Homecoming is always an open invitation to alumni welcoming them back to their University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
For Oct. 22, there is a special invite out to a band of alumni with different roots at the University. They are invited to help recognize one more historic innovation, place and story in the institution’s 140-year legacy.
For half a century, Swart Hall incubated future Kindergarten teachers and their hundreds of pupils in a working elementary school. UW Oshkosh is inviting and welcoming that special band of Swart elementary-student-alumni back to campus for the historic dedication of Swart Hall at 10 a.m. on Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 22.
Some “graduates” of that former elementary school – the original Oshkosh State Normal School’s innovative K-5 training grounds for future teachers — and UW Oshkosh academic and Foundation leaders will unveil a Swart Hall historical marker in the building’s lobby during a 10 a.m. dedication ceremony. Planners encourage anyone who attended elementary school in Swart to return to their earliest alma mater. The dedication event is open to the entire community.
“For 140 years, our institution has been a leader in developing groundbreaking academic programs that prepare the very best teachers,” UW Oshkosh Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Lane Earns said. “The dedication of Swart Hall and the unveiling of this new historical marker acknowledge our 19th and 20th Century innovations in teacher education and remind us of our commitment to remain at the forefront of how we prepare teachers in the 21st Century.”
The Swart Hall Kindergarten and proving ground for teachers, first of its kind in the nation, was originally located in the long gone Normal School building. Over time, it and the additional elementary grades moved into Swart Hall, where students – those at the desks and those learning to teach at the head of the class – thrived for decades.
“Swart Hall was not the first home for the kindergarten; that was in the basement of the original Normal School building,” University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Archivist Joshua Ranger said. “Still, once built, and for 50 years thereafter, Swart provided young children their first taste of schooling. Like the first kindergarten, Swart Hall was a prize of national importance when it opened in 1928.”
The Oshkosh State Normal School was a state and national leader in educating teachers and broke new ground when it became the first of its kind in the nation to engrain an actual Kindergarten.
Normal School President George Albee first pushed to establish a Kindergarten into the teaching program. The demand for Kindergarten teachers had erupted as the schools started developing in and around the Milwaukee area further spread around the state after the very first Kindergarten in the nation opened in Watertown in 1856.
Eventually, with the support of the Normal School’s Regents, Oshkosh beat out rivals in Platteville, River Falls and Whitewater as the site of the first teaching-school Kindergarten.
The program prospered under the guidance of Rose C. Swart, a teaching education dynamo who strongly engrained practice teaching into the school’s programs in 1872 and whose name and legacy lives on in her namesake UW Oshkosh hall.
As teacher training expanded throughout Wisconsin and the nation, the innovative Kindergarten and elementary school moved into Swart Hall, where it flourished decades.
“It was said it was one of the sixth largest training schools in the country,” Ranger said.
“It featured conveniences like a large study hall, a theater and a demonstration room with its own theater seating,” he said. “There was a cafeteria, children’s clinic, library and a gymnasium with showers. It was the envy of the Normal System and allowed our students and faculty a real school experience while it provided a fantastic education for community children.”