What’s in a name?

There’s a lot of history behind the names of Wisconsin’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities. Read on to find out what “Nashotah” means in the Chippewa language, who St. Norbert was, where the city of Carthage is located (spoiler alert: it’s not in Wisconsin), and how much a pound of bacon cost when Columbia College of Nursing was founded, among other fun facts.

Carthage College

Carthage original building.png
The building that housed Memorial Library on Carthage’s previous campus is now Carthage Veterinary Service’s training center. Photo courtesy of Carthage Veterinary Service Ltd.

Before permanently settling in Kenosha in 1962, Carthage College changed names and locations three times. Founded in 1847 in Hillsboro, Illinois, as The Literary and Theological Institute of the Lutheran Church in the Far West, the institution mercifully shortened its name to Hillsboro College.

After a short stint in the state capital as Illinois State University, the college landed in the rural, west-central Illinois city of Carthage and took its name. That long-dormant property recently farrowed a new educational mission, as Carthage Veterinary Service. The veterinary service built classrooms and a simulated barn for swine management training.

Columbia College of Nursing

Theodore Roosevelt took his oath as the 26th President of the United States…scientists isolated the hormone adrenaline…Walt Disney was born…a transatlantic message was sent from England to Newfoundland for the first time…bacon was 15 cents a pound…the world had settled into a new century…it was 1901. It was the year that Miss Olive B. Knowlton, a registered nurse, and Dr. Nathaniel A. Gray launched the Knowlton Hospital and Training School in a Sycamore Street (Michigan Street) mansion, which had been owned by the Rock family in Milwaukee. Students who enrolled in the new school arrived by horse and buggy or via the yellow and orange Grand Avenue trolley car, which stopped a block away.

The training school was designed as a three-year course of study, which at that time, was the second three-year program inaugurated in the state. In 1909, a Columbia Hospital Corporation was formed and took over the Knowlton Hospital. Continuity of nurses’ training was not interrupted; however, the name was changed to the Columbia Hospital School of Nursing. When the three-year course of study ended in 1983 to become a baccalaureate program, Columbia College of Nursing (CCON) came to be.

Edgewood College


Cadwaller Colden Washburn (1818-1882) gifted Edgewood Villa and grounds to the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters to be used for educational purposes. Photo courtesy of the Washburn-Norlands Foundation

Long before Edgewood College began, the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1881 had been given a colonial-style mansion, “Edgewood Villa,” situated on 55 acres on the north shore of Lake Wingra outside the city of Madison, Wisconsin, to be used for educational purposes.

This beautifully situated property belonged to the former governor of the state of Wisconsin, Cadwallader Colden Washburn, who had purchased the mansion and its estate from Samuel Marshall in 1873. Marshall opened the first Wisconsin bank on Pinckney Street in Madison and is credited with beautifying the Edgewood grounds. The Edgewood Villa had been built in 1855 by John Ashmead, who had purchased the land from Leonard J. Farwell, then serving a second term as Wisconsin’s governor. Click here to read the full story.

Lakeland University

Mission House was founded in 1862 by German Reformed immigrants as an institution to train teachers and ministers of the church. The Mission Houses of Europe had performed this service for the church, and the institution’s founders felt it appropriate to name this new school Das Missionshaus.

A combined college and seminary was common for schools of the church, but American education evolved and people no longer understood the meaning of a Mission House. A special committee of the church recommended that the college and seminary should be separated, and, in September of 1956, the formal separation was completed and Lakeland College was born.

Alumni and students were asked to suggest names, though there is no record of who suggested the name “Lakeland.” Among the suggestions were River Heights, Chapel Wood, Mount Herman and Wisconsin Woods, among others.

Now, 60 years later, the institution is again changing its name, this time to Lakeland University.

Marian University

1969 Sisters Walkin - Copy

Marian University, formerly college, of Fond du Lac, was founded in 1936 for the purpose of providing teacher education for the members of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA). The University was named in honor of the primary patron saint of the congregation, Mary, the Mother of God, and was opened on the feast day honoring of her birthday, September 8, 1936.

In addition, the seal of the University contains the symbols of a torch of learning, thorns, and a lily. The Latin words on the seal refer both to Mary and the mission of the college: sicut lilium inter spinas, which means “as a lily among thorns”. This phrase, taken from the Hebrew Scriptures, Song of Songs 2:2, has been used in Roman Catholic tradition as a symbolic reference to Mary, the Mother of God.



At the dawn of the 20th century, new occupations emerged in technical fields as the use of electrical and mechanical power was greatly accelerated. Engineers and technicians were in great demand, but few people were available who had the formal education and technical training. Industry’s need spurred the development of progressive programs of technical education.

In this context, Oscar Werwath organized the School of Engineering in 1903. Werwath was a practicing engineer who graduated from European technical schools in the late 19th century. He was the first person to plan an American educational institution based on an applications-oriented curriculum. In 1932, Milwaukee was added to the name and Milwaukee School of Engineering was incorporated as a nonprofit, nonstock institution controlled by a Board of Regents—as it remains today.

Nashotah House

In 1842, 585 acres of land were purchased for $1,180 for the purpose of founding a religious educational institution. Under the direction of the Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Jackson Kemper, the institution’s purpose was to serve the frontier of Wisconsin. The purchased land was a few miles west of Waukesha, then called Praireville, on the Nashotah Lakes. Nashotah is a Chippewa word meaning twin, as there were two Nashotah lakes similar in size and appearance.

The institution was called Nashotah House because one of the founders, the Rev. James Lloyd Breck, desired that it be modeled after the religious houses of medieval Europe. This seminal philosophy of a “brotherhood” of self-denying celibate men, living under a superior and working the land as co-workers only lasted for eight years, but “House” has remained in the name ever sense. Click here to read the full story.

Ripon College


John S. Horner

Ripon College originally was incorporated as Brockway College in 1851. It was converted from a college preparatory school to a four-year college in 1863. Formal approval of the name change to Ripon College was granted by the state in March 1864. The name comes from its location in the community of Ripon. The community was named by one of its founders, John S. Horner, after the cathedral city of Ripon, North Yorkshire, from which his ancestors had emigrated. Horner was a former secretary of the Wisconsin Territory (1836-37). The College graduated its first class, four women, in 1867. Although private and nonsectarian, Ripon College was given support by the Winnebago Convention of Presbyterian and Congregational Churches until 1868.

St. Norbert College

St. Norbert Snip

St. Norbert College was founded in 1898 by Abbot Bernard Pennings, a Dutch immigrant priest, to train young men for the priesthood. The college was named after St. Norbert, who was born near Cologne in 1080. Though he spent is youth enjoying his noble rank, an accident in which a thunderbolt struck at his horse’s feet, causing him to be thrown and remain unconscious for nearly an hour, changed his life when he was 33.

He adopted an austere lifestyle, which earned him the respect of church leaders. In 1120, St. Norbert founded the Norbertine order in Prémontré, France. The Norbertine tradition and heritage is the cornerstone on which St. Norbert College was established, and it continues to be reflected in the educational mission of the college today. Click here to read the full story.

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