Wisconsin Historical Society Celebrates 175th Anniversary by Focusing | Wisconsin Historical Society

News Release

Wisconsin Historical Society Celebrates 175th Anniversary by Focusing on Inspiring Stories

For Immediate Release

Wisconsin Historical Society Celebrates 175th Anniversary by Focusing | Wisconsin Historical Society

Madison, Wis. — The Wisconsin Historical Society has been collecting, preserving, and sharing stories of Wisconsin and North American history since 1846. As it marks its 175th anniversary in 2021, the Society is focusing the attention on the people behind those stories.

“This milestone anniversary is not about us, it’s about Wisconsin and our nation,” said Christian Overland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director & CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “The Society was founded two years before Wisconsin became a state, and our mission has always been primarily focused on fostering the stories that are connected to the papers, artifacts, and items in our archives. We’re very excited to share these inspiring stories and to continue a conversation with the public that has been ongoing for 175 years.”

Throughout its anniversary year, the Society will highlight stories of visionaries, changemakers, and storytellers, people and groups with Wisconsin ties who have made an indelible mark on history. The Society recently launched wisconsinhistory.org/175, featuring a collection of 36 stories that highlight 12 people in each of the three categories.

Most of the people in the first 36 stories are not household names, their fascinating stories are not yet widely known. They represent the countless threads that have been woven together over generations to form the tapestry of Wisconsin’s diverse heritage, and they exemplify the positive impact the people of our state have had on the world. A sampling of some of the stories include:

  • Mathilde Anneke, who advocated for women’s rights and social justice decades before the 19th Amendment
  • Jerome P. Arbuckle, a Bad River Ojibwe member, who used his artistic and writing skills to pass along tribal stories and traditions spanning thousands of years
  • Benjamin Butts, who began life as an enslaved person in Virginia and became one of Wisconsin’s earliest African American business owners
  • Laurel Clark, an NASA astronaut and space technology researcher, who lost her life in search of space exploration
  • Ada Deer, a member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin who is nationally recognized for her leadership and accomplishments on behalf of helping Native people
  • Ezekiel Gillespie, whose landmark legal challenge won African American men the right to vote in Wisconsin
  • Maria Luisa Morales and Jesus Salas, who dedicated their lives to farmworker justice and helping immigrants
  • Tony Wise, who founded what would become the largest cross-country ski race in North America
  • Milly Zantow, who created an innovative numbering system used across the world to separate recyclables


The Society plans to share more stories throughout the year on its website and social media channels.

“Wisconsin’s story is deeply rooted in everyday life and everyday people and is about as much about everyday people as it is about changemakers, visionaries and storytellers,” Overland continued. “These first 36 people were intentionally selected to kick off this anniversary initiative because they aren’t the obvious first choices that one might know of in terms of Wisconsin history. They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They changed the way we are living today.”

For more information, visit wisconsinhistory.org/175.

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About Wisconsin Historical Society
The Wisconsin Historical Society, founded in 1846, ranks as one of the largest, most active, and most diversified state historical societies in the nation. As both a state agency and a private membership organization, its mission is to help people connect to the past by collecting, preserving, and sharing stories. The Wisconsin Historical Society serves millions of people every year through a wide range of sites, programs, and services. For more information, visit www.wisconsinhistory.org.