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UW-Milwaukee's Predecessor Institutions.: About Milwaukee-Downer College

Explains the UWM's predecessor institutions, and explains our relationship to Milwaukee-Downer College. Offers further resources and research suggestions.

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In 1964, Milwaukee-Downer College consolidated with Lawrence College, forming Lawrence University.

Read about them at and contact the Lawrence University Archives for more information, or to access student records (transcripts).

Historical records of the Milwaukee-Downer College are available at the UWM Archives Department. Read the finding aid at or ask in the Archives.

Milwaukee-Downer College History Summary

[Note: Milwaukee-Downer College is not officially affiated with UW-Milwaukee, nor was it a predecessor institution.]

Milwaukee-Downer College was created in 1895 by the merger of Milwaukee College and Downer College. Each institution, founded for the education of women, had a distinct history of its own.

Milwaukee College began as the Milwaukee Female Seminary, founded in 1848. Catherine Beecher associated with it, reformed curricula to align with the Beecher Plan, and by 1853 it was named Milwaukee Female College. In 1876 the name changed again, to Milwaukee College. It was the first female college in Wisconsin.

Downer College was originally chartered in January 1855 as the Wisconsin Female College in Fox Lake, WI, organized by the Wisconsin Baptist Educational Society. It became incorporated and non-sectarian in 1862. In the late 1870s, due to changing administrations and character of the school, it was sometimes referred to as the Fox Lake College or Fox Lake Academy. After the bequest of Judge Jason Downer, the name was officially changed to Downer College in 1889.

Milwaukee-Downer College merged with Lawrence University in 1964 and the buildings are now part of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.

Postcard showing buildings


1848 - Milwaukee Female Seminary established

1851- Seminary received state authorization and was renamed Milwaukee Normal Institute and High School

1853 - Renamed Milwaukee Female College, despite high school department being much larger than college department

1866 - Boys were allowed to enroll in the primary department of the school

1866 - The name of the school was changed to Milwaukee College

1855 - Wisconsin Female College was started in Fox Lake area

1889 - Wisconsin Female College renamed Downer College

1894 - Struggling Milwaukee College offered presidency to head of Downer College

1895 - Milwaukee-Downer College formed out of the merger of Downer College and Milwaukee College

1964 - University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee purchased the campus in 1964, and Milwaukee-Downer moved to Appleton to join Lawrence College (now University)