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Introduction: “Madison Women Remember”

Open these pages and celebrate Madison’s 150th birthday with twelve women whose roots go deep here. Get to know their families and friends, enjoy their pastimes, as you follow them through an adventure we all share: coming of age.

This cast of characters has come together by design and by magic.

With Madison’s sesquicentennial approaching, I thought of a birthday present I could give the city: a collection of oral history interviews to reveal the changing nature of Madison over time. I imagined a book composed of women’s voices, describing experiences from early childhood through leaving home, because coming of age at a particular place and time leaves such an indelible mark on us. I hoped to gather stories from about 1910 to 1970, from women’s suffrage to Gloria Steinem.

I asked local historians and friends for referrals to “women with an interesting story.” A brief article about my quest appeared in the Capital Times. Before long I had about three dozen women interested in my project.  I charted birth dates, neighborhoods, ethnic origins. I looked for a broad cross section of circumstances and experiences. With help, I have conducted and transcribed dozens of conversations and edited them into chapters, each presenting one woman’s story in her own words.

The chapters appear in chronological order. I have not inserted my own voice, choosing to show rather than tell what has struck me as wise, poignant, universal, or simply amusing. I found fascinating threads weaving through the fabric of these stories, and I hope you will too.

The stories that appear in this book are excerpts from the material I have collected for the “Madison Women Remember” oral history project.  The photographs have been gathered from the women interviewed, other local historians, and the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives. The interview tapes and transcripts, reviewed and approved by the participating women, are archived with Historic Madison, Inc.

I hope you find inspiration in the wisdom, grace, and pleasure these women bring to their lives, as I have. If you like your history in the first person, you will find interesting reading here. If you are new to Madison, this book might help you put down roots. Most of all, I hope these women’s stories motivate you to tell your own. 

I received a grant from Madison Arts Commission to share this oral history collection beyond this book. I hope these women’s wonderful stories can contribute to other Sesquicentennial events and projects. I will be bringing these stories to schools, neighborhood centers, seniors programs, writing and drama groups, and more. If you are interested in a presentation about the collection, or would like access to the transcripts for your own cultural or artistic pursuits, please let me know.

Sarah White

50 S. Fair Oaks Avenue

 Madison, WI 53714




© 2003 Sarah White. Contact me with comments or questions. Home.