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The 6 Oldest Schools in Wisconsin Are Ancient

Aerial view of Madison city downtown at sunset, Wisconsin

The 6 Oldest Schools in Wisconsin Are Ancient

Wisconsin joined the union as the 30th state in 1848, but its educational system predates its statehood. Some of the oldest schools in Wisconsin are ancient. Wisconsin was first established as a territory in 1836, but it went through some border shifting, losing part of its mass to what would become Iowa. It became a big agricultural state with iron ore being mined well into the 1880s (via Brittanica). In terms of Wisconsin’s public schooling, some efforts were made to provide free education when Wisconsin was still a territory. The earliest free schools were opened around 1827, by local teachers or New England immigrants who wanted their children to receive an education. Some of the major universities that are still functioning today were opened before Wisconsin earned its statehood.

Let’s learn more about the oldest schools in Wisconsin. In this post, we’ll discuss the history of Wisconsin’s schooling system, as well as what it looks like today. We’ll talk about what the modern counterparts of these ancient institutions have to offer the students of today. By the end of this, you’ll have a better understanding of the measures Wisconsin took in terms of its educational history and what the state can provide for its students now. Happy reading!

Trinity Lutheran Freistadt, 1839

10729 West Freistadt Road, Mequon, WI 

Founded in 1839, the Trinity Lutheran Freistadt School is a Christian school. With the help of the Lutheran immigrants who traveled to America to escape religious persecution, this school was set up to provide an education in religion to the early children of Wisconsin. The modern campus encompasses some 40 acres of land; it includes athletic fields, nature trails, and even a creek on their historic grounds. The school scored 98.1/100 on a statewide report card of catering to the needs of marginalized students. Class size is about 21 per course and the school offers schooling to pre-school through 8th grade. There are also childcare centers on the premises.

St. John Nepomucene, 1844

 411 Vandenbroek Street, Little Chute, WI 54140

Following closely behind is the Saint John Nepomucene Catholic School, established in 1844. The St. John Nepomucene Catholic Community began in 1836, founded by Reverend Theodore Vanden Broek. Vanden Broek helped to build a church and start the locals' Catholic education. The school building was erected in 1844. To start, they had only six students, all of which were Native Menominee from the area that was settled. As attendance grew, they briefly shut down the school and in 1889 the town built a new one to accommodate for more students. In 1909, more rooms were added and by 1928, the building that the school still resides in was built using brick and other solid materials.

Today the Saint John Nepomucene Catholic School caters to preschool, and K-5th graders. There are some 240+ students enrolled, around 20 students per class, and 1-2 classes per grade level. It is a fully accredited learning institution, with qualified and passionate staff and teachers. The school is up-to-date technologically, offers language courses, and lots of extracurricular options.

Group Of High School Students In Class Using Laptops
Students of St. John Nepomucene regularly work on Chromebooks with cutting-edge educational tech.

©Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Carroll College, 1846

Carroll University, 100 N. East Avenue, Waukesha, WI 53186

Carroll College, now called Carrol University, was established by the legislation of the Wisconsin territory, just a few years before Wisconsin achieved statehood. It is one of the oldest schools in Wisconsin! Beloit was originally established as an extension school to Prairie Academy, which closed a few years earlier. The school buildings didn't officially open until 1850, but classes were fully up and running by 1852. The school paper was started in 1854, and the school opened to women in 1863. By the 1900s, the college really began to receive some recognition and positive affiliations. In 1909 they received full accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities. Medical courses started to be available and the school formed an affiliation with the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons of Milwaukee.

It actually wasn't until 2008 that the board of the college voted to change the name to Carroll University, to mark the school's major expansions and academic achievements. The university caters to some 3,000+ enrolled students. These students represent a diverse student body of 40 States and 29 countries. The classes are small, with an average of 21 students per course, which keeps the community tightly knit. Present day, Carroll University offers over 95 areas of study and directional degrees.

Notable Carroll College Alumni

When considering whether a school is right for you, one of the things you may consider is what their alumni have accomplished. Carroll College boasts a number of notable alumni, including:

  • Casey FitzSimmons, former tight end for the Detroit Lions
  • John Gagliardi, former head coach for Saint John's University
  • Norman “Jeff” Holter, biophysicist
  • Bobby Petrino, offensive coordinator for Texas A&M's football team
  • Tarah Wheeler, cybersecurity executive and author
  • Raymond Hunthausen, former Archbishop of Seattle
  • Paul Petrino, offensive coordinator for Central Michigan University's football team
  • Mark Racicot, former Governor of Montana

Beloit College, 1846

700 College St., Beloit, Wisconsin 53511

For another college that was founded just before Wisconsin's statehood: Beloit College. Chartered in 1846, this college was started by New Englanders who had migrated to Wisconsin and wanted to create educational opportunities for other settling families. The first class graduated in 1851. Well into the 1960s, Beloit College was a beacon of flexible, ground-breaking curriculum and extra-curricular opportunities. The college encouraged field studies and off-campus terms, well before the study-abroad year became popularized. They emphasized critical thinking, interesting coursework, and taking classes outside of one's major of choice.

Modern-day, Beloit College is still well known for its open and ever-changing curriculum. The school has renowned humanities and science offerings, as well as a top-notch international education program. With a student-teacher ratio of 10:1, classes are small but over 40+ majors are offered. Enrollment is around 1,100 students from 46 states and 42 countries. There are over 55 clubs and organizations within the Beloit community, as well as intermural and intercollegiate sports offerings. The campus is also home to accredited art and anthropology museums. In 2022, Beloit was ranked #18 for best liberal arts colleges in terms of financial aid and experience overall.

Notable Beloit College Alumni

As one of the top-rated colleges in the country, it's no surprise that Beloit College has a high number of accomplished alumni. Some of their notable alumni include:

  • Matthew Aid, military historian and author
  • Don Bolles, investigative journalist known for his coverage of organized crime
  • Kerwin Mathews, actor
  • Madeleine Roux, horror writer
  • Matt Tolmach, filmmaker and Sony Pictures Entertainment executive
  • James Arness, actor
  • Frank Avery Hutchins, founder of the Wisconsin Library Association
  • Eric Isaacs, 11th President of the Carnegie Institution for Science
  • Ding Darling, Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist
  • Emma Bull, author
  • Jameson Parker, actor
  • Robyn Gabel, Majority Leader of the Wisconsin House of Representatives

Riverside University High School, 1868

1615 E Locust Stree, Milwaukee, WI 53211

The first high school to open in Milwaukee, Wisconsin would eventually become Riverside High. Founded in 1868, the legislature for a free public school was finally approved in 1867. There were a couple of building acquisitions and name changes throughout the years. Eventually, in 1984, the school would be renamed Riverside University due to a course partnership with the nearby UW-Milwaukee. The city of Milwaukee celebrated the school's 150th anniversary in 2018 (via On Milwaukee).

Modern-day Riverside is a quality educational institution. It currently offers more AP courses than any other Milwaukee high school. Riverside is known for its pre-college courses in biomedical science, as well as an award-winning robotics program and bilingual and special education programs. There are numerous extracurricular activities, athletic opportunities, and community-building events.

Notable Riverside University High Alumni

As one of Wisconsin's oldest schools, Riverside High boasts a number of notable alumni. Some of these alumni include:

  • Brandon Brooks, retired guard with the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Thomas E. Fairchild, 31st Attorney General of Wisconsin
  • Ronald G. Parys, former Wisconsin State Senator
  • John Romano, psychiatrist and founder of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester
  • Gerald Walker, rapper
  • Elmer Winter, founder of ManpowerGroup
  • Michael Schultz, director
  • Antonio R. Riley, Midwest Regional Administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Alvin Kraenzlein, accomplished hurdler and gold-medal-winning Olympic athlete
Salem Lutheran School has been serving children of the Milwaukee community since 1873!

©iStock.com/Caiaimage/Chris Ryan

Salem Lutheran School, 1873

6840 N 107th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53224

The Salem Lutheran Church & School was started the year before Wisconsin's statehood by German immigrant families looking for community. The original log church building was expanded in 1863, and the grade school was established in 1873, though the first records that exist are from 1885. While the educational portion of the church closed during World War II, by 1949, it was open once again, this time in a new building. The buildings expanded to fit a gymnasium, more classrooms, and a kitchen. By the 1970s the need for further renovations couldn't be ignored and the school was redone. Renovations finished completely in 2015.

That catches us up to the modern-day, where Salem Lutheran Church & School still strives for academic excellence and community. They are a fully accredited institution with dedicated educators, several community outreach initiatives, and lots of extracurricular offerings. Catering to grades K-8, they have an enrollment of a little under 200, which means classes are small and structured. Students at Salem Lutheran can participate in the arts, public speaking, academic competitions, and a number of athletics.

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