Office of the President

Brittingham House History

The Brittinghams

Photo of the Brittinghams, 1917
Thomas and Mary Brittingham,
1917.

Photo of family sitting on steps
Thomas, Sr., with
daughter Margaret
and family, 1917.

Photo of Lincoln Statue
Lincoln statue,
a gift to UW-
Madison, 1909.

Photo of Thomas, Jr., 1922
Thomas, Jr.,
1922. (Mary
in background.)

Photo of rune stone
Rune stone
honors Thomas, Jr.

Born in Hannibal, Missouri, Thomas Brittingham (1860‑1924) came to Wisconsin in 1885 at the age of 25 after briefly living in both Colorado and California. A well-respected businessman, he co-founded and served as president of the Brittingham and Hixon Lumber Company, a successful lumber business based in McFarland that ultimately grew into a chain that spanned Wisconsin and several other states. One of the most affluent Madisonians of his time, Thomas applied his good business sense to everything he did. As a generous benefactor, he held a number of high-profile civic positions, including chairman of the Wisconsin Board of Visitors of the University of Wisconsin, member of the Wisconsin State Historical Society Board of Curators, and member of the Board of Regents. Because of the connections he made with the university, he was granted the title of honorary alumnus.

Mary Clark Brittingham (1868-1929), a native of Portland, Wisconsin, became an equally recognizable and beloved Madison resident. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1889, with a Bachelors of Letters in the “Modern Classical Course” and was a proud member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. She was actively involved in the Women’s Club of Madison, a club that boasted similarly prominent women of her day including Mrs. Vilas, Mrs. La Follette, and Mrs. Atwood.  During her 30 years as a club member, Mary served multiple terms as the organization’s chair of both the Education and Social committees, and helped to spearhead a number of the club’s initiatives, including integrating kindergarten programs in the city’s public schools and the early fundraising campaign that would help to create Madison General Hospital. 

Together, Thomas and Mary began a family tradition of generosity and service to the University of Wisconsin which continues today. One example is the statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of Bascom Hall, donated in 1909. At his death in 1924, Thomas left an estate in trust for the University of Wisconsin and for the city of Madison.

The estate expanded to well over a million dollars through the efforts of Thomas Evans Brittingham, Jr., who followed in his father's footsteps as a UW‑Madison benefactor. In 1925, he, along with eight other alumni, founded the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). The foundation, which continues to benefit UW‑Madison today, was formed to protect and develop the ideas and patents of university faculty. The nine original trustees began with a capital of $900. Thomas Brittingham, Jr., parlayed that modest amount into $29 million by 1957 through an aggressive investment policy. He was serving as WARF’s president when he died in 1960.

Through the Brittingham University of Wisconsin Trust, Thomas Brittingham, Jr., also played a major role in the construction of the Alumni House on the UW‑Madison campus, offering to match $1 for every $2 raised for the facility. Perhaps his favorite project, however, was the scholarship program he established in 1952 to bring Scandinavian students to UW‑Madison. In 1963 "Tom's Vikings" dedicated the Brittingham Boulder, a rune stone from Sweden placed near the top of Bascom Hill, to his memory.

The Brittingham House remained a special place for Thomas, Jr. (1899-1960), his sister, Margaret Brittingham Reid (1892‑1966), and his brother, Harold Hixon Brittingham (1894‑1937), even after their parents’ deaths. Thomas, Jr. and Margaret continued to use "Dunmuven" as a summer home until 1955, when they donated the house and its 15‑acre grounds to the University of Wisconsin.

 

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