A Brief History of the Beginnings of the Committee

Kemper Kossuth Knapp was born in Marquette, Green Lake County, Wisconsin on March 7, 1860. He entered the University of Wisconsin in the autumn of 1875 and in 1879 earned a bachelor of science degree at the age of 19. In 1882 he earned a bachelor of law degree from the University of Wisconsin. He practiced law in Chicago for many years afterwards, and in 1930 the university awarded Mr. Knapp an honorary doctor of laws degree.

In 1924, during a sentimental return to campus, Mr. Knapp is said to have asked, "What can I do to help along the good work which is being done at the university?" He immediately gave $5,000 to establish the Kemper K. Knapp student loan fund to help needy and ambitious students. By 1931, he had contributed $25,000 to this loan fund. Mr. Knapp expected students to repay the loans in full because he felt the recipients would benefit more from repaying the loans than the actual loans themselves.

Mr. Knapp believed that the impetus which carried him to national prominence and financial success, oriented his thinking and idealism, and provided for him the basis of a good life, came from the University of Wisconsin. Upon his death on February 23, 1944, he left the bulk of his estate - nearly $2 million[1] - to the University of Wisconsin. At the time, his bequest was the largest ever received by the university.

In Section VIII of his will, Mr. Knapp requested - but did not mandate - that his bequest be used in the following three ways, explaining, "In general, it is my wish that such fund be used for purposes outside of the regular curriculum of the university.":

  1. To add to and continue the loan fund established in 1924;
  2. To establish undergraduate and law scholarships for graduates of Wisconsin and Illinois high schools who wished to attend the University of Wisconsin; and
  3. "...To cultivate in the student body ideals of honesty, sincerity, earnestness, tolerance and social and political obligations."

At a meeting of theuniversity faculty in December 1944, President Clarence A. Dykstra presented for consideration a proposal in the will that a committee consisting of the president and four members of the faculty be elected yearly for the purpose of making plans for the use of Mr. Knapp's bequest. A motion made by Professor Oliver S. Rundell to establish such a committee was seconded and approved. This action led to the formation in January 1945 of the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest Committee. In the early years of the committee, five programs were developed in order to fulfill Mr. Knapp's wishes. These programs included: (1) Undergraduate and Law Scholarship Program; (2) Visiting Professorship Program; (3) Citizenship Program; (4) Graduate Student Fellowship Program; and (5) Special Projects Program. Some of these programs continue today in a format similar to their original conception while others have evolved over time; they are referred to as the committee's "on-going commitments." Funding for a couple of the programs has ceased altogether.

  1. The Undergraduate and Law Scholarship Program was established in April 1945, and the first scholarships were awarded in September 1945. These scholarships amounted to either $500 or $250 per academic year, and as long as recipients maintained satisfactory academic progress, the scholarships were renewed for their entire undergraduate or law careers. For the first 15 or so years of this program, the committee allocated 5/6 of this program's budget to undergraduate scholarships and 1/6 to law scholarships.

    This program exists today in the form of two separate annual allocations, one for the Undergraduate Merit Scholarship Program, administered by the Office of Student Financial Aids, and the other for the Legal Education Opportunity (LEO) Program, administered by the Law School.

  2. In May 1949, the committee instituted its Visiting Professorship Program in order to "bring to the campus (persons) of distinction from any field of learning who may be able to make an outstanding contribution to the intellectual life of the university community." The first Knapp Visiting Professor, Edward Chase Kirkland of Bowdoin College, came to campus during second semester 1950-1951.

    Funding for this program ceased sometime during the 1970s.

  3. One of the ways the committee attempted to fulfill Mr. Knapp's third wish was to create the Citizenship Program in 1949-1950 for the purpose of bringing to the university outstanding scholars to present one or several lectures on topics covering a wide range of citizenship problems and interests. In the second year of this program (1950-1951), the committee began the practice of allocating a portion of this program's budget to the Lectures Committee.

    Funding for this program ceased sometime during the 1970s. However, annual allocations to the Lectures Committee continue to be made today.

  4. In February 1950, the committee created its Graduate Student Fellowship Program "for students completing their doctorate degrees in the social sciences, humanities and law." That first year, fellowship recipients received a stipend of $950 plus non-resident tuition for out-of-state students.

    Today this program continues, having been expanded to include students in fields other than social sciences, humanities and law.

  5. The Special Projects Program began informally as opportunities arose periodically to fund projects that the committee felt would materially benefit the university. Often such projects would have otherwise been unfunded by the university, so support from the Knapp Fund was instrumental in their completion. The first such special project involved the appropriation of $150,000 for the purchase of the Chester H. Thordarson Library in 1946. This collection, now housed in the Memorial Library's Department of Special Collections, is well known for its "elephant folio" edition of Audubon's Birds of America. It also features a complete set of Gould's monographs on birds of the world, lavish Rivière bindings, long runs of English almanacs beginning in the early 17th century, and many Icelandic titles, as well as rare works in other fields. Other such allocations given through this program included $15,000 to finance numerous symposia and the showing of Metropolitan Art Museum paintings during the university's centennial celebration in 1948-1949, and $60,000 for the purchase of the governor's mansion in 1950. That facility, located on East Gilman Street in Madison, is known today as the Knapp House and is used as the residence for the Marie Christine Kohler fellows.

    This program continues today in the form of the committee's annual call for proposals to fund special projects.

In addition to these five "original" programs, the Knapp Loan Fund continues to be used today. There are actually two different loan funds, and both are used to provide loans to students to solve cash flow problems of a short-term nature - usually small amounts of money to be repaid within the same semester in which they are borrowed. These two loan funds are administered by the Bursar's Office.

Since 1987, the committee has annually funded one additional program as an on-going commitment: the Chancellor's Scholarship Program, established in 1984 to increase the educational opportunities for academically talented underrepresented ethnic minority and disadvantaged undergraduate students.

[1] Mr. Knapp's bequest originally amounted to $2,471,758.49. However, in March 1950, the Supreme Court of the United States, in its refusal to consider an appeal by the University of Wisconsin, affirmed a decision of the Illinois Supreme Court that an inheritance tax of $714,097.55 on the bequest was payable to the State of Illinois. This reduced to $1,757,660.94 the amount received by the university.

Return to the TOP