The People of Wisconsin Make Revolutionary History


Education and Public Policy

The Wisconsin Idea Changed U.S. Understanding of a University — and Politics

It was more than 100 years ago that UW President Charles Van Hise asserted that his goal was ensuring that the “beneficent influence of the university reaches every family in the state.” This has been further described over the years as the University “offering advice about public policy, providing information and exercising technical skill and conducting outreach activities” for the governance of the State of Wisconsin, as well as to address the interests and needs of the state’s citizens.


Underlying these goals has been a firm and continuous commitment to rigorous and unfettered scholarship. As far back as the end of the nineteenth century, the University of Wisconsin proclaimed that “the great state of University of Wisconsin should ever encourage the fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.” These words have been affixed to UW-Madison’s Bascom Hall since 1915 and are greatly cherished.


The Wisconsin Idea with its commitment to the well-being and advancement of its citizens and to the state in which we live has been fundamental to the Board of Regents, to our Universities’ faculties and staff, and to generations of students over the decades. The Wisconsin Idea is an ongoing challenge and incentive to ensure the finest possible teaching, scholarship, and community outreach across all boundaries of the state. And this, of course, always extends our contributions out into our nation and the world. I believe that this is a critically important time to reaffirm our dedication to the Wisconsin Idea.


I have always been proud to proclaim allegiance to the Wisconsin Idea. The widely known and respected Wisconsin Idea affirms the fundamental relationship of publicly supported higher education and the entire population of Wisconsin.

                              – Judy Crain, Recipient 2017 UW-Green Bay, Chancellor’s Award

How Wisconsin Changed US Politics


“The rise of big business in the 1870s created an oligarchy of wealthy businessmen. Politicians and business leaders conspired to create policies that favored their friends rather than the public. Wisconsin’s legislature was controlled by a few powerful Republican leaders until the 1890s.”


“[Bob] La Follette had an idea for a Progressive experiment called the Wisconsin Idea. It was the belief that efficient government should be controlled by voters rather than businesses and lobbyists, and that help from specialists in law, economics, and the social and natural sciences would produce the most effective government possible.”


“The University of Wisconsin played an important role in Progressive reform efforts and the Wisconsin idea. UW faculty helped legislators draft laws and served as experts for the government. The state founded the Legislative Reference Library to research legal history and educate law makers. The Legislative Reference Library — or “LRB” — was created in 1901. The LRB provided legislators with fast service from trained researchers. It added a bill drafting service in 1907 that was so successful it was adopted around the world.”

Read more about how Wisconsin led the United States and the world more than 100 years ago at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  Consider joining the Wisconsin Historical Society.  Support the people’s history.

The People Came First

The Wisconsin Cooperative Extension is an important part of the Wisconsin Idea.  UW is committed to sharing the university’s research and education with the public.   “The People Came First” tells the story of the partnership between the people of Wisconsin and the university.  More than 100 years of service to the public is a proud tradition.

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

— UW President Charles Van Hise in 1905

Reinvigorate good government in Wisconsin

U.S. Law that created UW was signed July 2, 1862

President Lincoln’s role in paving the way to the Wisconsin Idea    

The Wisconsin Idea by the first holder of the Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea.  Fascinating and inspiring.  This work details why the University of Wisconsin is unique and important.

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