Looks like a church, doesn’t it? It was built in 1878 and first named Assembly Hall because administrators were eager to have a space to accommodate the entire student body in one place. Today, many high schools wouldn’t be able to fit into its original 800-seat auditorium, but back then UW’s student body hovered around 500. UW’s student population has exceeded over 40,000 for many years now.
The president of the university would deliver a “Baccalaureate Sermon” every spring in this hall. The first to do so was John Bascom. A graduate of Williams College and Andover Theological Seminary, Bascom was a profoundly Christian academic and minister who wrote many articles and books on what he called “natural theology.” He was a proponent of the social gospel and of the temperance movement, an especially controversial stance in a state with major beer makers.
Bascom believed in both the advancement of religious teachings and in the correction of social ills, even though today we often find them separated. For Bascom, his faith informed his teaching and scholarship, and the knowledge discovered at the university informed his faith. Bascom offers an instructive example of a Christian who integrated his vocational and religious lives. He also helps us better understand how such key parts of UW’s mission, such as the Wisconsin Idea, also have roots in this integration of faith and learning.
Continue heading up Bascom Hill, past the Law School on your left, until you reach South Hall and the plaque on its nearest corner for the next stop.