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This is a contributing entry for Madison's Every Place Has a Story Walking Tour and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union was built with two purposes in mind. Look at the back terrace facing Lake Mendota on a glorious sunny day to discover one. You will see groups of students gathered to relax and socialize, exactly what UW President Charles Van Hise envisioned in his 1904 inaugural address when he called for a student union. The other purpose is found sealed in the cornerstone of the building, laid on Memorial Day, 1927. It is called the Memorial Union because that cornerstone contains the names of students who served their country in the military, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

  • Photograph of Memorial Union taken from Lake Mendota. In the image, a barrell notes the edge of the swimming area, people are gathered on a the lawn, and Memorial Union sits above the lakeshore.
  • A cabinet card photograph of the skyline of Madison, Wisconsin from around 1890 taken from the western end of Langdon Street. The three houses in the lower left of the photograph sit on the lot that would later become Memorial Union. Also visible is the lot that would become the Red Gym.

The Memorial Union opened in 1928. It was the culmination of plans and fundraising to provide a place for students to meet, and also as a memorial to honor University of Wisconsin students and alumni who fought and died in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I. The cornerstone has names of the 219 Badgers on the Gold Star Honor Roll who died in service, along with the University’s record of military service which includes 10,000 names. It also includes another 10,000 names of donors to the building project. 

The entrance to the building reminds all who enter to reflect upon those who served. Engraved in stone are the words, “dedicated to the men and women of the University of Wisconsin who served in our country’s wars.” Ascending the stairs behind those words, and just beyond the entrance, is the Memorial Hall. There are four wooden plaques in Memorial Hall engraved with the 219 names of the Gold Star Honor Roll as of 1928. 

There have been wars since the Memorial Union was built. And unfortunately, there are more names to add to the Gold Star Honor Roll, the gold star representing a military service member killed in the line of duty. In 2017, an interactive digital kiosk was added to Memorial Hall in order to update the Gold Star Honor Roll. The digital kiosk allows visitors to Memorial Hall in the Memorial Union to search the names and stories of 900 students and graduates of the University of Wisconsin – Madison who died during military service.

Heyka, Jake. A Historical Walking Tour of the Memorial Union Main Entrance.  Terraceviews. June 4, 2013. Accessed June 1, 2020.  

Kiosk in Memorial Hall. Gold Star Honor Roll. Accessed June 1, 2020.

Mesch, Shelly K. New Interactive Display Aims to Memorialize UW-Madison Students and Alumni Killed in Battle. Wisconsin State Journal. November 11, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2020.  

Remembering and Honoring UW’s Veterans. University of Wisconsin Office of the Chancellor. November 10, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2020.  

Thomae, Zach. The “Memorial” History of the Memorial Union.  Terraceviews. May 30, 2012. Accessed June 1, 2020.  

Wisconsin Union Historical Timeline. Wisconsin Union – A Division of Social Education, University of Wisconsin. Accessed 5/31/2020.


Image Sources(Click to expand)

Harry N. Loeb, Papers and still images, 1940-1959. WVM Mss 1998. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).

John M. Beffel, papers and photographs, 1891-1942. WVM Mss 503. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).