William F. Vilas papers, 1827-1961

Vilas, William F. (William Freeman), 1840-1908
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Publication Details Click to collapse Cite/Export

  • Format Mixed Materials
  • Physical Details
    • 27.4 cubic feet (97 archives boxes, 5 card boxes, and 1 flat box) and
    • 4 photographs (1 oversize folder)
  • OCLC ocn297175708, ocn297174946
  • Finding Aids
    • Register; and an index to the correspondence, located in Box 84-88


  • Papers, 1827-1961, of William Freeman Vilas, a cabinet officer during the first administration of President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889), and Democratic senator from Wisconsin (1891-1897), together with papers of his father, Levi B. Vilas (1811-1879), and his daughter, Mary Esther Vilas Hanks (1873-1959). The bulk of the collection relates to state and national politics and consists of correspondence, legal papers and cabinet papers.
  • The correspondence pertains to routine administrative and political matters and policy level contacts with the President and his advisers; several congressional leaders such as James B. Beck, James H. Blount, Francis M. Cockrell, and Samuel J. Randall; and several Wisconsin politicians such as Wendell A. Anderson, Edward S. Bragg, Edwin E. Bryant, Lucius W. Nieman, George H. Paul, David S. Rose, John C. Spooner, Breese J. Stevens, Ellis B. Usher, and Edward C. Wall. National topics of interest include the payment of fees by H.K. Thurber of the United States and Brazil Mail Steamship Company, speculation in agricultural commodities, a railroad bridge between Wisconsin and Minnesota, controversies before the General Land Office, and the gold standard.
  • Other noted correspondents include James B. Angell and Frank A. Flower (about the Deep Waterways Commission), Wade Hampton (about the Farmers' Alliance), and David A. Wells (on Connecticut politics and economics); as well as William H. Barnum, Thomas F. Bayard, William T. Sherman, and John C. Spooner. Documented Wisconsin issues include the Bennett Law, the State Treasurer cases, the University of Wisconsin, a new building for the State Historical Society, and the Wisconsin memorial at Vicksburg. Few papers concern his service during the Civil War.
  • Papers concerning personal investments are scattered throughout, but are most extensive after 1890. They include exchanges with John H. Knight, his partner in the Superior Lumber Company; Thomas E. Nash, his partner in the Nekoosa-Edwards Papers Company; and officers of the Northern Electric Manufacturing Company and the Wisconsin Central Railroad. Other papers concern development of a cranberry marsh in Babcock, Wisconsin, the Cornelia Vilas Memorial Guild Hall of the Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, the Madison Hotel Company, and formation of the Madison Gas and Electric Company.
  • The Legal Papers pertain to Vilas' career primarily from the latter part of his life, and include correspondence and court records for his clients and for cases in which he or a member of his family was involved. The Cabinet Papers consist of private letterbooks and files relating to the Post Office Department and the Interior Department. The General Papers and the Family Papers are more personal and consist of family correspondence; a diary of a Lake Superior trip in August, 1873; compositions and orations prepared by Vilas while a student at the University of Wisconsin; and Henry Vilas' Civil War letters as a member of the 23rd Wisconsin Infantry. Later correspondence concerns the family of Mary Esther Vilas Hanks.


  • Many of the Grover Cleveland letters are published in Letters of Grover Cleveland (Boston, 1933), edited by Allan Nevins.
  • Pictorial materials originally cataloged as part of this collection as PH 2276 have been separated to the name file.
  • Presented by Mrs. Lucien Hanks, Madison, Wisconsin, 1928 and December 23, 1953; William F. Vilas; C. R. Van Hise, Department of Public Service, University of Wisconsin, January 22, 1949; and Horace S. Merrill.
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