As you look south to the brick building of the University Club, you’ll see one of the oldest existing social spaces on campus. The building was finished in 1907 and, on the order of university president Charles Van Hise, the club was founded to promote faculty community. It has always had a dining area on the first floor, but originally the more than 80 rooms inside served as residences for visiting faculty. Today the building houses faculty offices, seminar rooms, and a handful of research centers.
Van Hise’s vision of campus community was, by our modern standards, severely limited. The University Club excluded women until 1933.
The Club also originally barred non-whites from taking up residence. The struggle for civil rights and equal access on campus had been going on for decades, and came to a head when Arthur Burke, an African American graduate student, tried to move into the club in 1944. Coming to UW on a year-long fellowship, Burke was granted a room by mail, presumably because the club staff did not know he was black. When Burke arrived, he was immediately asked to find other accommodations because some white members objected to sharing the space with him.
Burke was distraught and approached one of his professors, Merle Curti, a historian and member of the First Unitarian Church of Madison. Along with other faculty, Curti pressured the club to allow Burke a room. The faculty agitators included Helen C. White, one of the first women to earn a full professorship at UW and a lifelong devout Catholic, and the namesake of the building that now houses College Library. She had witnessed the opening of the club to women and knew that with pressure the board would bend. Faculty and students together lobbied for a policy change. The board agreed to hold a secret ballot vote of club members to admit Black members. Even though some faculty opposed the measure, it passed overwhelmingly, and Burke was granted a room.
This all took place during World War II, when the presence of such overt racism was particularly galling to faculty and students galvanized in their fight against Nazism. The struggle against racism would continue for decades more.
Facing Bascom Hill, head up the concrete stairs to your left onto the second floor of the large concrete structure. Walk toward Bascom Hill but before reaching the bridge make a left and look to your left for the internal courtyard to begin the next stop.