Early history and timeline of public education in Madison, WI

*read MMSD Staff News source article here* (Sept. 16, 1988)

Pre Civil-War:

1836

  • Wisconsin becomes a territory (July 3, 1838)

1838

Louisa Brayton Sawin

  • Madison, WI has 62 residents and a dozen homes
  • March 1838: public education begins in log cabin home (corner of King St & Doty St)
    • First teacher is 22 year old Louisa Brayton; teaches approximately one dozen students
  • May 1838: first 3-month school term ends

1839

  • First regular school house acquired (corner of E Johnson St & Pinckney St)
    • currently on property of the WI Department of Public Instruction building

1844

  • Enrollment increases to 50 students

1845

1846

  • Madison, WI begins as a village
  • Enrollment increases to 100 students

1848

  • Wisconsin becomes a state (admitted to the Union May 29,1848)

1855

  • 1st Superintendent of Schools (until 1860) - Damon Kilgore (former school teacher)

1856

  • Madison, WI receives city status
  • 1,602 total school-age population
    • Enrollment increases to 450 students (150 in private schools)
    • 1000 children not receiving formal instruction
  • 4 teachers with student-teacher ratio of 125:1
    • taught in brick schoolhouse, churches and a carriage factory
  • Madison Board of Education created
    • Damon Kilgore prompts WI Assembly and Senate Committees on Education to pass legislature creating the Board

1858

  • Board of Education purchases bankrupt private school; becomes Madison Central High School

1860

  •  Superintendent Damon Kilgore resigns
    • during 5 year career: two new elementary schools built, city high school created, graded school system, staff of trained teacher, growing support for public education from Madison Citizens

Post Civil-War:

1866-1870

Second Ward School

  • 3 combination elementary-middle schools built
    • 1867: Second Ward School built ("architectural delight with indoor plumbing")

1873

  • New high school built

1876

  • Student teacher ratio decreases to 45:1
  • School improvements: additions in art, music, penmanship

1880-1890

  • Public school enrollment increases by 150%

1895

  • 1 in 6 high Madison school aged students enrolled in public high school
    • National average: 1 in 53 enrolled in public high school

1900s-1920s

  • 1917: WI Legislature passes law making student attendance mandatory
  • Expansion of kindergarten, starting PTA movement, annual physical exams for students, in-school hot lunches
  • 11 new elementary schools and one high school built

MMSD historical resources:

More historical resources:

Schools with additional historical information:

Current resources/school information: