History of The Nakoma League
The purpose of the league, according to its original articles of organization, was “the uplifting of humanity, the relieving of distress, the lending of a helping hand to those in need, be they rich or poor, the giving of ourselves to do for others.” Eventually, the league emphasized more social gatherings, yet retained its aim to do charitable work as a secondary goal. Although the league’s activities have changed over the years as women’s lifestyles have changed, its purpose today remains true to that of its 1941 revised constitution: “to promote neighborliness and friendliness among its members and to contribute to the welfare of the community.” The Nakoma League is not a political association and does not take a position on any political or city issues. A neighborhood association was formed in 1974 for this purpose, but it was active only a year or two.
The league began as a women’s group, which met in a neighborhood home one afternoon each month. Its first work was the piecing of a quilt. Some of the league’s other early welfare projects included providing food and clothing for those in need, paying tuition for two worthy girls to become teachers, and sewing curtains, doll clothes and nightgowns for local hospitals. The league donated furniture, kitchen equipment and books to Nakoma School and filled Christmas baskets for the Salvation Army. For five years, the league sent a rose and bud to each new mother in the neighborhood and flowers to each Nakoma home where a death had occurred.
Many prominent Madisonians have lived in Nakoma. Buildings all over town bear their names. While some of these men were busy as leaders of the University of Wisconsin and in business, their wives were busy leading the Nakoma League. Mrs. T.R. Truax, for example, was secretary/treasurer of the league during its 1930-1931 program year. Her husband, Thomas R. Truax, was the chief of the Timber Processing Division at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory and a member of the Wood Technology Committee of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Their son, Thomas R. Truax, Jr., was an Army Air Corps pilot during World War II, for whom Madison’s Truax Field is named.
Mrs. C.A. Elvehjem was Nakoma League president from 1940-1941. Her husband, Conrad A. Elvehjem, an internationally acclaimed biochemist, became president of the University of Wisconsin in 1958. The university's Elvehjem Art Museum bears his name.
Mrs. G.W. Longenecker was president from 1942-1943. Mr. Longenecker was chairman of the University of Wisconsin Landscape Architecture Department and director of the UW-Arboretum from 1933-1967. A garden near the arboretum's visitor center is named after him.
By the late 1930s, 50 to 70 women attended each meeting - too many for one home to accommodate. Consequently, the League leadership divided Nakoma into four "tribes." Cherokee, Oneida, Iroquois, and Seminole. During the 1940s a fifth tribe, Ottawa, was added, and, in the 1950s, the sixth and final tribe, Chippewa, was added. The League still recognizes these areas today. The current leadership - still primarily made up of neighborhood women - consists of two or three co-presidents, a treasurer, two representatives from each of the six areas, and a newsletter editor.
Here is a snapshot of the Nakoma women's social calendar from the 1940s to the early 1970s.
The 1970s brought changes to the traditions of the Nakoma League. Ethnic awareness and women's liberation collided with longstanding traditions, resulting in a time of gradual reorganization for the League. The women's afternoon meetings gave way to evening parties for couples and holiday events for children. Eventually, the Fall Reunion Tea and the Bridge Benefit were abandoned in favor of a fall cocktail party. The Spring Tea and the May Breakfast were replaced by the Spring Progressive Dinner.
Over the years, the Nakoma League hs made contributions to many charitable organizations, including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Washington Orthopedic School (now the Doyle Administration Building), Dane County Mental Heath Center, Red Cross, Empty Stocking Fund, March of Dimes, YMCA, Second Harvest Food Bank, Thoreau School and Cherokee School. For many years, a committee of the Nakoma League collected money from Nakoma Neighbors for the United Way in the fall and for a health charities fund in the spring.
Charitable activities since the 1990s have included Adopt-a-Family and the Gift of Reading. During the holiday season, the league requests a list of needy families from the Community Action Coalition. Nakoma families then purchase holiday gifts and food for them. Through the Gift of Reading program, Nakoma families provide new books for children who need them. In addition, the League collects non-perishable food items at the Fall Gathering to donate to an area food pantry.
The Nakoma League has been responsible for numerous neighborhood improvement projects. The women purchased benches for bus stops and for Nakoma Park. They raised funds for new playground equipment in the park numerous times - in 1950s, 1970s, and again in the 1990s. Twice in 1955 and 1994, the League was involved in providing a neighborhood sign for the corner of the park at the intersection of Cherokee Drive and Nakoma Road. The League has also contributed money to the city for landscaping around the sign, while a neighborhood volunteer cares for the plants. Finally, the League has taken responsibility for having repair work done on the stone walls and turrets at the intersections of Mandan Crescent and Manitou Way, and Odana Road and Oneida Place.
A collection of detailed scrapbooks has been kept for the neighborhood. The League welcomes historical photographs and anecdotal stories to add to the collection. For questions about the status of the collection, please feel free to call any one of the League Members.