Celebrating 125 Years of Alumni Community

In 1889 a small group of alumni joined together to form a community that would help transform the University of Washington into the world-class institution it is today. 125 years later, we pay tribute to people and moments that make up the UW alumni story.

picture of early alumni

1889: UW Alumni Association is founded

AMID THE BUSTLE OF WASHINGTON’S IMPENDING STATEHOOD, a small group of UW alumni united to support the UW and stay connected to campus and each other. While the University was on fairly stable footing by this point, its tenuous early days—when it had to close multiple times for lack of funds, or lack of students—were well remembered. Making sure the UW’s interests were well represented, whether in the Legislature, on the Board of Regents, or in the wider community, was part of the UWAA mission from the beginning. It would not be long before alumni began to make their presence felt. READ MORE +

Founding UWAA member Edmond Meany was one of the first—and one of the most effective—advocates for the UW. Whether it was shepherding the University’s move away from the temptations of Seattle’s burgeoning commercial district to its permanent home or leading the charge to bring a World’s Fair to campus, Meany’s influence would be pivotal in securing the UW’s future. Learn more at Columns magazine READ LESS

Noteworthy community leaders

picture of Edmond Meany

Edmond Meany, 1885
“The Ideal Alumnus”

picture of Trevor Kincaid

Trevor Kincaid, 1899
“The Biologist”

picture of Mary Gates

Mary Gates, ’50
“The Activist”

picture of Sam Kelly

Sam Kelly, ’71
“Dr. Sam”

picture of Alula Asfaw

Alula Asfaw, ’08
“The Dreamer”

columns magazine and the washington alumnus magazine

1908: First alumni magazine is published

IN JUNE 1908 the first issue of The Washington Alumnus arrived in UWAA members’ mailboxes. Created to foster fellowship among the University’s graduates and to provide them with information needed to advocate for the UW, the earliest issues addressed what would become familiar themes: the need for effective alumni representation in the Legislature and Board of Regents, stories about campus happenings and commentary on the performance of the UW’s athletics programs. In the century that followed, the Alumnus would evolve, eventually becoming Columns, the award-winning magazine for the UW alumni community.

football team

1920: Homecoming becomes annual celebration

THE UWAA’S FIRST ATTEMPT AT HOMECOMING took place in 1914. Featuring a reception for alumni and a football victory for the Huskies (against what was then Washington State College), the first Homecoming would be the last for several years, as concerns over the growing war in Europe put a damper on festivities. Once the war was over, the 1918 influenza pandemic shut campus down for the autumn term. It was not until 1920 that a fall Homecoming was again held, to commemorate the opening of the new Husky Stadium. READ MORE +

Even though the team fell to Dartmouth that day, Homecoming was considered a great success for UW alumni. In the years to follow, Homecoming would become a high point of the autumn term with student celebrations and alumni returning to reconnect to their alma mater. READ LESS

university of washington crew team in 1936

1936: Support sends crew team to the Olympics

IN 1936, THE UW VARSITY 8 CREW TEAM EMBARKED ON AN UNLIKELY QUEST for Olympic gold, and they needed alumni help to get there. Alumni support for the crew team began as early as 1908, when the first appeals appeared in The Washington Alumnus. By the 1930s, the UWAA was regularly raising funds for the crew team to compete against elite squads from powerhouses like Columbia, Cornell and Penn at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association regatta in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. In 1936, the Huskies would continue on to Princeton for the Olympic trials. It was only after their come-from-behind victory at the trials that legendary coach Al Ulbrickson learned there was a catch: the American Olympic Committee was out of money. The team would have to pay its own way. READ MORE +

With only a week to come up with $5,000 or lose their spot to another team, alumni appealed to civic leaders to help garner support. At the time, Seattle had no professional sports teams; Seattle’s team was the Huskies, and despite the lingering effects of the Great Depression, the entire community united behind them. The money—much of which was gathered 50 cents at a time from thousands of supporters—was on its way east in two days, and the Huskies won the gold in a stunning victory over strongly favored Germany. To this day, alumni support has been vital to the success of student athletes and the Husky athletic program. READ LESS

curly harris

1936-64: UWAA takes a stand

WHEN R. BRONSDON “CURLY” HARRIS took the reins of the UWAA in 1936, the organization was struggling. The lingering effects of the Great Depression meant ever fewer dues-paying members. The Washington Alumnus had suspended publication for more than a year, apparently due to lack of funds. With youthful enthusiasm (he was not yet 30 years old), Harris set to work. READ MORE +

Using alumni lists compiled from commencement programs, Harris crossed the state to reconnect alumni to the UW. When the Washington State Legislature was in session, he would go off the University payroll to lobby for the University. He stabilized the UWAA’s finances and oversaw its incorporation into an independent nonprofit with a mission to serve the UW and higher education in the state of Washington. Curly Harris’ service to the university and the UWAA would continue for close to 30 years, by which time the UW was well on its way to becoming the world-renowned center for teaching and research it is today.


students holding scholarship checks

1966: Community begins The Alumni Fund

AS THE BABY BOOM GENERATION BECAME COLLEGE-AGED, the University had to scramble to construct new buildings for housing and classrooms to keep up with demand. Keeping college affordable for students was becoming an increasing challenge. At the same time, the UWAA was at a crossroads, seeking new ways to support the UW. READ MORE +

UWAA officers, regional alumni club volunteers and alumni who held no office but who cared deeply about the UW met with University representatives in 1964 for what has come to be known as the Alderbrook Congress. Some of the principles to come out of the Congress were rededications to closely-held ideals, like the notion that the UWAA was for all alumni in service to the UW, not just members. Others were confirmations that recently-started programs would continue and be strengthened, such as the UWAA’s forays into public lectures and other lifelong learning opportunities.

Most radical was the decision to engage in a systematic and continuing program of fundraising in support of the UW, an effort that came to be known as The Alumni Fund. The UWAA had engaged in fundraising before, but The Alumni Fund was the first effort towards building a sustained base of private support for the University across a broad audience. It underscored not just the University’s need of the alumni community, but also the commitment and dedication of alumni to the University. Learn more at Columns magazine READ LESS

students holding scholarship checks

1975: Public lectures bring alumni to campus

THE FIRST PRINCIPLE TO EMERGE FROM THE ALDERBROOK CONGRESS was “[taking] the University to the people and bringing the people to the University.” That commitment to access to the UW for all bore fruit in 1975, when the UWAA and the History Department joined together to launch a series of public lectures. READ MORE +

UW history professor Giovanni Costigan, inaugural recipient of the UWAA’s Distinguished Teaching Award, was a popular figure among students and alumni. When he reached mandatory retirement age, the UWAA joined with the History Department to seek a way for Costigan to continue teaching, and, more importantly, provide an opportunity for the community to return to campus and continue to learn. They found their answer in a series of evening lectures, open to the community.

His lectures were so popular, Costigan came back again the following year and every year for the next 15 years, bringing thousands to campus for learning and discovery. Costigan’s legacy continues today as the UWAA Winter Lecture Series, and the UWAA produces dozens of additional lectures with partners across campus every year.

Hear Costigan speak on the Easter Rising, part of the Modern Irish History lecture series, recorded Jan. 21, 1976.

Hear Costigan speak on Sir Thomas More, part of the Evolution of Modern England lecture series, recorded Oct. 11, 1978.

Multicultural Alumni Partnership

1995: Multicultural Alumni Partnership promotes diversity

RECOGNIZING THE CRITICAL NEED TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY AND MULTICULTURAL UNDERSTANDING within the UWAA and UW community, UWAA leaders and alumni volunteers formed the Multicultural Alumni Partnership (MAP) in 1995. MAP volunteers collaborate with UW partners to help students, faculty and alumni from diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds to reach their full potential. MAP supports a wide range of campus and community programs and services, including registered multicultural student organizations. READ MORE +

MAP’s Bridging the Gap Breakfast is one of the UW’s largest gatherings of multicultural alumni, friends and supporters and reinforces the UW’s commitment to access and affordability for all students. Held each year on Homecoming Saturday, the Breakfast raises money for student scholarships for underrepresented students and honors alumni who have made a positive impact on their communities. In 2004 MAP partnered with the UWAA and the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity to produce Viewpoint magazine, the twice-yearly publication which tells the stories and profiles of UW students, faculty and alumni who make a difference in their communities. READ LESS

washington state capitol building

2010: UW Impact advocates for higher ed

IN THE FACE OF DECLINING STATE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT for higher education, the UWAA established UW Impact. Supported by member dues, UW Impact works to increase understanding of the role the UW plays in the state of Washington, the nation and the world and to provide opportunities for individuals to communicate this value to their elected officials and friends. Since 2010, UW alumni and friends have sent more than 10,000 messages to state legislators through the UW Impact website. READ MORE +

In addition to garnering grassroots support from thousands of members, UW Impact has been building a district-by-district network of active and engaged advocates.  UW Impact advocates, called “District Dawgs,” attend town hall meetings, host community conversations and build relationships with their elected officials.  UW Impact is joined in its mission by higher education advocacy networks at Western Washington University and Washington State University.  In 2013, for the first time two decades, the State Legislature passed a budget that reinvests in public higher education and freezes resident undergraduate tuition at its current rate for two years.  With UWAA member support, UW Impact is committed to maintaining the trend of state reinvestment for years to come. READ LESS

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