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Guide to the Jefferson Elementary School (La Crosse, Wisconsin), Parent-Teacher Association Records, 1909-2005 (bulk 1943-1990) MSS 094

Guide to the Jefferson Elementary School (La Crosse, Wisconsin), Parent-Teacher Association Records, 1909-2005 (bulk 1943-1990)

MSS 094

Summary Information

Jefferson School, also known as Fifth Ward School, was built in 1877. Located on the corner of St. James and Caledonia Streets, it was razed in 1950, and was replaced by Jefferson Elementary, which opened to classes in 1950. Parent organizations were supportive of the school and its students. A Mother’s Club was formed in 1921, and by 1943, became the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). The school operated for over fifty years until closed by the La Crosse School District at the end of the 2005 school year. Materials in the collection include correspondence, newspaper clippings, minutes, miscellaneous materials, and photographs.
Collection Title
Jefferson Elementary School (La Crosse, Wisconsin), Parent-Teacher Association Records
Date of Materials [bulk]
Bulk, 1943-1990
Date of Materials [inclusive]
Jefferson Elementary School (La Crosse, Wis.). Parent-Teacher Association.
Call Number
MSS 094
0.8 cubic feet
Physical Description
2 archives boxes
Language of Materials
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Jefferson Elementary School (La Crosse, Wisconsin), Parent-Teacher Association Records, MSS 094, La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Historical Note

A one-room school on the northwest corner of St. James and Caledonia Streets was built in the 1850s and served the needs of the village of North La Crosse. Later a two-room building was added, and the school continued to be used until 1877 when the building was sold to a Catholic church in La Crosse and moved.

Jefferson School, also known as Fifth Ward School, was built in 1877 and contained four rooms. It was located on the same site as the previous school and faced St. James Street. The school was eventually enlarged to twelve rooms.

As the building aged, replacement was first recommended in 1929. However school board approval came in 1948. It was the first entire building to be constructed in the board of education’s post-war program and was financed by a $595,000 bond issue.

The new Jefferson Elementary, designed by architect Carl Schubert, was large enough to hold 600 students. The new school had 14 classrooms and an additional gymnasium/assembly room and lunchroom facilities. Work began on June 28, 1949, with the new building going up next to the old one. A cornerstone laying ceremony was held on Oct. 17, 1949. Among the participants in the ceremony was Harry Spence, who served as Jefferson’s principal for 42 years from 1901-1943.

On June 7, 1950, the new building was partially completed, and staff and students began moving books from the old building to the new one. Razing of the old Jefferson school began on June 12, so that the second section of the new school, which contained the combination auditorium and gymnasium, could be built on the site. The building was ready for the fall opening of school on September 6, 1950. The dedication for the school was held on September 18, 1951.

The school had active parent organizations. The first was the Mother’s Club established in 1921. The first meetings were purely social with short programs at each meeting. An annual coffee was held each year to help raise money, and the money earned from these coffees helped to furnish the recreation room in the old Jefferson School building.

By 1943, the Mother’s Club began functioning under the title of Parent Teacher Association (PTA). This group was very supportive of the school and its students. In 1947, the group became affiliated with the State and National Congress of PTA. Teachers were active participants in the organization, assisting with a variety of tasks. A health committee provided for students with additional health needs. A “clothes closet” was established to provide used clothing for students in need. The annual coffee continued to be a yearly fundraiser.

An Instructional Media Center was added on the west side of the school in 1972.

The school board continued to purchase property adjacent to the Jefferson Elementary property beginning in 1956 in an effort to expand Jefferson’s playground. The board bought the last house on the block in 1979, razed it, and a new playfield was dedicated on the land in 1981. The playfield was named the “Michael J. Blackburn Play Field” in honor of a former student who died in September 1979 of cystic fibrosis.

In 1992, school boundaries were redrawn in an effort to provide socio-economic balance in the La Crosse schools, and students from an area La Crosse’s south side near the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, called the Jefferson “island,” were bussed to Jefferson Elementary. Families of some of these students requested boundary exemptions so their children could attend neighborhood schools on the south side.

By 1996, Jefferson Elementary was among four elementary schools mentioned for possible closing due to declining enrollment. In 1998, school board voted to house the Coulee Region Montessori School in the Jefferson Elementary building. Concerns were raised, however, about the building’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.). Jefferson staff members were pleased with the decision, because they felt that this move would keep their school open.

A long-range plan issued by the La Crosse School Board called for the closing of Jefferson Elementary in September 1999. Jefferson was chosen because the building had structural barriers that hindered full compliance with the A.D.A., and the school was faced with continued declining enrollment.

Save our Schools, a citizen committee devoted to saving La Crosse’s neighborhood schools including Jefferson, was established during the summer of 1999. During the October 1999 school board meeting, the board voted to keep Jefferson open. On May 5, 2001, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary.

In 2002, Jefferson Elementary benefited from a $1 million dollar federal grant, the 21st Century Community Learners grant, which funded after school programs at several different La Crosse schools, including Jefferson. A tutoring program and family nights were established at Jefferson.

Despite the positive programs at Jefferson, the school no longer maintained socioeconomic balance by 2003. Over half of the students who lived in the Jefferson “island” had requested boundary exemptions and attended other elementary schools in La Crosse. Sixty-five percent of Jefferson’s students qualified for free or reduced lunch prices. Jefferson was also faced with declining enrollment and planned to offer only one section of each grade beginning with the 2004 school year.

A referendum was defeated on November 2, 2004, which would have closed five of La Crosse’s older elementary schools, including Jefferson, and built two new schools. The referendum also included a $10.7 million dollar request for capital improvements. After the failure of the referendum, the district was faced with budget constraints. The La Crosse School Board again discussed closing Jefferson in January 2005. On January 17, 2005, despite opposition from parents and teachers, the board voted 5-3 to close Jefferson Elementary, and the school was closed in June at the end of the 2005 school year. Most former Jefferson students moved on to either Franklin or Summit Elementary Schools. Coulee Montessori School was moved to Roosevelt Elementary.

The Board of Education accepted the high bid of $285,000 from the Three Rivers Waldorf School to purchase the Jefferson building, and the Three Rivers School began to move into the building on July 23, 2005.

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Scope and Contents

The bulk of the material from this collection was part of two scrapbooks most likely assembled by members of the Jefferson Elementary Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Therefore, much of the material and many of the newspaper clippings pertain to the school’s PTA. Since many of the materials were fragile, and the scrapbooks were deteriorating, the scrapbooks were taken apart and the materials in them were reassembled in this collection.

Materials from this collection include correspondence, a program from the Jefferson Elementary school dedication (1951), miscellaneous materials, and newspaper clippings (1951-2000).

Organizations related to Jefferson Elementary include the Boy Scouts, the Mother’s Club, and the Parent Teacher Association. Boy Scout materials include a 1978 charter and other miscellaneous materials. A brief history of the Mother’s Club, the forerunner of the PTA, is included. PTA materials are more extensive and include annual coffee reports, awards, bylaws, correspondence, a history of the organization, membership lists, minutes, and other miscellaneous materials.

Photographic images comprise the rest of the collection. Photographs are included of the building and grounds and of classes. Some class photographs labeled by grade level only are from June 1909, and are presumably from the old Jefferson Elementary (also known as Fifth Ward School). Other class photographs (1967-1975) are labeled with the date and teacher’s name, but less than half of these photographs include the students’ names.

Other photographs include the PTA’s annual coffee, art shows, a Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, field trips, graduation, Oktoberfest, and miscellaneous photographs. Photographs of the PTA are labeled with the names of officers. Principal and administrator photographs include Harry Spence, Josephine Miller Waring, Borghild Olson, and Henry C. Schwandt.

Staff photographs are included. Those from 1953-1975 and 1982 are labeled with the teachers’ names. Staff photographs (1981; 1984-1992) are dated, but do not include the names of teachers. A photograph from 2004-2005 shows Principal Harvey Witzenburg, Deb Keller, and Lois Holper accepting a New Wisconsin Promise School of Recognition Award from State School Superintendent, Elizabeth Burmaster.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 2005

800 Main St.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 54601
(608) 789-7136

Access to Materials

Materials in this collection are available for patron use.

Acquisitions Information

(Accession no. 2005.101) Donated by Michael Berg, former LMC director, Jefferson Elementary School, June 22, 2005

Processing Information

Processed by Christine Stolz, 2005

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(Ephemera file)
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--Schools--Public--Jefferson
(Misc MSS--Box 35/Folder 6)
 Letters to Santa (2000)
(372.24 J356J)
 Jefferson School yearbooks

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Jefferson Elementary School (La Crosse, Wis.). Parent-Teacher Association.
  • Jefferson School (La Crosse, Wis.).
  • La Crosse (Wis.). Board of Education.

Geographic Name(s)

  • La Crosse (Wis.)--Societies, etc.


  • Education--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Elementary schools--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Parents' and teachers' associations--Wisconsin--La Crosse

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

Correspondence, 1960-1963 

1 1

Dedication, 1951 

1 2

Miscellaneous, 1954-1989 

1 3

Newspaper clippings, 1951-2000 

1 4-8


Box Folder

Boy Scouts, 1978 

1 9

Mother's Club, 1950s 

1 10

Parent-Teacher Association 

Box Folder

Annual Coffee reports, 1943-1953 

1 11

Awards, 1948-1979 

1 12

Bylaws, 1959 

1 13

Correspondence, 1947-1970s 

1 14

History, 1950s 

1 15

Membership, 1949-1957 

1 16

Minutes, 1945-1960 

1 17-19

Miscellaneous, 1953-1960 

1 20


Box Folder

Building and grounds, 1969-1980 

2 1

Classes, 1909, 1967-1975 

2 2


Box Folder

Annual Coffee, 1953 

2 3

Art shows, 1954-1956 

2 4

D.A.R.E. program, 1990 

2 5

Field trips, 1980 

2 6

Graduation, 1990 

2 7

Oktoberfest, 1977-1988 

2 8
Box Folder

Miscellaneous, 1960s-1980s 

2 9

Parent-Teacher Association, 1949-1956 

2 10

Principals and administrators, 1950s-1960s 

2 11

Staff, 1953-2005 

2 12