The Graduate School

Research And Opinion

Research & Opinion
Volume 10, Number 2
September, 1996

The Milwaukee Urban Archives and Urban Research

By Mark Vargas, Milwaukee Urban Archives, Golda Meir Library

The purpose of this article is to raise awareness on the UWM campus of the tremendous resources available in the Milwaukee Urban Archives (MUA), and to develop faculty interest in using and expanding the collections. The main objective of the UWM Strategic Plan, as outlined by Chancellor John Schroeder, is to "firmly establish UWM as one of the nation's premier urban research institutions." The MUA is dedicated to assisting the campus create, disseminate, and apply knowledge that will fulfill Chancellor's Schroeder's goal. The MUA is a major support organization for a wide variety of faculty, students, and staff who study Milwaukee and its urban environment. This essay describes the MUA, its role in urban research, and what improvements it wants to make, and provides samples of the materials available to the UWM community.

The Functions of the Milwaukee Urban Archives

The mission of the MUA is to acquire, organize, and make available records deemed of permanent value from the UWM campus and the Milwaukee metropolitan area. A primary goal of the MUA is to assist the research and teaching of UWM faculty, staff, and students. Urban research is a multi-disciplinary field of study. The 1996 Urban Research Directory lists over 150 UWM faculty and staff, from numerous different academic units, engaged in urban research projects. Many of the MUA's holdings are extremely useful for longitudinal studies, or for placing urban issues in a broader, historical context. A particular strength of the MUA's holdings lies in the documentation of civil rights, urban redevelopment, and social justice.

Many people think of archives as either dusty, musty, dirty places where "old stuff" is kept, or as a pile of backup tapes for computers. In reality, the MUA is neither. The MUA is an archival repository located in UWM's Golda Meir Library and has a staff of 3 professional archivists, 1 paraprofessional, and 2.5 FTE graduate student employees. The MUA has cooperated with the History Department and the School of Library & Information Science to develop a strong archival education program, and talented graduate students have found excellent positions throughout the country. The MUA is a national leader in the use of modern archival concepts and techniques, and has by far the most extensive automation program of any repository in Wisconsin. The MUA currently answers over 1,500 requests per year from the UWM community, with questions ranging across all levels of size and complexity. Authors who have used the MUA publish numerous journal articles, books, dissertations, and theses. The MUA staff often works closely with classes from a number of UWM departments on improving research projects, methodological skills, and interpretation of results. Among the heaviest users of archival materials are students from architecture, history, library and information science, and women's studies.

The MUA currently holds about 24 million items in a wide variety of formats, from correspondence files, audio-visual tapes, photographs, to computer disks. All collections are fully cataloged, and bibliographic records are available in the OCLC national database, in Golda Meir Library's online catalog, and on the Wisconsin Catalog (WISCAT) database. The materials are stored in environmentally sound areas.

The Archives are open to the UWM community and general public. No special permission or appointments, or letters of reference are needed to use the collections. The MUA provides bibliographic instruction, tours, and presentations for UWM classes and public organizations.

The MUA and the State Historical Society

The MUA is able to bring together a vast number of resources on almost any given topic because it is a member of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin's (SHSW) Area Research Center (ARC) network. For thirty years, the SHSW has placed large parts of its holdings at the four year UW campus libraries. The MUA's area of responsibility within the network includes the counties of Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Sheboygan, Washington, and Waukesha. The ARC's holdings include public records, private manuscripts, and records of organizations important to a variety of urban research topics. Almost all items may be temporarily transferred from Madison, or from one ARC to another. A courier transfer system allows UWM researchers to easily access one of the world's largest archival collections without leaving the UWM campus. The resources of the SHSW are extremely useful for the study of urban history. For example, the SHSW has the records of the Wisconsin Department of Business Development and the Division of Economics and Community Development. The Division's records document the state's role in federal housing projects throughout Wisconsin. The records of Richard Ely's Institute for Research in Land Economics and Public Policy provide extensive details on this nationally-famous organization. The SHSW also has the records of the National Urban Coalition, dating from 1908 to 1971. Available through the ARC network are records relating to other Wisconsin metropolitan areas. For further information on using these sources, or any other at the SHSW, contact the MUA.

What the MUA Wants to Collect

One of the goals in the Golda Meir Library's strategic plan is to identify and assess subject emphases on which to focus collection development. To reach that goal, the MUA staff has tried to better analyze its collection's strengths and weakness, and to acquire new collections that will be of vital use to the UWM community for teaching and research. To help identify collections of interest to urban researchers, Dr. Stephen Percy, Director of the Urban Research Institute, will coordinate a planning meeting between MUA staff and interested faculty in the near future.

The MUA wants to aggressively collect more recent materials dealing with Milwaukee's urban community. Our goal is to locate and acquire historical records, particularly those dating from the 1980s and 1990s, that will be of current or future use in urban research. Specifically, the MUA would like to acquire records documenting the rise of gangs, downtown economic redevelopment, and gentrification. In order to accomplish this goal, the MUA needs the assistance of the UWM faculty and staff.

There are two general sources of collections. The first source is community groups and individuals who are actually part of Milwaukee's urban environment. These would include private community and neighborhood groups, and local activists. For example, the MUA recently acquired the records of the Sherman Park Community Association (the largest and oldest such group in Milwaukee), and the papers of Walter Johannsen, a leader in the effort to block the Park West Freeway. Neighborhood groups conduct their own surveys and reports on local economic, housing, or social conditions, which are never published, yet are excellent sources of information. The records of the Sherman Park Community Association, and Milwaukee branches of the NAACP and Urban League, contain extremely detailed data on attitudes and conditions within the African-American community. The records of the United Community Services are a gold mine of data for urban researchers.

The second source of records documenting Milwaukee are the researchers who study the city. Throughout the years, UWM faculty have conducted research on a wide variety of urban topics. Much of the data collected by researchers never makes it into print, nor are they saved on systems like the University of Michigan's PCS. Although such unpublished data frequently contains invaluable information that other researchers would find useful, most of it is destroyed by the authors in the belief that no one else would want the information, or that the published version is sufficient. The truth is that unpublished data often becomes a treasure trove because someone else can extrapolate facts or ideas that the original investigator never thought possible. Students often find it invaluable to study the methodology of the projects to learn and develop better research techniques.

Electronic Records Urban researchers create databases, maps, and surveys. The growth of geographic information systems, for example, revolutionized the way data is collected and presented. The MUA routinely handles materials in all formats, and is actively involved in the preservation of electronic storage media. For the information to be useful to researchers, the software, hardware, data, and documentation must all be functional. Unfortunately, computers in general have an extremely short life-span, and several generations of software can come and go within just a few years. Data compiled by researchers is quickly lost because the systems are not updated. The MUA already has examples of floppy disks, hard drives, and tapes that are just a few years old and completely unreadable.

Urban research is increasingly computer-dependent for large scale number crunching. It is an inevitable fact that this data will be permanently lost unless the researchers make a concerted effort to transfer the information to up-to-date equipment. Few people realize that their data, which they spent so much time collecting, will most likely be unusable in just a few years. The MUA wants to work with UWM Urban Research Center faculty to ensure that permanent data can be accessible long after the research project is over.

Major Archival Collections for Urban Research

The MUA houses many collections that deal with Milwaukee's urban environment, ranging from the records of civil rights organizations, neighborhood community groups, and mayoral records. The following abstracts provide a general summary of collections of use in urban research.

Roman B. J. Kwasniewski Photographs

Among the treasures in the MUA is the magnificent Roman B. J. Kwasniewski photographic collection. Kwasniewski was a photographer in Milwaukee's south side Polish community (Polonia), and his entire set of 35,000 images and glass plates provides a detailed picture of life from 1911 to 1947. The collection was created by Kwasniewski, largely at his Park Studio on Lincoln Avenue in Milwaukee. Because he kept such detailed records, almost all of the photographic images are identified by the customer's name.

The Roman B.J. Kwasniewski collection is the largest, indexed, ethnic photographic collection of a single photographer in the nation. The longstanding tie between UWM and the community is exemplified by the exhibits from the collection, which have been displayed at the State Capitol, Polish Fest, and the Lincoln Avenue Festival. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has featured many images from the collection, and the Lincoln Avenue Merchants Association and Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation use pictures for their publicity and fund raising efforts. The Milwaukee Art Museum's "City Stories: 150 Years of Photography in Milwaukee" exhibit has many Kwasniewski images.

The photographic images are indexed in a database of over 21,000 records. Each record in the database contains the customer's name and address, topic, serial number, date, plate size, and the availability of matching prints and/or correspondence, and box number. This information is sorted and available in several printouts, or through an online search. Researchers can study the physical development of a street, changes in building construction, marketing techniques, or public participation in civic and social events.

The Kwasniewski collection contains images in fourteen major categories, including the following: the business and community photographs include business, civic, labor, and political organizations; community leaders; and similar business and community subjects. The residential images consist of exterior and interior photographs of individual houses; residential real estate; and residential construction sites. Also included are photographs of residential streetscapes and other residential subjects. The rural scenery includes photographs of lakes; landscapes; rivers; rural structures (exterior and interior); and other rural subjects. The focus of this category is rural scenery, therefore individuals are not included in most of the photographs. The urban scenes consists of photographs of commercial buildings (exterior and interior), including bakeries, banks, savings and loans, beauty shops, butcher shops, factories and employees, furniture stores, grocery stores, insurance offices, the Kuryer Polski Polish-language community newspaper, the Maynard Electric Steel Casting Company, pharmacies, professional offices, real estate offices, taverns, and other identified and unidentified commercial buildings; governmental administration buildings, libraries, and other public buildings; transportation photographs, including commercial vehicles, insurance photographs of automobile wrecks and injuries, and public and private transportation; urban construction sites; urban parks; and urban streetscapes.

Lloyd A. Barbee Papers

The history of Milwaukee school integration is dramatically preserved in Barbee's papers. In 1965, Barbee successfully filed a lawsuit on behalf of forty-one parents of Milwaukee school children against the Milwaukee School Board, charging that the Board practiced and allowed discrimination in the public schools. Over half of Barbee's very large collection comprises records concerning the Amos case and remand trial. The greatest amount of material consists of documentation collected and used by Barbee's staff and volunteers to prove that Milwaukee school officials discriminated against Black children.

The exhibits consist of the e vidence submitted to the court by both defendants and plaintiffs. Gaps exist in these files for both parties; however, the defendants' submissions are significantly more fragmentary. There are a considerable number of photographs taken to show contrasts between black and white schools. Legal records provide thorough documentation of the case from the original complaint filed in 1965 through the negotiated settlement and subsequent appeals in 1980. The records include documents filed with the court by plaintiffs and defendants, including motions, briefs, findings, and orders of the court. Special master files include court and meeting notes, hearings, materials and plans submitted to the Special Master, and public hearing notes. The plans submitted to the Special Master are alphabetically arranged and indexed and consist of proposals by the public, community groups, and school administrators to desegregate the school system. Research design and implementation contains material on the process of collecting data and implementation of the research. Some overlap occurs between material in this file and the categories of research which were investigated. The file consists of two parts; an early chart-analysis of school board policy which illustrates factors associated with causing segregation, and the results of the computer study, designed to show intentional segregation. This consists of printouts as well as information which interprets the codes. Further material on the computer study may be found in the Research Design file in the original collection.

All of the research and much of the fund-raising was handled by the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC -- whose records are also at UWM) members, rather than the local NAACP. Marilyn Morheuser of MUSIC devised the research system to provide the statistical proof of intentional segregation, discriminatory treatment, and unequal opportunities for Black students and teachers, and to show what were the effects of these actions by school officials. Included in the collection are data gathered by researchers, and summary reports, charts, tables, and graphs in various stages of completion. In 1970, a computer study was undertaken using the data already gathered. This study covered assignment patterns and changes, building utilization, and black enrollment percentages from 1950 through 1968-1969. Data was gathered from such primary sources as blueprints, busing contracts, records of state building code violations, boundary descriptions, principals' reports, and other sources. Much of this data, as well as the summary computer output, is also in the collection. Further information on the research design can also be found in these files.

Mayor Henry Maier's Records

The MUA houses the single most important political collection in modern Milwaukee's history: the official records of Henry W. Maier, mayor from 1960-1988. The collection contains a massive amount of materials which document Maier's administration, including almost 600,000 documents; 1,370 audio and visual tapes, 49 video tapes, and 14 microfilm reels. Maier's office staff, especially Staff Assistants Richard J. Budelman, Bradley Carr, Bert Mulroy, and Press Aide Robert J. Welch, created most of the records, consisting of correspondence, memoranda, and reports, to provide the mayor with background information and recommendations. Quite often, the staff memoranda provide great detail about a particular issue. Richard J. Budelman's frank memos offer a unique glimpse into the administration's operations. The following abstracts provide general information about the availability of materials on given topics:

The city's efforts to improve its business and economic environment are documented in a number of places in the collection. Researchers should examine the files of the Department of City Development and subjects such as downtown, economic development, economy, the landbank, and the port of Milwaukee. A number of specific activities and projects are also well documented. The files contain materials on the city's dispute with Brown Deer over the annexation of Granville. Much of the land, kept in a "landbank," was later used for industrial development and the Northridge Shopping Center. By the end of the 1970s, Milwaukee was receiving multi-million dollar Urban Development Action Grants. To develop small industries, Maier established the Science and Technology Utilization Council. Also well documented are large downtown redevelopment efforts including the Bradley Center, Grand Avenue Mall, and MECCA. Records detailing the origins and development of Summerfest and of cable television franchising in Milwaukee are especially comprehensive. Also well documented is the development of the interstate highway system, relocation housing, and the growth of public resistance to the building of more roads.

Much information on affirmative action and the civil rights movement, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, is available in the collection. Studies in the early 1960s on acculturation and public schools, funded by the Ford Foundation, provide insights into the status of African-American Milwaukeeans in the early 1960s. In 1968, the city began a "Learn By Doing" program to provide educational, cultural, and recreational jobs for disadvantaged youths. Of particular interest is the log kept by the mayor's office during the July 1967 civil disturbances. Audio tapes of Maier's meeting with Father James Groppi in August 1967 are available. Extensive files also exist on the city's affirmative action program, the "War on Prejudice," and the Commission on Community Relations and its implementation of the Greenleigh & Associates study on Milwaukee race relations. Relatively little information can be found on the busing and integration of Milwaukee public schools, largely because Maier did not become actively involved in these issues, and the staff usually directed constituent correspondence to the School Board. The controversies over the police department's treatment of minorities is not well documented, because Maier did not have legal authority over Chief Breier and the police. Patrons can, however, find some information in the files on Ernest Lacy and the Police Department.

Maier was a strong advocate of state and federal assistance to the city, a point which is well documented in files on state aid and shared taxes, the Community Development Agency, Crusade for Resources, housing, HUD, Model Cities, and the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities. Many of these files contain extensive progress reports on various assistance projects, especially for housing. The Model Cities and Community Development Agency are particularly rich sources of information, providing detailed grant applications and reports, minutes of meetings with citizen groups, and planning documents and proposals. Maier's fight with Governor Tony Earl in the mid-1980s over state aid and shared taxes is also well documented.

Milwaukee Board of Harbor Commissioners Records

The records of the Board include articles and speeches (1940-1966) presented by Port Director Harry Brockel, dealing with such topics as the port of Milwaukee trade mission to Europe, the significance of the St. Lawrence seaway, and the impact of the Milwaukee public port development on community development.

This majority of the collection consists of general correspondence (1960-1972) addressed to the Board of Harbor Commissioners, mostly from Brockel, dealing with many different issues concerning the port of Milwaukee, such as amending leases of corporations, requests for notices of annual meetings and conventions, proposals for capital improvements to the port, tentative budgets, competitive bids for construction projects within the port, and revisions in petroleum transportation and marketing.

The board meeting correspondence (1934-1936, 1961-1972) discusses matters pertaining to the actual running of the harbor. The majority of the correspondence concerns estimates from businesses for various types of work at the port, including concrete work, electric and power installation, painting of warehouses, installation of heating and ventilation for cargo terminals. There are also requests by various businesses for extensions on contracts that have already been granted, renewal requests for leases on municipal harbor property, a crane replacement program, and requests for extensions of railroad facilities from various businesses which lease space in the municipal port.

The special board meeting minutes (1960-1973) list who was present, proposed withdrawals of bids for construction projects, terminations of fund retainers, awarding of contracts, grain elevator development, vending concession approvals, uniform allowances, public transit service to outer harbor area, adoption of municipal port tariffs, and announcements for new employees.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Milwaukee Branch Records

The records primarily reflect the revived activity of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP during the 1950s and 1960s. The administrative records are primarily composed of material generated by various committees. A substantial part of the Finance Committee records document fund-raising events, such as picnics, concerts, and candy sales. Included in these records is an autograph letter from Medgar Evers, Mississippi NAACP field secretary, dated 22 May 1958, as well as material pertaining to his Memorial Fund, established in 1963. The general records of the committee contain budgets, treasurer's reports, correspondence, and acknowledgments. Membership committee records consist of membership lists, receipts for dues, minutes of meetings, and correspondence. The political action and discrimination cases contain material of national scope. The Milwaukee cases mainly regard local job discrimination complaints.

The correspondence and related material dates from 1947 to 1970, with the exception of one folder of items dating from 1917 to 1943. Letters dated 1917 and 1929 protest state legislation prohibiting interracial marriages. This early material also documents Wilbur Halyard's initial involvement with the NAACP, beginning in 1924, and his 1929 term as president of the Milwaukee branch. This series includes correspondence exchanged between the national office of the NAACP and the Milwaukee branch. The subject files illuminate numerous issues which faced the Milwaukee branch, such as their effort to ban the Amos n' Andy television program, offensive because of its stereotyped black roles. Under the leadership of Ardie Halyard, the branch succeeded in having the show dropped by WTMJ-TV after 4 October 1951. Material from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which consists of only four items, deals in part with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which planned to challenge the seating of that state's delegation at the 1964 Democratic National convention.

Park West Redevelopment Task Force Records

The PWRTF was a private, non-profit organization created in 1977 to administer the redevelopment of the land cleared for the Park Freeway West, an expressway that would have connected downtown Milwaukee with the northern and western suburbs. The records include committee meeting minutes, correspondence, maps, news clippings, photographs, project proposals, reports, and research studies. The collection documents the administration and staff of the PWRTF and provides a detailed picture of its planning, strategies and proposals for land redevelopment. Executive Director David C. Hoeh and Assistant Director Brigid Sullivan-Flynn created the majority of the records, which pertain largely to their tasks of identifying areas for redevelopment, finding a suitable developer, and obtaining sustained funding for their endeavors. Hoeh's correspondence files contain his letters, proposals, and reports to and from city and state officers, community groups, and developers. The annual reports of the PWRTF provide a succinct overview of the organization's activities.

The collection contains detailed and extensive grant applications and reports in the files for the Milwaukee Community Development Agency, Milwaukee Department of City Development, Milwaukee Economic Development Administration, Urban Development Action Grants, and Wisconsin Department of Local Affairs and Development. The photographs found in the collection provide excellent images of the Park West area, including aerial views, and pictures of homes. Sanborn maps of the area add details on the types of housing and buildings.

Senior Action Coalition Records

SAC was a Milwaukee volunteer organization which promoted the health and well-being of older adults and encouraged them to be politically and socially active. The collection documents SAC's administration and volunteer activities from 1972-1980, including its planning, proposals, and operations in improving the quality of life for older adults living in the Milwaukee area. SAC presidents William Kesselman and Anne Sery and the administrative directors created the majority of these records. The collection contains minutes from the board of directors and other committees.

The records document SAC's efforts to reduce bus fares for the elderly during off-peak hours, starting in 1973, and to lobby for Milwaukee County to purchase the private bus transportation system in July 1975. There are extensive files on the development of preventive health screening through two pilot centers; work with the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging to establish a county-wide health screening program; tax reform efforts undertaken during the Bicentennial; the construction of bus shelters for elderly riders with the help of state representative Harout Sansarian; and lobbying of state and local politicians on legislation affecting drug costs and pricing.

Extensive files exist on SAC's Over 60 Identification Card Program with the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, which provided discounts to senior citizens in their purchases of participating business' products. There is also a significant amount of information regarding SAC's Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) and Comprehensive and Employment Training Act (CETA) funding, and the results to the organization when that funding was cut. The collection contains the scripts and videos of skits written and produced by SAC to highlight concerns of safety, crime and security to the elderly. There are files on the establishment and promotion of the Kesselman Senior Service Award for outstanding elderly community service in 1978 and 1979.

United Community Services of Greater Milwaukee Records

The UCS collection contains a massive amount of data -- over 180,000 documents -- on a social welfare organization, founded in 1909, which acted as a catalyst for social change in Milwaukee through its varied activities and leadership. The UCS coordinated planning for Milwaukee County's public and private social agencies and provided financial support for some of the voluntarily maintained welfare organizations. The UCS records primarily cover the years from 1930 to 1966. The collection includes annual reports; incoming and outgoing correspondence; material concerning the various member agencies and their relation to the central agency; minutes of various committees; newspaper clippings; studies concerning agencies and problems; and a variety of pamphlets and reports.

Much of the collection consists of correspondence from social organizations requesting financial assistance from UCS. The correspondence is filed under each respective organization's name and also includes UCS's action with regard to the request as well as related contracts and receipts. Included among the organizations are the United Service to China, Milwaukee Mission Kindergarten, Bethany Home, Wisconsin Humane Society, and the Wisconsin Association for the Blind.

Also included throughout the collection are various studies, conducted by the UCS and other groups, that addressed a variety of social concerns such as juvenile delinquency, unwed mothers, alcoholism, poverty, and the chronically ill. There are voluminous files of correspondence and reports on a 1949-1950 survey of social welfare and health services in Milwaukee County. The records of the Public Relations Department of the United Fund Campaigns includes a detailed 1961-1966 study on occupations, salaries, and wages.

The UCS was actively involved in providing a wide range of programs during World War II. The collection contains records addressing the following topics: day care for children of working mothers; dogs for defense; Japanese-American resettlement; relief funds for several allied countries including France, Holland, India, Italy, China, and Norway; refugees; and veteran's rehabilitation.

Other Resources in the Golda Meir Library

In addition to the MUA, the Golda Meir Library has a wide variety of resources available on urban research. The Library's website at provides access to the online catalog, the Wisconsin portion of the 1990 U.S. census, and vast numbers of published federal government documents related to Milwaukee. The Library has access to over 840 electronic databases, including the American Statistics Index; the Bureau of Census News Releases (CENDATA); D & B Donnelly Demographics; Econobase; and Federal Research in Progress. In addition, UWM faculty have access to the Applied Population Laboratory and Demographic Services Center in Madison.

The American Geographical Society Collection, one of the strongest university map and geography collections in the world, is also in the process of developing its ability to provide users with digital spatial data products. During the past few years, vast amounts of digital spatial data have come into the collection, largely on CD-Rom. These include three editions of the Census Bureau's Tiger files, and a variety of products from the Geological Survey, including digital line graphs (a continuous 1:100,000 scale vector map), digital raster graphics (scanned USGS quadrangles) and digital orthophotoquads (rectified aerial photography images). In addition to these, various other data sets--maps, aerial photographs and satellite images--local to worldwide in coverage, are available in a variety of formats. The AGS Collection plans to be able to provide either data sets or hard copy prints (using its large format color inkjet plotter) all to the user's specification.

For Further Information

Bibliographic records to all of the MUA's 700 collections are available on the Golda Meir Library's online catalog, the OCLC national cataloging database, and the WISCAT database. The MUA's website includes over 400 complete inventories to its collections.

Phone (414) 229-5402
Fax (414)229-3605
Hours of service when classes are in session during the spring and fall semesters are Monday-Tuesday, Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday-Thursday. 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Hours of service at other times, including the summer are Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

The Archives can be open after regular business hours for class presentations and tours.


[UWM Home] [Graduate School Home] [CUIR Home] [Research And Opinion] [Top]