It was composed partially of Grand Army men and a large majority of ex-soldiers, who did not belong to any post. Col. Colwert K. Pier was made president and Griff J. Thomas of Berlin, secretary of the association. It was decided to hold a reunion in Milwaukee of all the Wisconsin soldiers who could be brought together, during the week of June 8, 1880. C.K. Pier composed a circular on January 11, 1879, that was published in practically all the papers in the state, and in hundreds of papers outside of the state. It concluded with this appeal:

Replies poured into the secretary's office for a year and a half. Many letters contained war incidents, bits of biography and valuable war history.

Col. Pier used this information and began a series of articles, which were printed in The Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph until the time of the reunion. These articles laid the foundation for the agitation which brought not only the greatest soldier reunion ever held, but also was the beginning of a new growth of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Fully a quarter of a million people, including 100 thousand ex-soldiers, gathered in Milwaukee. All of what was known as Prospect Hill was covered with tents. Hotels and private homes were filled to overflowing. The city raised $40,000 for the entertainment of its guests during the week of the reunion.

Generals U.S. Grant and Phil Sheridan arrived by special train and were guests of honor at the campfire and parade. Wisconsin's famed war eagle, "Old Abe," was there for what would be his last parade. The doubling of the city's population and trebling of her industries within the next 12 years is often attributed to the impetus given by the reunion.

Most of the GAR posts in Wisconsin were organized in the decade between 1880 and 1890. The Wisconsin Department was one of several that experienced growing pains. During the administration of Commander Griff J. Thomas (1879-81), Post No. 1 at Madison refused to cooperate with the Department to the extent of ignoring letters written to it. After consultation with the Commander-in-Chief, Thomas annulled its charter. E.B. Wolcott Post was chartered January 5, 1880 in Milwaukee and was awarded the coveted designation of No. 1. That post was on the point of surrendering its charter in 1881, but finally determined not to surrender and steadily improved to the point of having the largest membership in the state.

Other Grand Army Posts in the city were the Robert Mueller #250, the Rank and File #240, the George C. Drake #223, and William Steinmeyer #274. Women's Relief Corps were connected with most of the Milwaukee Grand Army posts and there were several Circles of the Ladies of the GAR. A Wisconsin law requiring the display of the U.S. flag over every schoolhouse in the state had its origins at a soldiers gathering at Plymouth, Wisconsin in June 1884.

Location of Milwaukee's GAR Posts:
E.B. Wolcott #1 - 472 E. Water
Robt. Chivas #2 - 3rd and Prairie
Veteran Post #8 - National Home
Geo C. Drake #223 - 279 3rd
Rank & File #240 - 9th & Greenfield
Robt. Mueller #250 - 12th & Wine
Wm. Steinmeyer #274 - 630 Walnut
(according to 1907 Milwaukee City Directory, C.K. Pier Badger Camp #1 met at location of Drake Post on lst and 3rd Tuesdays)

Gen. Harrison C. Hobart of the Wolcott Post made the following address: "I hope to live to see that flag displayed in or over every educational institution throughout the nation, from the little district school in the back town to the great university, and if perchance churches adopt the custom of so placing it, where all who worship may see it, all the better.,'

Milwaukee hosted the National GAR Encampments of 1889, 1923, and 1943.

At the 1889 Encampment, Gen. William T. Sherman made his last visit to the city, and reviewed the great parade of veterans. One of the attractions of the week was a naval battle planned and conducted by Cpt. J.B. Oliver, captain of Battery A. The revenue cutters "Michigan" and "Andy Johnson" participated. The shore force, consisting of the Wisconsin National Guard, extended from the Northwestern railroad depot to the government pier.

Milwaukee's E.B. Wolcott Post #1 furnished two GAR Commanders-in-Chief: August G. Weissert in 1892 and Frank A. Walsh in 1926. Comrade George W. Peck served as Milwaukee's mayor and was one of eight Post Civil War governors of Wisconsin.

Time eventually began decimating the ranks of the Grand Army. Post 1 membership, once numbering 600, dropped to 195 members by January lst, 1915. Five years later, it was the only post listed in the Milwaukee City Directory and one of 3 with more than 50 members.

By 1941, William P. Bryant, age 93, was one of 2 surviving Civil War vets in Milwaukee and the only active member of the Wolcott Post. He conducted post meetings at the Milwaukee County Library each Saturday with the help of the Sons of Union Veterans.

A decade later, on September 29, 1951, the last Civil War survivor to live in Wisconsin, 105 year old Lansing A. Wilcox, died at the Grand Army Home at King. As a patriotic order, the GAR not only urged display of the U.S. flag over schoolhouses, it conducted a history text book campaign after the issue was presented at the department encampment in 1887.

Three years later, when theCommander-in-Chief instructed posts to urge patriotism in schools, Wisconsin posts sponsored a series of free lectures on Civil War subjects in our schools.

In 1898, Milwaukee GAR members, along with others in Wisconsin,helped enlist 2,000 men to fight in the Spanish American War.


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Comments:

  1. Winefield

    Such is a life. There's nothing to be done.

  2. Axel

    Talent, you won't say anything.

  3. Morris

    Speak to the point

  4. Barak

    You hit the mark. In there is something also I think it's a good idea.

  5. Tugami

    I haven't heard anything about it yet



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