The Wisconsin Union, often referred to as "the heart and soul" of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has enhanced the lives of members and visitors since it was founded in 1907. Since 1928, when the doors to Memorial Union opened, the Wisconsin Union has served as the living room of the UW-Madison campus. The Union connects students, faculty, staff, members and visitors through shared cultural, social and recreational events and experiences.
In 1935, the Board of Regents designated the Union as the University’s Division of Social Education. As such, it continues to have responsibility for:
The Union is based on the principle that the University of Wisconsin-Madison experience should involve learning outside of the classroom.
UW students, faculty, staff, Union members and guests eat, meet, learn and relax in the two Union locations daily—Memorial Union on the shore of beautiful Lake Mendota, and Union South in the heart of campus near Camp Randall Stadium.
Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) is the student programming board for the Wisconsin Union. WUD committee members plan, promote and manage more than 1,000 events each year to both entertain campus and raise awareness of issues affecting all citizens. Through these experiences, WUD helps create, shape and prepare tomorrow's leaders.
Students order food at a counter in Der Rathskeller in the 1950s. By the middle of the century, students were ordering between 9,000 and 11,000 meals every day at Der Rathskeller’s counters, making the eating areas of the Union the epicenter of college family life. As campus grew, so did food lines -- sometimes stretching two blocks long. The Wisconsin State Journal reported the biggest joke of the year was looking for an empty chair at the Union. The Union eventually grew to meet demand, adding dining areas and expanding services. Today, the Union continues to be a daily gathering place where students, faculty and the campus community are nourished not only by food but with conversation and camaraderie.
Past Wisconsin Union President and Director Ted Crabb began his Union career as a student employee serving food at a Der Rathskeller counter. A means to make college more affordable, yes, but working at the Union has always been a way for students to gain real-life experience, applying their knowledge in hands-on, practical ways. From leading the student programming board to leading the Union as a director for more than 30 years, Emeritus Director Ted Crabb’s experience started here, behind the counter, in the living room of the heart of campus.
People fill the Memorial Union Terrace, enjoying food and beverages under the tree canopy in the 1970s. Terrace trees have provide comfort and shade to all people who come to enjoy a concert or festival, an evening movie or a lazy summer afternoon. Regardless of whether visitors are dancing, studying or debating, it has always been a priority to protect and preserve this beloved part of the Union experience. In fact, as the Terrace trees die and need to be replaced, the Union often finds ways to repurpose them. Look closely at the Strada lakefront wall and the Stiftskeller bar and you’ll see the knots and rings of former Terrace oak trees now furnishing the spaces we call home.
Two women sit on the steps of the Memorial Union Terrace, enjoying one of the most quintessential campus summer experiences. Through the decades, it has been a longstanding local tradition for students and families alike to visit the Union for some ice cream. In fact, in the mid-1980s over 400,000 people a year enjoyed an ice cream cone at the Union. The famous Babcock Dairy Ice Cream is a favorite standby sold year-round at The Daily Scoop, where the line sometimes snakes through the building.
Guests enjoy the pageantry of the Tudor Dinners, rooted in old English tradition. The first Tudor Dinner was held at the Union in 1933, launching a beloved annual winter event. The Tudor Dinners are modeled after the tale of an Oxford student who saved a scholar from a wild boar. Legend has it that the boar was paraded around town and a feast was held in celebration. Today, Tudor Dinners remain relatively unchanged from the early programs, featuring strolling minstrels, the presentation of the boar’s head, dinner with flaming figgy pudding, and a carol sing.
Tripp Commons served as a space for faculty to gather and enjoy their lunch every weekday at noon during the academic year. Faculty came to Memorial Union to enjoy lunch and exchange ideas with their colleagues in a space outside their departments. Tripp Commons has a long history of meal sharing and conversations, as it was originally designed to be the main dining and banquet hall. Today, Tripp Commons continues to be a signature space on campus for idea exchange, shared experiences and celebration.
Students commune in Main Lounge to sing standard and popular songs of the era each Sunday evening. Large, informal gathering spaces like the Main Lounge were instrumental in bringing the campus community together to share in common experiences. … Today the Union remains a place where the campus community comes to discuss and debate different points of view and current events.