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Marquette College began as the dream of the first bishop of Milwaukee, Fr. John Henni. He found a sponsor in the Society of Jesus who had an influx of priests who had fled Europe during the revolutions in 1848. The first cornerstone was laid in 1880 and on August 28th, 1881, Marquette College was established. The new college offered two programs for both high school and college-aged students: a classical program called the Ratio Studiorum and a commercial course. By 1907 there were about one hundred students registered in Marquette College. However, May 1907 saw Marquette College transform into a university when it affiliated itself with the Milwaukee Medical College and moved to Johnson Hall at 12th and Wisconsin.


  • Marquette College with Holy Name Church circa 1900
  • Marquette College circa 1881

Marquette College was founded on August 28, 1881 thanks to the foresight of the first bishop of Milwaukee, Fr. John Henni. In 1843, Henni was appointed bishop. Henni immediately set out to complete two tasks: build a cathedral and create a Catholic college in Milwaukee. After completing the first goal in 1847, Henni began work on the second. He found a potential sponsor in the Society of Jesus, which had recently seen an influx of priests into the Midwest, and in 1850 he bought half a square block between 10th and 11th streets and between Tamarack and Prairie (today’s State and Highland, respectively). He also began calling the yet-to-be-founded school Marquette College, hoping the Jesuits would become more interested in administering a college named after the venerable Jesuit missionary and explorer, Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J., who had traveled through the Wisconsin area in 1673 as he mapped in the northern region of the Mississippi River. 

            In 1856, the diocese gave use of the land to the Jesuits through a deed of trust, meaning they had an obligation to begin building the college on the hill overlooking Milwaukee.  The Jesuits bought the rest of the block during the 1860s, and in 1868, the diocese gave up ownership of the original plot of land to the Jesuits. The Jesuits built a church on the land in 1875 and on August 28, 1881, Marquette College was established. 

             The college opened its doors on September 5, 1881, with 35 students paying $60 tuition per semester. Marquette College offered two curricula: an academic course of study that followed the Ratio Studiorum and a commercial course. The Ratio Studiorum was a seven year Jesuit education program that was split into two phases: academic (three years) and collegiate (four years). The commercial course offered a certificate in management but was offered only as a high school course. By the end of the first school year, a total of 77 students had registered for classes. The college began growing slowly and saw its first graduates in 1887. By 1907, the college joined with the Milwaukee Medical College and became Marquette University. The collegiate level classes were moved to Johnston Hall, located at 12th and Wisconsin, while the medical classes were located at the hospital at 9th and Wells.  The high school department remained on the old campus until moving to its new building at 35th and Wisconsin in 1935.

            Currently, the block that Marquette College once occupied is home to an overpass for Highway 43 and the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility at 1015 N. 10th Street. The legacy of Marquette College lives on in the mission, achievements, and alumni of Marquette University. 

http://www.marquette.edu/about/history.php Jablonsky, Thomas J. Milwaukee's Jesuit University: Marquette, 1881-1981. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette UP, 2007. Print.