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The Seeds of the Wisconsin Idea: Foundations & Early Beginnings (1849-1924)

Governor Nelson Dewey

The Seeds of the Wisconsin Idea: Foundations & Early Beginnings (1849-1924)

In 1848, Governor Nelson Dewey includes a medical school in the newly created University of Wisconsin. With the hiring of Charles Bardeen in 1904, the university acknowledges the need to incorporate more human-related studies of anatomy and physiology at the pre-medical biology program. Bardeen teaches anatomy, creates an anatomy department, and is actively engaged in corresponding with medical educators and state boards of examiners across the country.

These early beginnings are among the many activities across campus sowing the seeds of what will become the Wisconsin Idea—the University of Wisconsin’s conviction that its work should benefit all citizens.

The genesis of the Wisconsin Idea has often been attributed to former UW President Charles Van Hise, who in a 1905 Press Association address declares,

Charles Bardeen

Charles Bardeen

“I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every family of the state.”

Meanwhile, the clinical side of the future UW DOVS is starting to form—an early example of how the Wisconsin Idea plays out in the lives of WIsconsin residents. In 1914, Dr. Frederick Allison Davis, MD, who will go on to serve as the first chair in ophthalmology, is invited to join the future Davis Duehr Eye Clinic in Madison, founded by Dr. Corydon Greenwood Dwight.