Dec. 6, 2010
James Huff Stout was a tour de force. He was a state senator for 16 years, served on the state Conservation Commission, founded the state’s first traveling libraries, was president of three Menomonie financial institutions and started an energy company.
His full-time job was managing the lumber holdings for Menomonie-based Knapp, Stout & Co., Company, at one time the world’s largest lumber firm.
Stout’s lengthy list of accomplishments pales in comparison, however, to a cause that dominated the last 20 years of his life and has far outlasted all his other interests and endeavors — education. In 1891, Stout started what today is known as the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University.
The university marks the 100th anniversary of Stout’s death this week. Stout passed away Dec. 8, 1910, at age 62 of Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment.
Gov. Jim Doyle has proclaimed Wednesday, Dec. 8, as James Huff Stout Remembrance Day in Wisconsin. The university will mark the occasion by ringing the James Huff Stout Bell in the Bowman Hall clock tower at noon.
A reception will be held from 11 a.m. to noon in the Memorial Student Center, Ballroom C. The event will feature a welcome by David Williams, vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing; remarks by Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen; and a biographical presentation by Don Steffen, university editor. Refreshments will be served.
The governor’s proclamation calls Stout one of the state’s early education innovators. In part, it reads, “UW-Stout still embraces the philosophy that Stout espoused for his Stout Manual Training School: to prepare graduates for successful careers and fulfilling lives.”
Sorensen, the seventh university leader in 120 years, called Stout a visionary.
“James Huff Stout’s applied learning vision is alive and well at his school a century after his death,” Sorensen said. “We honor his commitment to innovative education every day as our talented faculty and staff administer tried-and-true programs while continuing to develop cutting-edge programs.
“Stout’s dream and the tens of thousands of UW-Stout graduates have made the world a better place.”
UW-Stout offered four majors 50 years ago; it now has 40 undergraduate majors and a graduate school, which is celebrating its 75th year. The number of students topped 1,000 for the first time in 1955. This year, the school had record enrollment of more than 9,300.
Stout’s death also roughly marks the university’s centennial as a state-funded institution. It was a turning point in school history.
“It was found that Stout left neither a will nor an endowment for the institution. His wife, for her own reasons, chose not to continue to subsidize the Stout Institute and offered the buildings of the campus and their contents to the state,” said Kevin Thorie, UW-Stout archivist.
After Stout’s passing, Stout Institute President Lorenzo Dow Harvey formally asked the state to take over the school.
When he was alive, Stout personally financed building projects and about 40 percent of the school’s day-to-day operations. He also provided $100,000 to rebuild the school after an 1897 fire destroyed it and the adjacent high school.
The new, brick building, now known as Bowman Hall, opened in the spring of 1898. Bowman Hall’s iconic clock tower houses the bells -- named in Stout's honor -- that will toll Wednesday.
Stout was born in 1848 in Dubuque, Iowa. He was the son of Henry Stout, who helped found Knapp, Stout, which was based in Menomonie. James Huff Stout worked for Knapp, Stout for more than 20 years before moving to Menomonie in 1889 to help manage the company.
Having seen manual training at work in St. Louis when he worked for Knapp, Stout, he was determined to try the model in Menomonie, along with expanding educational offerings to women, with domestic science courses.
The Stout Manual Training School opened Jan. 5, 1891, in a two-story building as a branch of the Menomonie public school system. As course offerings expanded, it became Stout Institute in 1908 and Stout State College in 1955, when it joined the Wisconsin State College System.
“Stout had a dream of training men and women to either fill valuable roles in traditional industries or to be able to create and manage all aspects of their own businesses,” Thorie said. “He emphasized quality career preparation in an educational atmosphere differing from a traditional liberal arts institution.”
Thorie noted that the school won special recognition at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Nearly 100 years later, in 2001, it became the first four-year educational institution to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
UW-Stout is the only university in the UW System named after a person.
“UW-Stout is known as being a unique institution with a special mission and direction in education that separates it from the other campuses in Wisconsin,” Thorie said.
James Huff Stout, who was a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, also is remembered for:
• Establishing the school’s art department in 1894. UW-Stout today offers an undergraduate art degree, with five concentrations and a degree in art education.
• Establishing the school’s teacher education program in 1899 with the Kindergarten Training School. UW-Stout still offers a degree in early childhood education, part of its School of Education.
• Helping start the Dunn County Normal School, the Dunn County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy and the county asylum.
• Helping found the Submerged Electric Motor Co., an early outboard motor business in Menomonie.
• Helping design the Wisconsin Historical Society library building in Madison.
• Leading the early 20th century “good roads movement” in Wisconsin.
For more information about James Huff Stout and the history of UW-Stout, go to http://www3.uwstout.edu/history/biography.cfm.