Wisconsin Biographies – Famous People from Wisconsin – WI Biographies

Wisconsin Biographies, Famous People from Wisconsin. Biographies and memoirs of Wisconsin celebrities, famous Wisconsin authors, Wisconsin athletes, famous people of Milwaukee, Wisconsin pioneer women, political and military leaders, Wi biographies, etc.
Also see our Collective Biographies, such as Who’s Who in Wisconsin, profiling hundreds of men and women in Wisconsin who were important in their communities.

Included below are Liberace, Stephen Ambrose, Roy Chapman Andrews, Ray Stannard Baker, Edna Ferber, Golda Meir, Harry Houdini, Aldo Leopold, Woody Herman, George Kennan, Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Ringling Brothers, General Billy Mitchell, Spencer Tracy, and Frank Lloyd Wright, and many more.

Go Down to Collective Biographies

Wisconsin Biographies Collection

About 30 books in the Internet Archive collection of free online books appeared in a search for “Wisconsin biography”. Some titles are: Wisconsin heroes, Wisconsin sports heroes, Famous Wisconsin authors, women of Wisconsin labor, Lucius Fairchild : Civil War hero, an American family during World War II, Cindy Bentley : spirit of a champion, The lumberjack frontier; the life of a logger in the early days on the Chippeway, Limping through life : a farm boy’s polio memoir, a political biography of Walter J. Kohler, Jr., The last river rat : Kenny Salwey’s life in the wild, Fighting Bob La Follette, Melvin Laird in war, peace, and politics, Reggie White : a celebration of life, 1961-2004, Renegade priest of the Northern Cheyenne : the life and work of Father Emmett Hoffmann, 1926-.

To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian

Ambrose, Stephen E.
Simon & Schuster 2003

In “To America,” Stephen E. Ambrose, one of the country’s most influential historians, reflects on his long career as an American historian and explains what an historian’s job is all about. He celebrates America’s spirit, which has carried us so far. He confronts its failures and struggles. As always in his much acclaimed work, Ambrose brings alive the men and women, famous and not, who have peopled our history and made the United States a model for the world.
Taking a few swings at today’s political correctness, as well as his own early biases, Ambrose grapples with the country’s historic sins of racism, its neglect and ill treatment of Native Americans, and its tragic errors (such as the war in Vietnam, which he ardently opposed on campus, where he was a professor). He reflects on some of the country’s early founders who were progressive thinkers while living a contradiction as slaveholders, great men such as Washington and Jefferson.
Most important, Ambrose writes about writing history. “The last five letters of the word ‘history’ tell us that it is an account of the past that is about people and what they did, which is what makes it the most fascinating of subjects.”

Ambrose, Stephen E. (1936-2002)

Life story of Rasmus B. Anderson

Anderson, Rasmus B.
Madison: Anderson 1915

Rasmus Anderson, the American author, scholar, editor, businessman and diplomat, intertwines his life story with the cultural and institutional history of the Norwegian-American community as a whole. There are eyewitness accounts of tension within American factions and branches of the Lutheran church over such issues as slavery and public education as well as anecdotes about Ole Bull, Knut Hamsun, Björnstjerne Björnson, Robert La Follette, James G. Blaine and various European monarchs and heads of state. Anderson began his life on a farm in Albion, Dane County, Wisconsin. After many efforts to finance and obtain the kind of education he wanted, he pioneered the study and teaching of Scandinavian languages at the University of Wisconsin (1869-1883). Between 1885 and 1889, he served as U.S. minister to Denmark. He eventually prospered as president of the Wisconsin Life Insurance Co., from 1895-1922. In 1874, Anderson attracted widespread attention with his America Not Discovered By Columbus. He is remembered for his studies, translations, and retellings of Norse mythology. The more active and public aspects of his life are emphasized in this work.
– from the Library of Congress American Memory website. Wisconsin biographies, famous people of Wisconsin.

Anderson, Rasmus (1846-1936)

“Personal Narrative of Capt. Thomas G. Anderson”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Volume 9, 1882, 136-206

Anderson, Thomas G.
Madison: Historical Society of Wisconsin

Thomas Gummersall Anderson was born and raised in Canada, where he worked as a store clerk as a young man. In 1800, at the age of 20, he headed for the wilderness of the Great Northwest. This 70-page memoir describes his life for the next 28 years. During the period until the War of 1812 he was an Indian trader in Wisconsin. During that war he raised a company of volunteers and captured Fort McKay at Prairie du Chien. See the article following this one in the same journal entitled “Capt. T. G. Anderson’s Journal, 1814” for a day-by-day memoir of events there. Wisconsin biographies.

Anderson, Thomas Gummersall (1779-1875)

Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions

Gallenkamp, Charles
Viking 2001

“Led by the world-renowned explorer Roy Chapman Andrews and financed by J.P. Morgan, Jr., John D. Rockefeller Jr., Childs Frick, and a host of other Wall Street titans, the Central Asiatic Expeditions (1922-1930) comprised the most ambitious scientific venture ever launched from the United States. Under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History, Andrews conducted five expeditions to the last uncharted corner of the world: the Gobi Desert of Outer and Inner Mongolia. Using automobiles supported by camel caravans, Andrews’ expeditions stumbled upon unimagined scientific wonders: the Flaming Cliffs, dinosaur eggs, the first skeleton of Velociraptor (the terrifying killer of ‘Jurassic Park’ fame), and a fossil treasure trove of other dinosaurs and extinct mammals…. Gallenkamp tells Andrews’ incredible life story – from his beginnings as a floor sweeper at the American Museum of Natural History to his international fame as one of the century’s most acclaimed explorers.” – Publisher
Andrews grew up in Beloit, Wisconsin, where he acquired skills as an outdoorsman. After graduating from Beloit College he went to New York City to seek work at the Museum of National History. Famous explorers from Wisconsin.

Andrews, Roy Chapman (1884-1960)

Mathilde Franziska Anneke

Richards-Wilson, Stephani
German American Business Biographies Website 2014

Mathilde Franziska Anneke was an entrepreneur, lecturer, educator, journalist, writer, and a newspaper editor. She was well educated and a free and independent thinker, interested in political and social reform on behalf of women in both the German lands and the United States. Famous women of Wisconsin, WI biographies.

Anneke, Mathilde Franziska (1817-1884)

“Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 14, 17-64, 1898

Baird, Elizabeth T.
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Elizabeth Therese Fisher Baird was born at Prairie du Chien in 1810, the daughter of fur trader Henry Munro Fisher. She spent much of her youth on Mackinac Island, where she was married to Henry S. Baird at age 14 in 1824. She and her husband, a young lawyer, immediately departed for Green Bay, where she lived until her death in 1890.

Elizabeth Baird published a series of articles about her memories in the Green Bay State Gazette from 1886 to 1887. Those articles were reproduced in condensed and edited form in two articles in the Wisconsin Historical Collections. This is the first of that pair; the second is “Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin”, found below on this webpage. A third article, “Indian Customs and Early Recollections” had been previously published in Wisconsin Historical Collections in 1882. That is also found below. Famous women of Wisconsin, Wisconsin pioneer women.

At the beginning of this article are portraits of Elizabeth Baird and her mother.

Baird, Elizabeth Therese (1810-1890)

“Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 15, 205-263, 1900

Baird, Elizabeth T.
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

This is the second part of a 2-part article. See the entry above on this web page for Part 1, “Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island”.

Baird, Elizabeth Therese (1810-1890)

“Indian Customs and Early Recollections”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 9, 303-326, 1882

Baird, Elizabeth T.
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

See the entry above on this web page for the article by Elizabeth Baird, “Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island” for information about the author.

This article has several parts. Pages 303-316 are entirely about various Indian customs. On page 316 begins a small section describing Mackinac Island when Baird visited and lived there as a girl until 1824, and on page 319 begins reminiscences of Green Bay when she arrived in 1824. The last part is a description of an Indian massacre at Prairie du Chien in 1830. Famous women of Wisconsin, Wisconsin pioneer women, WI Biographies.

Baird, Elizabeth Therese (1810-1890)

Native American: The Book of My Youth

American Chronicle: The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker

Baker, Ray Stannard
Scribner’s Sons 1941, 1945

Ray Stannard Baker, whose pen name was David Grayson, was a leading journalist in the ‘Muckraking’ progressive movement in the early 20th century. He was later a friend of President Woodrow Wilson, and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters”. He wrote two autobiographical works. “Native American” was about his youth, including his boyhood in rural St. Croix Falls, WI. “American Chronicle” covers his story from the beginning of his professional career. Famous authors of Wisconsin.

Baker, Ray Stannard (1870-1946)

A Democracy of Its Own – Milwaukee’s Socialisms

Benoit, Edward A. III
2009

A Master’s Thesis. A review of the academic literature dealing with socialism in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, along with biographies of three of the movement’s most important leaders: newspaper editor and Congressman Victor L. Berger, Mayor Emil Seidel, and Mayor Daniel Hoan. The author depicts the writings and the ideas of these three individuals as representative of “a wide array of personal ideologies within the Milwaukee Socialist movement from 1890 through World War I.” Famous leaders of Milwaukee.

Door Way: The People in the Landscape

Blei, Norbert
Ellis 1981

Weaving a tapestry of lives and landscapes, past and present, earth and water, Norbert Blei celebrates the unique heritage of Door County, Wisconsin, a spectacular peninsula reaching into Lake Michigan. Blei ponders the balance of nature in a place where locals, tourists, and developers vie with the native flora and fauna of forests and lakeshore.
Norbert Blei grew up in Chicago, and decided in 1969 to move to Door County in northeastern Wisconsin, to live and write. This is a collection of writings about his life there and the people he came to know. Famous authors of Wisconsin.

Blei, Norbert (1935-2013)

Once Around the Bloch

Bloch, Robert
TOR 1995

Robert Bloch, grand master of horror, recounts his tales in this hilarious autobiography, ‘Once Around the Bloch’.
‘Once Around the Bloch’ takes the reader from Bloch’s early years in an up-and-coming Chicago suburb to his first fateful encounter with the cult fiction magazine Weird Tales. Bloch’s Hollywood adventures are also chronicled, including his encounters and friendships with such famous superstars as Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Buster Keaton, and Joan Crawford. Bloch also recounts the inspiration for and the birth of one of the most famous villains of all time, Norman Bates. Wisconsin biographies, famous authors of Wisconsin.

Bloch, Robert (1917-1994)

“Nicholas Boilvin, Indian Agent”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 27, No. 2, Dec. 1943, 145-164

Scanlan, Peter Lawrence
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

The author describes the experiences of Nicolas Boilvin (1761-1827), born in Canada and an early resident of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, who worked as an Indian Agent from 1811-27 in the areas surrounding Prairie du Chien. Wisconsin biographies, Wisconsin pioneers.

Boilvin, Nicholas (1761-1827)

An English Settler in Pioneer Wisconsin; the Letters of Edwin Bottomley, 1842-50

Bottomley, Edwin. Quaife, Milo M. ed.
Madison: State Historical Society 1918

Edwin Bottomley was born in Lancaster, England; the son of a manager of a cotton mill. As a young man Edwin became a skilled pattern-maker in the mills, marrying in 1829 the orphan grand-daughter of a physician. In 1842, with five children, the couple decided to change the future for all of them and emigrate to America.

This book consists of the letters that Edwin wrote to his father from the time the family boarded for departure in 1842 until his untimely death in 1850 in Burlington, Racine county. The Wisconsin Historical Society chose to publish the collection of letters not because Bottomley became an important personage, but because he didn’t. He was very typical of early Wisconsin immigrants, except that a detailed written record of his experience was preserved. Wisconsin pioneers, WI biographies.

Bottomley, Edwin (1809-1850)

Memoirs of Mary D. Bradford; Autobiographical and Historical Reminiscences of Education in Wisconsin …

through progressive service from rural school teaching to city superintendent; illustrated with photographs

Bradford, Mary Davison
Evansville, WI: Antes 1932

Born in the farming community of Paris, Kenosha County, in 1856, Mary Davison Bradford was forced by her father’s ill health to begin teaching at the age of sixteen, before she had finished high school, and she continued to work actively as an educator until 1922. Bradford describes how she taught in small rural schools, in the expanding Kenosha system, and at centers of educational experimentation such as Central State Teachers College at Stevens Point and the Stout Training School at Menomonie. Eventually appointed Superintendent of Schools in Kenosha, Bradford instituted kindergarten, vocational training programs, breakfast programs for needy children, and politically independent procurement and hiring processes, and advocated courses in citizenship and health education. Bradford’s autobiography chronicles the development of Wisconsin’s public school system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wisconsin had a strong commitment to primary, secondary, and higher public education in this era, and Bradford’s work reflects at the grassroots level many of the pedagogic reforms then sweeping the country.
– from the Library of Congress American Memory website. Important women of Wisconsin.

Bradford, Mary Davison (1856-1943)

Early days in the Chippewa Valley

Bundy, Charles Smith
Menomonie, WI: Flint-Douglas 1916

This is an autobiographical narrative about a young lawyer’s search for the best community in which to build a legal practice in the Upper Midwest in the late 1850s. Charles Smith Bundy’s experiences reveal how networks of friends, family, and associates from earlier places of residence assisted young men anxious to “get ahead” in mid-nineteenth-century America. Bundy first came to Wisconsin from Oxford, Chenango County, New York, in 1856. His initial contacts in Wisconsin were relatives and two businessmen from his home community, a social foundation from which he was soon able to develop political contacts. His account provides vivid descriptions of Reed’s Landing, Pepin, Eau Claire, Menomonie, and Chippewa Falls. American Memory Website, Library of Congress. Wisconsin biographies, Wisconsin pioneers.

Bundy, Charles Smith (1831-1928)

Girl in a Library: On Women Writers & the Writing Life

Cherry, Kelly
BkMk Press 2009

Kelly Cherry, born (1946), taught English at University of Wisconsin-Madison for 22 years, before moving to Virginia. In 2010 she was named Poet Laureate of the state of Virginia. Her Wikipedia profile states that she has written 27 full-length works of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, in addition to a long career in teaching.
“Poet, memoirist, fiction writer, and critic Cherry has assembled a lissome and winning retrospective collection of essays on writing, reading, and life,” writes Donna Seaman in her starred Booklist review. “Piquant essays on family history and her coming-of-age are deepened by reflections on beauty, art, and vocation. In fresh and inquiring portraits of exceptional southern women writers–Eudora Welty, Elizabeth Hardwick, Mary Ward Brown, Bobbie Ann Mason–Cherry explores the nature of a literary life.” Library Journal writes, “Cherry explores the craft of writing, tracing her own development from rebellious college student to award-winning author of 19 books… Cherry’s story will prove inspirational to aspiring writers as will her critical essays.” Famous Wisconsin authors.

Cherry, Kelly (1946-)

Reminiscences of a Pioneer in the Rock River Country

Coe, Edwin Delos
Madison, State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1908

In this 13-page article the author recounts his early years not far from Watertown, from 1839 to 1848. Wisconsin pioneer women, WI biography.

Coe, Edwin Delos (1840-1909)

Myself: The Autobiography of John R. Commons

Commons, John R.
Madison: University of Wisconsin 1963

John R. Commons was an American institutional economist, progressive, and labor historian at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Among his contributions was the editing of a 10-volume Documentary History of American Industrial Society, which preserved many documents of the American labor movement. Famous people from Wisconsin.

Commons, John Rogers (1862-1945)

John R. Commons: Pioneer of Labor Economics

Barbash, Jack
Friends of the Department of Labor

John R. Commons was a Professor of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who had a leading role in the Progressive movement at the beginning of the 20th century, and “contributed in one way or another to practically every piece of social and labor legislation that has been enacted in the 20th century”, according to this author. Famous people of Wisconsin.

Commons, John Rogers (1862-1945)

Patrick Cudahy: His Life

Cudahy, Patrick
Milwaukee: Burdick & Allen 1912

Patrick Cudahy was the son of an Irish immigrant who settled in Milwaukee. Patrick was employed at the Plankington and Armour meat packing plant, where he worked his way up to superintendent. In 1888 he and his brother John acquired the company, changing the name to “Patrick Cudahy”. Famous people of Milwaukee.

Cudahy, Patrick Jr. (1849-1919)

“Jeremiah Curtin, Traveler, Linguist, Ethnologist”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 35, No. 1, 1951, 17-20

Heath, Frederic
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

“A biographical look at Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906), who grew up in Milwaukee and went on to become a well-known linguist of Spanish, Hebrew, Icelandic and Sanskrit, among others, at Harvard. He studied Russian and Polish at Cambridge University. Also mentioned in the article is Curtin’s work with the Imperial Russian government, his work with the American Bureau of Ethnology to study American Indian languages, and his world travels for pleasure and study.” – Wisconsin Magazine of History. Famous people of Milwaukee, WI biography.

Curtin, Jeremiah (1835-1906)

Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin, edited with notes and introduction by Joseph Schafer

Curtin, Jeremiah and Curtin, Alma M. Cardell
Madison: State Historical Society 1940

Born to an Irish Catholic family, Jeremiah Curtin, a linguist, translator, and folklorist, spent his early years on a farm in Greenfield, Wisconsin, and the first portion of this memoir, compiled by his wife, Alma Cardell Curtin, concerns his rural Wisconsin boyhood and subsequent struggles to obtain a scholarly education. After graduating from Harvard (1863), where he studied under Francis James Child, he moved to New York, read law, and worked for the U.S. Sanitary Commission while translating and teaching languages. He then traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia (1864), where he served as Secretary to the American legation headed by Cassius Clay. The memoir describes their difficult relationship, as well as Curtin’s first travels through Russia and the Caucasus. Upon his return to the United States, Curtin lectured throughout the country about Russia, marrying Alma Cardell of Warren, Vermont in 1872.
– Summary from American Memory website. Wisconsin biographies, Famous people from Wisconsin, Wisconsin memoirs.

Curtin’s birthplace in Greenfield has been preserved and is open to the public.

Curtin, Jeremiah (1835-1906)

Countryman’s Journal

Derleth, August
Duell 1963

A near-daily journal from about 1960 maintained by prolific author August Derleth, who lived in Sac Prairie, Wisconsin. Famous authors of Wisconsin.

Derleth, August William (1909-1971)

Henry Dodge, Frontiersman

Clark, James I.
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1957

Dodge was a U.S. Congressman and Senator, and served as Wisconsin’s first Territorial Governor. Famous political leaders of Wisconsin, governors of Wisconsin.

Dodge, Henry (1782-1867)

The Life of Henry Dodge from 1782 to 1833 with Portrait by George Catlin …

and maps of the battles of the Pecatonica and Wisconsin Heights in the Black Hawk War

Salter, William
Burlington, Iowa: 1890

According to the author, Dodge was the first “American” (caucasian?) child born (1782) in the area that later became the state of Indiana. He had 19 public service commissions from 1806 to 1846, including many years of military service up to the rank of Colonel, and capped by three 3-year appointments as Governor of the Territory of Wisconsin. This short, admiring biography contains highlights of Dodge’s career, a fairly extensive description of the Black Hawk War, and copies of letters from participants in that war describing key actions. Wisconsin biographies, famous political leaders of Wisconsin, governors of Wisconsin.

Dodge, Henry (1782-1867)

“James Duane Doty: Mephistopheles in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 34, No. 4, Summer 1951, 195-198

Smith, Alice E.
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

“The article chronicles Doty’s career as a judge in the Western Michigan territory, as a territorial delegate to Congress representing Wisconsin, his involvement in Wisconsin and national politics as well as his role in land speculation around Wisconsin, in particular Madison, Neenah, and Menasha. The article concludes with his appointment, in 1861, by Abraham Lincoln as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Utah territory and then in 1863 to the office of Governor.” – Wisconsin Magazine of History. Political leaders of Wisconsin, governors of Wisconsin, Wi biographies.

Doty, James Duane (1795-1865)

A Peculiar Treasure

Ferber, Edna
Doubleday 1960

Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber’s stunning first autobiography, in which she recounts her small-town Midwestern childhood and rise to literary fame, all amidst the backdrop of America around the turn of the 20th century.
A modest girl growing up one of the only Jewish children in her Midwestern town, Edna Ferber started overcoming the odds at a young age. Pursuing work at the local newspaper as an innocent 17-year-old, she was assigned the night court shift, reporting on drugs and violence, and gradually finding her own voice in standing up to what she witnessed. As she continued to pursue writing, she recalls the various ways in which she found inspiration, leading her to publish her first books and later, So Big, which won a Pulitzer Prize and catapulted her to fame. Ferber’s incredible experiences all occur during a time of pre-WWII rising anti-Semitism and the gaining power of Hitler in Europe, and the various historical and political tensions of the time color the fascinating events of her life. Famous women from Wisconsin, famous authors from Wisconsin.

Ferber, Edna (1887-1968)

“Pioneer Recollections of Beloit and Southern Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 1, no. 3 March 1918 pp 266-286

Fisher, Lucius G.
Madison: State Historical Society

This is the story of Lucius Fisher, as told by himself, who found his way from Vermont to Chicago as a teenager in 1837, and then went on to Milwaukee (pop. 1,000) the same year. As this was in the wake of a nationwide financial panic and there was no work available there, Fisher decided to head toward the Galena mines. He then walked by way of the Indian trail to Beloit. Much of the rest of the article seems to be about early times in Beloit and the surrounding area. Wisconsin biographies, Wisconsin memoirs.

Fisher, Lucius George (1808-1886?)

“Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 …”

At Home and Abroad; or, Things and Thoughts in America and Europe

Fuller, Margaret
Boston, Roberts Brothers, 1874

Writer, editor, and social reformer Margaret Fuller recounts her trip to the Great Lakes in 1843. Organized as a series of travel episodes with literary and social commentary, Fuller traveled by train, steamboat, carriage, and on foot in a circle from Niagara Falls to Mackinac Island, west to Milwaukee, south to Pawpaw, Illinois, and back to Buffalo, New York. In this excerpt, Fuller describes her journey to and experiences in Wisconsin. The text given here was edited after her death by her brother.
– Summary from Wisconsin Historical Society site. Wisconsin biographies, Wisconsin memoirs.

Fuller, Margaret (1810-1850)

When I was a Little Girl

Gale, Zona
NY: Macmillan 1913

“It is not an autobiography nor a continuous narrative: it consists of detached scenes in the life of the little girl, with the feelings and fancies which each evoked. Most of these are illustrated by tales which are really allegories.” In one we learn how time was first measured, and in another a revelation of
the meaning of equality. “Upon the whole, the message of the book Is more to grown-ups than to children, helping us to recapture not only the vanished days, but the vanished spirit with which we met them.”
“The book Is an unusual addition to the very limited number of good reminiscences of childhood.” – The Book Review Digest.

Zona Gale (1874-1938) was an author and playwright, and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, in 1921. Born in Portage, WI, she attended Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam and received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She then worked for six years at newspapers in Milwaukee and New York before returning to Portage, where she lived and worked for the rest of her life. In 1920 she published the novel Miss Lulu Bett, and then adapted it for a play. (The play can be found on this website, at the Wisconsin Fiction page.) It was this play that won the Pulitzer. In addition to being a prolific writer, Gale was very active in progressive political causes. Famous women from Wisconsin, famous authors of Wisconsin.

See also: Books about 19th Century American Women Authors

Gale, Zona (1874-1938)

Coming Home to Wisconsin

Gard, Robert E.
1982

Part autobiography, and part Wisconsin history & folklore.

Gard, Robert E. (1910-1992)

A Son of the Middle Border

Garland, Hamlin
NY: Macmillan 1917

“‘A son of the middle border’ is Mr Garland’s view of himself and of the life he encountered along a vista that has seen one era after another of American progress give place to its successor. It is, moreover, a story of the advance of an American boy which Is none the less miraculous because it has been repeated so often in our history. … He was born in 1860 and his infancy and early childhood coincided with the most critical period in American history. His father, who had come to Wisconsin from Maine, after three years of work in Boston, enlisted in the Union army In 1863, and among the boy’s earliest recollections is the memory of his return. . . . Scene after scene of his childhood, face after face out of a past rich In recollections, Mr Garland brings before us, as his father restlessly moved westward from Wisconsin to Minnesota, from Minnesota to Iowa, and from Iowa to Dakota. . . . With his brother Franklin he went on his adventure into the east. . . . This was in 1883, when Mr Garland was twenty-three years of age. His real invasion of Boston came a little later. . . . For nearly ten years he was a Bostonian, winning his way against obstacles that would have daunted many a less ambitious young man. . . . Finally he became a professional man of letters.”
“The autobiographer is a rarer bird than the novelist; and we believe that this record may take its place among the handful of American classics of its kind.”
“In all the region of autobiography, so far as I know it, I do not know quite the like of Mr Garland’s story of his life, and I should rank it with the very greatest of that kind in literature. As you read it you realize it the memorial of a generation, of a whole order of American experience; as you review it you perceive it an epic of such mood and make as has not been imagined before.”
– The Book Review Digest. Wisconsin biographies, famous authors of Wisconsin, Wisconsin memoirs.

Garland, Hannibal Hamlin (1860-1940)

Hamlin Garland

McCullough, Joseph B.
Twayne 1978

Biography and literary criticism of the Wisconsin writer. Famous Wisconsin author.

Garland, Hamlin (1860-1940)

“Augustin Grignon’s Recollections”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 3, 195-295, 1857

Grignon, Augustin
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

“The personal narrative of fur trader Augustin Grignon (1780-1860), whose family controlled the crucial portage on the Fox River at present-day Kaukauna from 1805 to 1835. From this place, Grignon met and was involved in some way with every important event that touched the Fox-Wisconsin waterway. His narrative touches on his own experiences and those of his forebears, from the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s uprising to the invention of the railroad and the great waves of European immigrants.”
– from the article webpage summary by the Society. Wisconsin biographies, Wisconsin pioneers, Wisconsin memoirs.

Grignon, Augustin (1780-1860)

Family correspondence, 1838, 1855-1874 (Transcriptions)

Hastings, Lucy A.
Madison: State of Wisconsin Collection

Family correspondence of 25 letters to and from Lucy A. Hastings and her husband David; including letters from relatives in Dexter, Michigan, and an 1855 description of moving from Massachusetts to Oxford, Wisconsin, and information on Indians around Oxford, moving to Eau Claire in 1857, and an Indian panic there in 1862. Wisconsin biographies, Wisconsin pioneers.

Hastings, Lucy A. (?-?)

The Woodchopper’s Ball: the Autobiography of Woody Herman

Herman, Woody
E.P. Dutton 1990

This is the bittersweet life story of a beloved bandleader who rose to fame and fortune, then spent the last 20 years of his life working to pay $1.6 million in back taxes. Written with Troup, jazz critic for New York Newsday, the book is a straightforward account of a successful career gone awry because of bad business judgment and misplaced trust. Long passages in which friends and band members reminisce about Herman add another dimension, for he was a humorous and compassionate man who helped a great number of musicians in their careers. Famous Wisconsin musicians, Wisconsin celebrities.

Herman, Woody (1913-1987)

Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman

Lees, Gene
Oxford University Press 1995

“Now comes the book that jazz lovers (and Lees’s fans) have been waiting for – Leader of the Band, a vivid, full-scale biography of Woody Herman. Asked by Herman in 1986 to write his biography, Gene Lees has spent close to a decade working on it, interviewing many of Herman’s childhood friends and lifelong acquaintances as well as numerous musicians.” – Publisher. Famous Wisconsin musicians, Wisconsin celebrities.

Herman, Woody (1913-1987)

Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss

Silverman, Kenneth
HarperCollins 1996

In the most comprehensive biography written about the great illusionist yet, author Ken Silverman, who has won both a Pulitzer and a Bancroft prize, draws on never-before-used scrapbooks, personal diaries, court transcripts and hundreds of unpublished notes and letters collected from around the world to reveal a far richer, more personal view of Houdini than ever before. While Silverman focuses on the magic and miraculous escapes that made Houdini a legend and the most celebrated, highest-paid performer of his day, he also delves deeply into Houdini’s fascinating personal life. He explores Houdini’s many friendships with politicians and celebrities like Jack Dempsey, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Jack London, the Astors and others. He looks into his traumatic encounters with anti-Semitism; his close-knit family; his strange and troubled relationship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and his bitter war against spiritualism. He also uncovers new revelations about Houdini’s secret affair with the widow of a famous American writer. Wisconsin celebrities, Famous people from Wisconsin, WI biographies.

Houdini, Harry (1874-1926)

Autobiography, Orrin Henry Ingram: May, 1830–December, 1912

Ingram, Orrin Henry
Eau Claire, WI: 1912

Ingram was a successful lumberman in the Chippewa Valley and influential resident of Eau Claire. Wisconsin pioneers, Wisconsin memoirs.

Ingram, Orrin Henry (1830-1918)

The Farm West of Mars

Isherwood, Justin
Heartland 1988

Justin Isherwood grew up on a farm south of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and continued to live there and work the farm while he wrote this volume; a memoir of his youth in the 1950s.

Isherwood, Justin (1946 – )

Solomon Juneau, A Biography. With Sketches of the Juneau Family

Fox, Isabella
Milwaukee, WI: Evening Wisconsin Printing Co. 1916

Solomon Juneau is considered the founder of Milwaukee. He was a French-Canadian fur trader who settled with his Metis wife on the Milwaukee River near Lake Michigan in 1818, establishing a post there when the area was still wilderness. He put his business skills to work in developing the village of Milwaukee, and was for many years one of its leading citizens. He served as mayor of Milwaukee from 1846 to 1847 and was also the town’s first postmaster. Famous Wisconsin pioneers, Famous people of Milwaukee.

Juneau, Solomon (1793-1856)

George Kennan: A Writing Life

Congdon, Lee
ISI 2008

There were two George F. Kennans. The first was the well-known diplomat and ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia—a tough political realist and man of the world who gained fame as the theorist of America’s Cold War “containment” strategy. This was a “persona” that Kennan adopted in order to carry out his professional responsibilities. The second, largely unknown, but real George Kennan was a writer and aesthete—a shy, lonely man who felt alienated from both his country and his times, and a man who made major contributions to American literature.
Thus argues Lee Congdon in George Kennan: A Writing Life, a groundbreaking study of Kennan’s life and thought. Congdon narrates Kennan’s legendary work in the foreign service, his later career as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and the schools of thought to which he made significant contributions: political realism, antidemocratic social and political criticism, Spenglerian gloom, and conservative cultural analysis. Congdon concludes that notwithstanding his great accomplishments as a diplomat and geopolitical strategist, Kennan merits consideration above all else as an original and penetrating American writer. Famous diplomats of Wisconsin, famous people from Wisconsin.

Kennan, George Frost (1904-2005)

George Kennan: A Study of Character

Lukacs, John
Yale University 2007

A man of impressive mental powers, of extraordinary intellectual range, and—last but not least—of exceptional integrity, George Frost Kennan (1904-2005) was an adviser to presidents and secretaries of state, with a decisive role in the history of this country (and of the entire world) for a few crucial years in the 1940s, after which he was made to retire; but then he became a scholar who wrote seventeen books, scores of essays and articles, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir. He also wrote remarkable public lectures and many thousands of incisive letters, laying down his pen only in the hundredth year of his life.
Having risen within the American Foreign Service and been posted to various European capitals, and twice to Moscow, Kennan was called back to Washington in 1946, where he helped to inspire the Truman Doctrine and draft the Marshall Plan. Among other things, he wrote the ‘X’ or ‘Containment’ article for which he became, and still is, world famous (an article which he regarded as not very important and liable to misreading). John Lukacs describes the development and the essence of Kennan’s thinking; the—perhaps unavoidable—misinterpretations of his advocacies; his self-imposed task as a leading realist critic during the Cold War; and the importance of his work as a historian during the second half of his long life. Famous diplomats of Wisconsin, famous people from Wisconsin.

Kennan, George Frost (1904-2005)

“Rufus King, Soldier, Editor, and Statesman”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 4, No. 4, 1921, 371-381

King, Charles
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

King, Rufus (1814-1876)

Wau-bun, the “Early Day” of the North-west

Kinzie, Juliette Augusta
Chicago: Caxton Club 1901

Juliette Kinzie published this memoir in 1856 about her life at Fort Winnebago (Portage) in 1830-1834, where her husband was the U.S. Indian sub-agent.

“This book recounts the experiences of a young, genteel wife adjusting to the military life and frontier conditions of life at Fort Winnebago, Wisconsin, in the early 1830s. She describes her perilous journeys back and forth to the early settlement of Chicago, her complex cultural encounters with a diverse frontier society, and her determination to instill her own standards of civilized behavior and Christian observance. There is abundant information on the customs, folklore, economic practices, life-cycle events, medical treatments, diet, warfare, environmental responses, social hierarchies, and gender roles of the different groups of people that Kinzie comes to know best. She also provides detailed portraits of individual native Americans, voyageurs, fur traders, missionaries, pioneers, soldiers, and African Americans who impressed her positively or negatively. As pieces of local and family history, Kinzie retells stories of settlers captured by Indians; battle scenes from the wars with the British, the Sioux (Dakota) and other native Americans; and the fall of Fort Dearborn.”
-Library of Congress American Memory website. Pioneer women of Wisconsin, WI biographies.

See also: Books about 19th Century American Women Authors

Kinzie, Juliette Augusta (1806-1870)

La Follette’s Autobiography: A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences

La Follette, Robert M.
Madison: La Follette 1919

Written in a clear, vigorous style, this account of Robert M. La Follette’s political life and philosophy is not only a personal history but, in a large measure, a history of the Progressive cause throughout the United States.
This remarkably honest self-portraiture records in clear detail one of the most significant and inspiring upheavals of the past seventy-five years. From it the reader gains a clear understanding of Bossism, Reform, and Progressivism as they were known between 1890 and 1912. From it emerges the magnetic and powerful personality of “Fighting Bob” La Follette, loved by millions, but distrusted by millions more. Led by its principal proponent, the reader is carried to the very core of the Progressive movement, whose roots were anchored in a deep faith in democracy. Here is the complete La Follette story through 1912—his first campaign for district attorney, his early years in Congress, his years as governor, and his years in the Senate—recounting in fascinating detail a great movement from its inception to its height of national influence.
This is a book for every conscientious citizen. For, as Allan Nevins states in his Foreword, “. . . the battle La Follette led still goes on, and the lessons he instilled still need pondering.”

La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. (1855-1925)

Robert La Follette and the Insurgent Spirit

Thelen, David P.
Little, Brown 1976

Perhaps the most popular and respected radical in modern American history, Robert M. La Follette grappled with the fundamental problems of making government respond to the wishes of the majority in a world that was being transformed by large-scale industrial capitalism.
The career of “Fighting Bob” La Follette encompassed both the rise and fall of insurgency in American grass-roots politics. David P. Thelen recounts the senator’s life in order to explore the changes that occurred in the Progressive movement, of which he was the prominent leader. He focuses particularly on the relationship of La Follette to the shifting grass-roots bases from which he attacked concentrated wealth and power. The author also charts how other grassroots loyalties – to ethnic group, religion, political party, geographic region, sex, and race – influenced the actions and directions of the Progressive movement. Famous political leaders of Wisconsin.

La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. (1855-1925)

“Young Bob” La Follette: A Biography of Robert M. La Follette, Jr. 1895-1953

Maney, Patrick J.
University of Missouri 1978

United States senator “Young Bob” La Follette entered politics as a young reformer in the shadow of his legendary father, “Fighting Bob” La Follette. He made his own mark as a key architect of Roosevelt’s New Deal and as a champion of labor rights and civil liberties. But in 1946 he was unexpectedly unseated by Joseph McCarthy, whose rise to Cold War notoriety foreshadowed La Follette’s despair and suicide in 1953. This new edition updates the only full scale biography of La Follette, Jr., the first to exploit his voluminous collection of personal papers. Patrick J. Maney makes clear that Young Bob’s story is as relevant today as it was when he died. His life stands as dramatic evidence of how one of the most respected politicians of his time bridged the political spectrum and was admired by both liberals like FDR and Harry Truman and conservatives like Robert Taft and Richard Nixon.

La Follette, Robert M., Jr. (1895-1953)

Of Things Natural, Wild, and Free: A Story about Aldo Leopold

Lorbiecki, Marybeth
1993

A biography for young people.
As a child, Aldo Leopold was always looking for adventures in nature. This led Leopold to become a forester, wildlife scientist, author, and ultimately one of the most well-known conservationists in American history. Award-winning author Marybeth Lorbiecki brings Leopold to life in this biography enhanced with historic photographs and a school resource section.

Leopold, Aldo (1886-1948)

A Sand County Almanac: and Sketches Here and There

Leopold, Aldo
Oxford Univ: 1969

Few books have had a greater impact than A Sand County Almanac, which many credit with launching a revolution in land management. Written as a series of sketches based principally upon the flora and fauna in a rural part of Wisconsin, the book, originally published by Oxford in 1949, gathers informal pieces written by Leopold over a forty-year period as he traveled through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere; a final section addresses the philosophical issues involved in wildlife conservation. Beloved for its description and evocation of the natural world, Leopold’s book, which has sold well over 2 million copies, remains a foundational text in environmental science and a national treasure. Famous people of Wisconsin, Wisconsin environmentalist.

Leopold, Aldo (1886-1948)

“Liberace: The Milwaukee Maestro”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 92, No. 2, 2008-9, 14-27

Povletich, William
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Famous musician from Wisconsin.

Liberace, Władziu Valentino (1919-1987)

Liberace: An American Boy

Pyron, Darden Asbury
University of Chicago 2000

More people watched his nationally syndicated television show between 1953 and 1955 than followed ‘I Love Lucy’. Even a decade after his death, the attendance records he set at Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl, and Radio City Music Hall still stand. Arguably the most popular entertainer of the twentieth century, this very public figure nonetheless kept more than a few secrets. Darden Asbury Pyron, author of the acclaimed and bestselling ‘Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell’, leads us through the life of America’s foremost showman with his fresh, provocative, and definitive portrait of ‘Liberace, an American Boy’.
Liberace’s career follows the trajectory of the classic American dream. Born in the Midwest to Polish-Italian immigrant parents, he was a child prodigy who, by the age of twenty, had performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Abandoning the concert stage for the lucrative and glittery world of nightclubs, celebrities, and television, Liberace became America’s most popular entertainer.
Pyron presents Liberace’s life as a metaphor, for both good and ill, of American culture, with its shopping malls and insatiable hunger for celebrity. In this fascinating biography, Pyron complicates and celebrates our image of the man for whom the streets were paved with gold lamé. -Publisher . Wisconsin celebrities, famous musician of Wisconsin.

Liberace (1919-1987)

The Land Remembers: The Story of a Farm and its People

Logan, Ben
Avon 1976

This classic American memoir is about a farm and its people, of a boyhood on a southwestern Wisconsin hilltop world in the 1930s. Ben Logan grew up on Seldom Seen Farm with his three brothers, father, mother, and hired hand Lyle–“the fifth Logan boy.” The boys discussed and argued and joked over the events around their farm, marked the seasons by the demands of the land, tested each other and themselves, and grew up learning timeless lessons. Wisconsin memoir.

Lombardi: His Life and Times

Wells, Robert W.
Prairie Oak: 1997

This acclaimed biography of coach Vince Lombardi provides more than just another behind-the-scenes look. It is a study of a tough sentimentalist who demonstrated that dedication, integrity and discipline are not outdated virtues. A beautifully told story of an incredible man. Lombardi was the revered head coach of the Green Pay Packers in the 1960s. Wisconsin sports heroes.

Lombardi, Vince (1913-1970)

“Early Times and Events in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Volume 2, 1856, 98-196

Lockwood, James H.
Madison: Historical Society of Wisconsin

Lockwood (1793- ?) describes his life from the time he was raised on a farm in upstate New York. He worked for a sutler to an artillery regiment in Buffalo during the War of 1812, and at war’s end was offered a job working for the sutler to the military post at Green Bay. This 98-page memoir seems mainly to cover Lockwood’s first few years in Wisconsin and includes many details about Indian life. Wisconsin memoirs, Wisconsin pioneers.

Lockwood, James H. (1793-1857)

“The Macarthurs and the Mitchells: Wisconsin’s First Military Families”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 94, No. 2, 2010, 14-27

McLean, Jeffrey
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Famous Wisconsin military leaders.

A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy

Oshinsky, David M.
Collier Macmillan 1985

“Acclaimed historian David Oshinsky’s chronicling of the life of Senator Joe McCarthy has been called both “nuanced” and “masterful.” In this new paperback edition Oshinsky presents us with a work heralded as the finest account available of Joe McCarthy’s colorful career. With a storyteller’s eye for the dramatic and presentation of fact, and insightful interpretation of human complexity, Oshinsky uncovers the layers of myth to show the true McCarthy. His book reveals the senator from his humble beginnings as a hardworking Irish farmer’s son in Wisconsin to his glory days as the architect of America’s Cold War crusade against domestic subversion; a man whose advice if heeded, some believe, might have halted the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia and beyond.
A Conspiracy So Immense reveals the internal and external forces that launched McCarthy on this political career, carried him to national prominence, and finally triggered his decline and fall. More than the life of an intensely- even pathologically- ambitious man however, this book is a fascinating portrait of America in the grip of Cold War fear, anger, suspicion, and betrayal.” – Publisher. Famous Wisconsin political leaders.

McCarthy, Joseph (1908-1957)

The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy

Reeves, Thomas C.
Stein and Day 1982

“Provides an objective look at the life and career of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy based on in-depth interviews and McCarthy’s personal papers, discussing his motivations, actions, and the era in which he lived.” – Publisher. Wisconsin biographies, important people from Wisconsin.

McCarthy, Joseph (1908-1957)

Golda

Burkett, Elinoar
Harper 2008

Golda Meir immigrated from Russia to Milwaukee with her family when she was a small child. She lived in Milwaukee until she and her husband moved to Palestine in 1921. She was a graduate of North Division High School and briefly attended UW-Milwaukee (then Milwaukee State Normal School).
Golda Meir was the first female head of state in the Western world and one of the most influential women in modern history. A blend of Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King Jr. in the guise of a cookie-serving grandmother, her uncompromising devotion to shaping and defending a Jewish homeland against dogged enemies and skittish allies stunned political contemporaries and transformed Middle Eastern politics for decades to follow. She outmaneuvered Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger at their own game of Realpolitik, and led Israel through a bloody war even as she eloquently pleaded for peace, carrying her nation through its most perilous hours while she herself battled cancer.
In this masterful biography, critically acclaimed author Elinor Burkett paints a vivid portrait of a legendary woman defined by contradictions: an iron resolve coupled with magnetic charm, a kindly demeanor that disguised a stunning hard-heartedness, and a complete dedication to her country that often overwhelmed her personal relationships. Famous women of Wisconsin, famous Milwaukee women, Famous Wisconsin political leaders.

Meir, Golda (1898-1978)

“Pioneer life in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 7, 1876, 366-404

Merrell, Henry
Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society

Henry Merrell moved from Sackett’s Harbor, NY to Fort Winnebago, WI in 1834 where he was appointed sutler. Soon afterward he became postmaster, and served as superintendent of the Bank of Wisconsin. He was elected to the state senate in 1848. Throughout these years he was a merchant, and manufactured threshing machines and other farming implements. In this article Merrell relates the details of his journey from New York to Fort Winnebago, describes Fort Winnebago in the 1830s, and portrays life in the region with many lively anecdotes. Wisconsin memoir.

Merrell, Henry (1804-1876)

Old Times on the Upper Mississippi; the Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854 to 1863

Merrick, George Byron
Cleveland: Clark 1909

The ‘Upper Mississippi’ is defined in Wikipedia as the portion north of Cairo, IL, where the Ohio meets the Mississippi, but for this steamboat captain, the southern-most port on the Upper Mississippi seems to have been St. Louis. The northern port was in the vicinity of St. Paul; 800 miles by river. There are a number of photos of steamships, and of some of the locations featured in the text. In the appendix is a list of all the steamboats that traveled the Upper Mississippi from 1823-1863.

See also: Twain, Mark, Life on the Mississippi in Navigation on the Great Lakes & the Region’s Rivers

See also: Life on the River in Frontier Days

Merrick, George Byron (1838-1934)

Billy Mitchell: Founder of Our Air Force and Prophet Without Honor

Gauvreau, Emile and Cohen, Lester
NY: Dutton 1942

Billy Mitchell: Founder of Our Air Force and Prophet without Honor, first published in 1942, is a look at the life and controversial career of William “Billy” Mitchell (1879-1936), considered the father of the U.S. Air Force. The book’s focus is on Mitchell’s campaign for increased spending for building new and improved aircraft and his vision of the role aircraft would play in any future wars, especially against naval ships. Mitchell’s outspokenness led to his court-martial for insubordination in 1925.

Mitchell, William Lendrum (1879-1936)

Billy Mitchell, Crusader for Air Power

Hurley, Alfred F.
Indiana University 1975

William ‘Billy’ Mitchell was the son of a U.S. Senator from Milwaukee who enlisted in the army during the Spanish American War and eventually became head of American air operations in France during WWI. In the years after the war, as a Brigadier General, he fought both the Army and Navy commands for a more independent and assertive Air Force. After being court-martialed in 1925 he retired from military service. Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport is named for him.
“In this biography, Mitchell emerges as a man with a mission and a true pioneer of modern aviation, a man whose ideas about leadership in aerial operations inspire and instruct today’s airmen and women.” – Book cover

Mitchell, William Lendrum (1879-1936)

The Story of my Boyhood and Youth; with illustrations from sketches by the author

Muir, John
Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1913

John Muir (1838-1914), whose writings about the natural world have shaped the conservation and environmental movements for more than a century, wrote this autobiographical account near the end of his life about his childhood in Dunbar, Scotland, his immigration to America (1849), his adolescence on a pioneer farmstead near Kingston, Wisconsin, and his student years at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth reveals the evolution of Muir’s scientific curiosity and the beginnings of his reverential attitude towards nature. Treating his encounters with wildlife as high adventure, he gives especially informed attention to bird life in both Scotland and Wisconsin.
-Summary of the entry at the Library of Congress American Memory website

“In essence it is largely a chronicle of two things, of many animal pets and of the Spartan upbringing which Muir’s father, to an even greater degree than other strongly religious Scotchmen of his day, felt wise for his children. Added to this are many well-told anecdotes of Scotch life and of times and habits in Wisconsin 60 years ago, when forests were being felled to make farms for the new settlers and when though there does not seem to have been actual menace from the Indians, livestock would occasionally be stolen or killed by a thieving redskin. But one of the most remarkable features of the book is to be found In the descriptions of Muir’s various inventions as a boy and later as a young man while painfully working his way through the University of Wisconsin before he began roamIng the world as a naturalist.”
“It is a notable piece of autobiographic writing – the story of an unusually interesting boyhood and youth told with an energy and an eye for the diverting and significant that distinguish it at once from the slipshod garrulity of most books of the kind.”
– The Book Review Digest. Wisconsin environmentalist.

Muir, John (1838-1914)

Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir

Wolfe, Linnie Marash
University of Wisconsin 1978

Working closely with Muir’s family and with his papers, Wolfe was able to create a full portrait of her subject, not only as America’s firebrand conservationist and founder of the national park system, but also as husband, father, and friend. All readers who have admired Muir’s ruggedly individualistic lifestyle, and those who wish a greater appreciation for the history of environmental preservation in America, will be enthralled and enlightened by this splendid biography.
The story follows Muir from his ancestral home in Scotland, through his early years in the harsh Wisconsin wilderness, to his history-making pilgrimage to California.
This book, originally published in 1945 and based in large part on Wolfe’s personal interviews with people who knew and worked with Muir, is one that could never be written again. It is, and will remain, the standard Muir biography.

Muir, John (1838-1914)

The Art & Life of Georgia O’Keeffe

Castro, Jan Garden
Crown 1985

This volume contains a fairly brief biography, but its strength is the collection of large color photos of O’Keeffe’s works. Famous women of Wisconsin, famous Wisconsin artists.

O’Keeffe, Georgia (1887-1986)

Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keeffe

Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter
Norton 2004

This volume is a biography of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986). O’Keeffe is known for large-format paintings of enlarged blossoms, presenting them close up as if seen through a magnifying lens, desert landscapes, and stark white cow skulls. The author examines O’Keeffe’s life events in an attempt to discover their influence on her artistic works. He documents O’Keeffe’s breakdowns, her domination by husband Alfred Stieglitz, and the long affair between Stieglitz and Dorothy Norman. Driven to a nervous breakdown by Stieglitz’s affair, O’Keeffe relocated and redefined herself in New Mexico, where she created her unforgettable signature paintings. Through personal material – including interviews with Dorothy Norman, Stieglitz’s longtime paramour – this biography offers an insight into O’Keeffe’s defining relationships and the effect of her husband’s infidelity, and offers a portrayal of a life shrouded in myth. Famous women of Wisconsin, famous Wisconsin artists.

O’Keeffe, Georgia (1887-1986)

“Pioneer Life in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol. 2 (1856) pp 326- 364

Parkinson, Daniel M.
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Parkinson was born in Tennessee in 1790 and migrated to southern Illinois in 1817. In 1826 there was great excitement about lead being discovered at Galena, so he joined the crowds of people flocking to that region to get rich. He stayed on, temporarily as a militia sergeant, then as a miner, then as a tavern keeper. In this article he describes the lively scene of the mining country during the ‘lead rush’. Wisconsin autobiographies, Wisconsin pioneers.

Parkinson, Daniel M. (1790-1868)

“Memories of Early Wisconsin and the Gold Mines”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 5, December 1, 1921, 119-141

Parkinson, John B.
Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society

The author’s family moved from Illinois to Wisconsin in 1836, when the author was two. They settled on a farm in Fayette, Lafayette County, and the author reminisces about their life there in the early days. In 1852 he went with a small group by wagon to the gold mines of California, and describes the journey and his experience at the mines.

Parkinson, John Barber (1834-1927)

Emanuel L. Philipp, Wisconsin Stalwart

Maxwell, Robert S.
State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1959

Wisconsin businessman and governor.

Philipp, Emanuel Lorenz (1861-1925)

Chapters in Fox River Valley History

Powell, William and Arndt, John Wallace
Madison: State Historical Society 1913

This booklet contains two papers: 1. William Powell’s Recollections; and 2. Pioneers and Durham Boats on Fox River, by John Wallace Arndt.

“William Powell’s Recollections in an Interview with Lyman C. Draper.”
A paper was dictated by Captain William Powell in 1877 or 1878 to Historical Society Secretary Draper, “embracing his recollections of the Menomonees and their prominent chiefs, Col. Robert Dickson, the British leader of the Northwestern Indian tribes during the War of 1812-15, and the derivation and meaning of many Indian geographical names in Wisconsin having a Menomonee origin.” When the Historical Society editors many years later prepared it for publication, they combined a letter written by William Powell detailing some additional facts in the lives of father and son. Wisconsin memoirs.

“Pioneers and Durham Boats on Fox River” by John Wallace Arndt.
Arndt arrived in 1824 at the age of nine with his father, and assisted him with transporting goods on the Fox river. This paper includes details about the introduction of the Durham boat on the river, glimpses of some notable early settlers in the Fox River Valley, and a chronicle of a typical voyage from Green Bay to Fort Winnebago in 1830.

Powell, William (1810-1885)

One Foot in Washington; The Perilous Life of a Senator’s Wife

Proxmire, Ellen
R.B. Luce 1964

Personal experiences of a woman active in the Wisconsin Democratic Party who became the wife of Senator William Proxmire, giving insights on senatorial life in the nation’s capital.

Proxmire, Ellen Hodges Sawill (1925-2015)

Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the U.S.

Obermayer, Herman J.
Threshold 2009

The impact of Chief Justice William Rehnquist — who served as a Supreme Court justice for a third of a century and headed the federal judiciary under four presidents — cannot be overstated. His dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade, and his strongly stated positions on issues as various as freedom of the press, school prayer, and civil rights, would guarantee his memory on their own. Chiefly, though, William Rehnquist will always be remembered for his highly visible role in two of the most important and contentious political events of recent American history: the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999 and the Supreme Court’s decision that made George W. Bush the victor in the presidential election of 2000.
Despite his importance as a public figure, however, William Rehnquist scrupulously preserved his private life. And while his judicial opinions often inflamed passions and aroused both ire and praise, they were rarely personal. The underlying quirks, foibles, and eccentricities of the man were always under wraps.
Now, however, journalist Herman J. Obermayer has broken that silence in a memoir of their nineteen-year friendship that is both factually detailed and intensely moving, his own personal tribute to his dearest friend. In these pages, we meet for the first time William Rehnquist the man, in a portrait that can only serve to enhance the legacy of a Chief Justice who will be remembered in history as being among America’s most influential. Famous people of Wisconsin.

Rehnquist, William H. (1924-2005)

Life story of the Ringling Brothers …

Humorous Incidents, Thrilling Trials, Many Hardships, and Ups and Downs, Telling how the Boys built a Circus, and showing the True Road to Success

Ringling, Alfred
Chicago: Donnelley & Sons 1900

This appears to be sort of an ‘official’ biography, produced by the Ringling Brothers’ company. Five sons of German immigrants growing up in Baraboo, WI created an act in which they performed skits and juggling routines, performing at town halls around Wisconsin. In 1884 the brothers began their first circus, and by the end of the 1880s it was one of the best in the country. For many years the Ringling Brothers circus was based in Baraboo, and there is still a large circus museum there, at the site where it wintered. Famous people from Wisconsin.

“Pioneering in the Wisconsin Lead Region”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol. XV (1900) pp 338-389

Rodolf, Theodore
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Theodore Rodolf came to Wisconsin from Switzerland in 1834, settling in the lead country of Lafayette County. Drawn to the area because of its rising economic importance, Rodolf met many prominent Wisconsin settlers, including the Gratiots, in his search for a new home and a new occupation. Rodolf tried his hand at a number of occupations, including farming and running a grocery store, but had little luck until he entered politics. In 1853, he was appointed to the land office in La Crosse. Rodolf later served in the state assembly and was mayor of La Crosse. Rodolf reminisces here about the growth of the lead region and his life since coming to Wisconsin.
– Summary from Wisconsin Historical Society site. Wisconsin pioneers, Wisconsin memoirs.

Rodolf, Theodore (1815-1892)

Uncle Jerry: Life of General Jeremiah M. Rusk. Stage Driver, Farmer, Soldier, Legislator, Governor, Cabinet Officer

Casson, Henry
Madison: Hill 1895

Rusk moved from Ohio to Vernon County, WI (then Bad Axe County) in the early 1850s, rising quickly from tavern-keeper to Sheriff and then to legislator. The author of this admiring biography was Rusk’s personal secretary in his years as Governor and U.S. Cabinet member. Wisconsin governors, Wisconsin biographies.

Rusk, Jeremiah McLain (1830-1893)

Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869, translated and edited by Joseph Schafer

Schurz, Carl
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1928

This is a collection of personal letters written by the eminent German- American statesman, Carl Schurz (1829-1906), to his immediate family and close friends. Schurz maintained a legal residence in Watertown, Wisconsin from 1855 to 1866, even though lecture tours and campaign speeches took him all across the northern United States. Several of these letters deal with Schurz’s Wisconsin years, and most are published here for the first time in English. They are filled with descriptive insights about German immigrants and native-born Americans as well as about the newly developing urban centers of the Upper Midwest. Schurz was a political revolutionary during his university years in his native Germany. When he emigrated to the United States, he became an outstanding spokesman for the anti-slavery cause and the Republican party. One of his missions was to mobilize German-American communities against slavery, but his rhetorical skills in English as well as German soon won him a broader following. Later, Schurz became an ardent champion of civil service reform. His other contributions to American life ranged from farming and practicing law to serving as Ambassador to Spain (1861-62), Civil War general (1862-63), Senator from Missouri (1869-75), organizer of the Liberal Republican Party (1872), and Secretary of the Interior (1877-81), where he made the conservation of natural resources an object of policy for the first time. Schurz was also considered one of the leading journalists of his day, editing the New York Evening Post (1881- 83) and writing for Harper’s Weekly (1892-1901). His biographies of Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln are still read today.
– from the Library of Congress American Memory website. Famous people of Wisconsin, Famous political leaders of Wisconsin, Famous authors of Wisconsin.

Schurz, Carl Christian (1829-1906)

“Narrative of a Pioneer of Wisconsin and Pike’s Peak”

The Wisconsin Magazine of History Volume 12, number 4, June 1929 pp 403-421

Sheldon, Thomas Hanford
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Sheldon was a boy in the summer of 1833 when his family left their home in Detroit and traveled across Indiana and Illinois to a new home in Mineral Point, WI. In this account he describes some of the events that occurred during the journey, as well as the family’s life in Wisconsin in the early years. Wisconsin pioneer memoir.

Sheldon, Thomas Hanford (1825-1909)

“Reuben Gold Thwaites”

Historical Collections Vol 39, 1915, 387-391

Wood, Edwin O.
Lansing: Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society

A biographical sketch and appreciation of Dr. Thwaites (1853-1913), who led the State Historical Society of Wisconsin from 1887 to 1913, and was the author or editor of numerous historical works. Famous Wisconsin authors.

Thwaites, Reuben Gold (1853-1913)

Spencer Tracy: Tragic Idol

Davidson, Bill
Dutton 1988

Actor Spencer Tracy was born in Milwaukee and educated in Catholic schools. He served briefly in the Navy in World War I, then returned to complete high school and afterward began classes at Ripon College, where he started his acting career.
“Complemented by reminiscences of Tracy by Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Kelly, Elia Kazan, Pat O’Brien, and other celebrities, this [book] exposes the more troubled side of one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.” – Publisher. Wisconsin celebrities, famous actors from Wisconsin.

Tracy, Spencer (1900-1967)

Memories of Early Days

Weaver, Melinda A.
1876

A woman looks back 40 years to when she and her husband moved to Waukesha County, Wisconsin from New York. Wisconsin pioneer women, Wisconsin pioneer memoirs.

Weaver, Melinda Ann Warren (1813-1886)

The Worlds and I

Wilcox, Ella Wheeler
New York: Doran 1918

An autobiography of a popular writer. Wilcox grew up at Lake Mendota, near Madison, where she remained until her late 20s. She became widely known for contributions to leading newspapers and for her poetry. Her poem Solitude began with the still-familiar lines: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone”

“These intimate reminiscences disclose to us the complete life of Ella Wheeler Wilcox from her earliest babyhood days. The final chapters contain much comment on spiritualistic phenomena. Her mother’s dreams and ambitions for the coming baby; the rather queer little girl’s early life in the meagre, discordant Wheeler household; her unique “breaking into print”; her many subsequent successes; her romance; her happy married life with its abundance of acquaintances; and finally her real sorrow, and the consolation she found in spirit communion with her dead husband, are here recorded with much vivid detail. Numerous photographs at the close of the book repeat Mrs Wilcox’s narrative, presenting “In a unique and appealing way the chief events of Mrs Wilcox’s life to the beginning of 1919.”
“Her meteoric career she discusses delightfully. Her American friends compose a remarkable company of notable people.”
– The Book Review Digest. Famous women of Wisconsin, famous authors of Wisconsin.

Wilcox, Ella Wheeler (1850-1919)

The Life and Works of Frank Lloyd Wright

Heinz, Thomas A.
Barnes & Noble 2002

“Frank Lloyd Wright is justly regarded as one of the most important and prolific architects there has ever been, and the defining genius of American architecture…. Wright had an innate understanding of materials and their possibilities. He was fearless when it came to experimenting with modern technology and produced some of the most remarkable buildings of his time.” – Book jacket
The author was an architect. In addition to information about Wright’s life, this volume contains numerous color photos of Wright’s buildings, with commentary. Famous architect of Wisconsin.

Wright, Frank Lloyd (1867-1959)

Wisconsin: My Home

The Story of Thurine Oleson as told to her daughter

Xan, Erna Oleson
University of Wisconsin 1975

Wisconsin My Home is the story of Thurine Oleson, born in Wisconsin in 1866 to parents who had emigrated from Telemarken, Norway. This much-loved book was first published in 1950 when Thurine was a spry octogenarian. In it she not only vividly recalls the pioneer life of her childhood in a Norwegian American settlement, but also tells her parents’ stories of their life in Norway and their reasons for emigration.

Oleson, Thurine (1866-1955)

Collective Biographies

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940

Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress

This collection of life histories consists of approximately 2,900 documents, compiled and transcribed by more than 300 writers from 24 states, working on the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program that was part of the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936 to 1940. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents vary in form from narratives to dialogues to reports to case histories. They chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, grueling factory work, and the immigrant experience.
– From the Collection’s Website. Wisconsin biographies.

The Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Representative Men of Chicago, Milwaukee and the World’s Columbian Exposition

Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Company 1892

The book has two parts, both together in one volume at this link. Important people of Wisconsin.

Commemorative Biographical Record of the Fox River Valley Counties of Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago …

containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, and of many of the early settled families

Chicago: J. H. Beers and Co., 1895

See the notes at the entry immediately below for the Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region for information about the J. H. Beers biographical publications. Important people of Wisconsin.

Commemorative Biographical Record of Prominent and Representative Men of Racine and Kenosha Counties Wisconsin

Containing Biographical Sketches of Business and Professional Men and Many of the Early Settled Families

Chicago: Beers 1906

Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region, containing biographical sketches …

of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families

Chicago: J.H. Beers 1905

There are almost 500 biographies in this book. Normally the profiles are of people alive at the time the book was published (1905). The length and depth of articles vary, depending on the perceived importance of the individual. Some publishers of group biographies like these, which were commonly a part of county histories, charged fees to the individuals profiled, and a generous payment could often inflate the size of the profile.

These profiles can be very useful for tracing family history because they normally contain biographical information about the parents, and sometimes the grandparents and in-laws, of a subject. However, publisher’s researchers did not normally attempt to verify information provided by subjects, so factual errors are common. Wisconsin pioneers.

Wisconsin Women Making History – Website

Wisconsin Women Making Historynbsp;

A searchable database of notable Wisconsin women, present and past. The profiles are brief, but often contain references to other works, or links to videos, articles etc. Important women of Wisconsin.

Women Of Northeast Wisconsin: Dreamers And Doers

American Association of University Women – Green Bay Branch
American Association of University Women 1994

Profiles of notable women throughout thirteen counties of Northeast Wisconsin.

Contents: Pioneer era to 1850 – 1850 to World War I – World War I to 1950’s – 1960’s to the Present

Wisconsin Women: A Gifted Heritage

Bletzinger, Andrea and Short, Anne, eds.
AAUW 1982

In 1980 the American Association of University Women decided to compile biographical profiles of notable members of their association as well as Wisconsin women of historical significance and women who were emerging as leaders in the 1980s. From about 300 nominations they selected 90 women “on the basis of their achievements in promoting educational opportunities, providing leadership in the advancement of women, sharing their unique talents, and dedicating their lives to the solution of social and civic problems.” -Foreword
Biographies are brief, and include many illustrations. Important women of Wisconsin, famous Wisconsin women.

Fifty Years in the Northwest; With an introduction and appendix containing reminiscences, incidents and notes

Folsom, William H. C., edited by Edwards, E.E.
St. Paul: Pioneer Press 1888

While the title suggests this volume is an autobiography, it consists mostly of county histories of a number of counties in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota, with a collection of biographies for each county. The author lived in the region for fifty years and has also included his own reminiscences and some autobiographical material.

The First 100 Years Of Contact: 1634-1734

Biographies of people who lived at, visited or influenced Green Bay, and De Pere, Wisconsin , and the Midwest, from the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Noel, Donald Claude
Quality 2002

Memorial Record of the Fathers of Wisconsin Containing Sketches …

of the Lives and Career of the Members of the Constitutional Conventions of 1846 and 1847-8, with a History of Early Settlement in Wisconsin

Tenney, Horace Addison
Madison: Atwood 1880

This book is about the two constitutional conventions held in Wisconsin in 1846 and 1847, and the men who participated in that effort to pass a progressive constitution. There is a brief early history of Wisconsin, a chapter describing the two conventions, and then the bulk of the volume contains biographies of those political figures. The full text of the two constitutions – the rejected one and the approved one – are also included.

Notable Men of Wisconsin

Milwaukee: Williams 1902

This book contains portraits only, not biographies, of about 700 men. The index begins on page 21.

Portrait and Biographical Record of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, containing biographical sketches of old settlers and representative citizens of the county

Chicago: Excelsior 1894

There may be about 450 profiles of Waukesha citizens in this volume. A glance through some of them indicates that all or nearly all were alive at the time of publication in 1894, and the majority would not have been considered ‘pioneers’ as they were not among the earliest arrivals in the region. Presumably many of the leading citizens can be found here.

Sketches of Wisconsin Pioneer Women

Dexheimer, Florence Chambers
Ft. Atkinson, WI: Daughters of the American Revolution in Wisconsin 1924

About 75 individual women around Wisconsin are profiled, many of whom, in addition to being pioneers in their regions, had notable achievements in voluntary service or professional careers. There are also group profiles for the ‘pioneer women’ of Racine and Superior. Wisconsin pioneer women.

The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-made Men: Wisconsin Volume

Chicago: American Biographical 1877

This volume was produced in 1877, in an early phase of this popular late-nineteenth century genre of biographical collections. It contains profiles for a few hundred prominent men in Wisconsin, of up to two or three pages and occasionally with a full-page illustration. As is usual with this type of book, a profile normally contains, at a minimum, names of parents, date of arrival in Wisconsin, a few interesting details of his personal story, some professional background, details about Civil War service if any, and some basic data about marriage, wife and children.

See the list of resources on this website for: Genealogy & Local History Research

Wisconsin Diplomats

Plumb, Ralph G.
Manitowoc, WI: Maresch 1963

Famous diplomats of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Lives of National Interest; Sketches of some Prominent People Identified with the History of the Badger State

Crow, William L.
Appleton, WI: Nelson 1937

49 Wisconsinites in various professions are profiled. Important people of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Pioneer Experience

Madison: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

A digital collection of diaries, letters, reminiscences, speeches and other writings of people who settled and built Wisconsin during the 19th century. This includes transcriptions of hand-written documents and translations of documents written by immigrants. Documents are provided in digital images and as OCR-converted electronic text. There appears to be 48 documents in this collection.

Included is a sub-collection called “Wisconsin Territorial Letters, 1837-1852”. These are, “selections from letters from various places in Wisconsin, addressed for the most part to residents of Eastern states, reflecting living conditions in rural Wisconsin during territorial and early statehood days. They contain frequent references to the prevalence of fever and ague among the settlers, and notations of wages and the prices of commodities and real estate. Among the letters are small groups from leaders of two religious denominations–the Congregational minister E. D. Seward of Lake Mills and the Presbyterian minister Jeremiah Porter at Green Bay– and 10 letters from ministers of the Baptist Home Missionary Society to the Reverend Benjamin M. Hill, corresponding secretary of the Society. A calendar of the collection is included. 222 photostated pages of handwritten text.”
– quote from the Wisconsin Territorial Letters entry on the collection site.

Wisconsin, Its Story and Biography, 1848-1913

Usher, Ellis Baker
Chicago: Lewis 1914

There are 8 volumes. Volumes 1-3 are a history of Wisconsin from the 18th to the early 20th century. The remaining volumes appear to be made up entirely of biographies.

Who’s Who in Wisconsin

A biographical dictionary of leading men and women of the commonwealth

Biographical Press
Chicago: Larkin, Roosevelt & Larkin 1947

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