History of Madison Lutheran School

assembled by Judy Kuster

Madison Lutheran School, located first in Eastside English Lutheran Church and later at 1001 Jenifer Street in Madison, Wisconsin, began in 1942, as a "Synodical Conference School." It was supported by several Madison area Lutheran churches in the Missouri (now LCMS), Wisconsin (now WELS), and "old Norwegian" Synods (now ELS). It closed in 1965.

Early Locations

On February 1, 1927, Eastside Lutheran School (WELS) opened in a house on Fair Oaks Avenue. The first teacher was Mrs. William (Renata) Beschnett from Good Thunder, Minnesota, and the school served 21 children, grades 1-4. The following fall, the upper grades were added, enrollment was 59 students, and an additional teacher was hired. Grades 1-4 moved from the original house to another and an annex for the upper grades was added to the church building on the corner of North Street and East Mifflin. In 1930, the lower grades were also moved to the church site where the school continued to serve children primarily from Eastside English Lutheran Church until 1942.

The school now "consisted of two rooms. The floor level of the upper room — grades five through eight — was the same as the floor level of the narthex, nave, and sacristy. It had tall windows on one side. The opposite side was separated from the nave by two folding doors which had to be opened on Friday afternoon to accommodate Sunday's worshippers and then closed on Monday morning to accommodate the week's scholars. The room was pleasant. . . . The floor level of the lower room — grades one through four — was . . . about one-half above the outside ground level and one-half below the outside ground level. It also had access to the outside through windows that were much closer to the ceiling than the floor." (personal correspondence, Morton Schroeder, February 2001).

In 1941, Morton (Salty) Schroeder was called to this school. Esther Buchholz had been teaching there since 1936.

In September of 1927 Holy Cross (ELS, organized as a daughter congregation of Our Saviour's in 1926) opened a Lutheran Elementary School (then called a "Christian Day School") on Milwaukee Street a few blocks away from Eastside English, with 32 children in grades 3-6. The pastor at the time was Erling Ylvisaker. The first teacher was Miss Harriet Maakestad. From 1931-1935 the teacher was Mr. Emil John. He was followed by Mrs. Ada Sievert, Naomi Birkholtz, and Rev. Raymond Branstad. The pastor from Our Saviour's in 1927 was S. C. Ylvisaker and from 1930-1946 it was Adolph M. Harstad. "Morning by morning he (Harstad) and his Model A Ford made the rounds to pick up children and transport them to Holy Cross Christian Day School. At the close of the school day they had to be returned home and again he was on the job assisted at times by members and the pastor of Holy Cross." In the 1930's some children from Immanuel Church attended this school.

On August 3, 1942, Holy Cross was unable to fill staffing needs for the upcoming school year and Rev. Ylvisaker approached Eastside to request whether their students could be added to the Eastside Lutheran School. By this time Holy Cross Lutheran School was also serving children from Immanuel and Our Saviour's.

On August 11, 1942, a meeting was held with members of Eastside English, Our Saviour, Holy Cross, and Immanuel, "for the purpose of discussing a joint Christian Day School." The meeting was chaired by Rev. Theophil Mahnke, pastor of Eastside. Maurice Young from Eastside kept minutes which reflect the following were present: From Eastside - Edward R. Boldt, Henry von Hoersten, Morton A. Schroeder, William Hackbart, Theo Mahnke, A. C. Harbort, Maurice G. Young, and Clayton Hale. From Our Saviour's - F. A. McGinnis [sic actually F. H. Maginnis], L. O. Larson, Benjamin Torgeson, Roy. J. Nelson, A. M. Harstad. From Immanuel - H. O. Hemecke [sic, actually H.O. Heinecke], F. C. Brandhorst. From Holy Cross - E. Ylvisaker, Andrew Dahle, Severt P. Shelvik.

Shortly after this initial meeting, the Madison Lutheran School was formed by East Side (WELS - Rev. Theophil Mahnke), Holy Cross (ELS - Rev. Erling Ylvisaker), Immanuel (LCMS - Rev. F.C. Brandhorst ), and Our Saviour's (ELS - Rev. Adolph Harstad) congregations. Classes met in Eastside English Lutheran Church on North Street. 112 students were enrolled. The principal for the 1942-43 school year was Rev. Theophil Mahnke. The first teachers serving the new combined school were Morton Schroeder and Esther Buchholz. This was not the first time they had "worked together." Esther Buchholz was Morton Schroeder's teacher at Trinity Lutheran School, Bay City, Michigan. Schroeder reports that he still has his report card for the 1928-29 term when he was in Grade II.

"When it became apparent that the faculty was grievously overworked — yes, almost overwhelmed — part-time teaching help was engaged. This third room was located in the church basement, then called by Eastside's members "the church parlors." (personal correspondence, Morton Schroeder, February 2001).

An informational meeting of the parents and interested members was held on Friday, October 16, 1942, for the purpose of forming a P.T.A.

Monona (LCMS) joined the Madison Lutheran School association in the fall of 1942. St. Paul (WELS -> LCMS), and Mt. Olive (LCMS) congregations later joined in the project.

On Jenifer Street

On April 27, 1945, the Madison Lutheran School Association purchased the Harvey School, designed by Louis Claude and Edward Starck, at 1001 Jenifer Street and South Brearly Street. The price was $10,500. They also purchased additional lots for the playground for $4500. The total cost was $17,816.95, about $280,000 in 2022 dollars. Documentation from the Fidelity-Phenix Fire Insurance Company (undated) notes that this school was originally called the Washington Irving School through 1913-14. Accordling to School Board Records, it had been completed in March 1905 at a cost of $25,751.17 (about $820,000 in 2022).

The following information was written by Jeff Fedorowicz, then President of Immanuel Lutheran Church, published in The Immanuelite, August 2015, Volume XXXVIII, No. 8.

"For several years, Washington Irving School served the community and the near east side, educating its children. Then on Friday January 9, 1914 a terrible tragedy occurred at the Washington Irving School."

Fedorowicz then referred to an article from www.surroundedbyreality.com, a Madison history web newspaper. If you wish you can read about this event here.

The Fedorowicz article continued:

"At the end of the school year, perhaps to attempt to eliminate any stigma the building had from the murder-suicide, the school was renamed Harvey school after Louis P. Harvey, a Civil War era governor of Wisconsin.

The building was used by the Madison School District for another 27 years. The Madison School Board turned the building back to the city on August 12, 1941.

The building then stood vacant for several years, then in 1945, the Madison Lutheran School Association (of which Immanuel was a member) purchased the Harvey School..."

The Common Council proceedings of April 27, 1945 show the building and site was sold for $10.500 and the seven congregations supported improvement of the bathroom facilities at a cost of $15,000 (a little over $200,000 today).

Madison Lutheran School was completed for the opening of school in the fall of 1950, with an enrollment of 100 students,

Another school in Madison, the Doty Street School, was built by the same architect. The Doty Street School is now an office building and still standing a few blocks from The Square by Lake Monona in Madison.

For anyone interested in exploring the neighborhood around Madison Lutheran, Friends of Historic Third Lake Ridge has collected interesting neighborhood data with pictures and information about houses and businesses in the area.

Dedication services for the new school were held at 10:30 a.m. on August 26, 1945.


The school was governed by a school board which consisted of the pastors and two elected members from each of the congregations. The Articles of Incorporation are dated April 12, 1946 and the By-Laws of Madison Lutheran School are dated July 1, 1946. Details of administration are found in the "Faculty, Staff and Administration" section of this website.

Madison Lutheran School celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1952. An undated article Services at Three Churches Sunday To Mark 25th Anniversary of Madison Lutheran School appeared in one of the Madison newspapers. The 25th Anniversary Book printed in 1952 explains how MLS was funded: "Madison Lutheran School is financed by the contributions of the members of the seven Synodical Conference congregations in Madison. The school budget is presented to all of the congregations. When the budget has been adopted, the total is prorated to the congregations according to the communicant membership of the congregations. The proportionate share of each congregation is included in the regular budget of the congregation."

These are the former Synodical Conference churches that supported Madison Lutheran School:

Students also came from other Madison congregations besides the seven "Synodical Conference" churches that supported the school, including Bethel, Calvary, Luther Memorial, St. John's, Lake Edge, Grace, Peace, Our Redeemer, Trinity, and St. Luke's Episcopal.

Children with special needs could not always be accommodated at Madison Lutheran. The school was not accessible. Minutes reflected that some children were transferred to other schools where special needs could be better handled, although the classroom teachers did provide tutoring services. Children who didn't speak any English were also enrolled occassionally in the lower grades, including from India and Norway. Speech therapy services were available in the 1950's, at times provided by one of the teachers, at other times provided by a clinician coming from the University of Wisconsin. The minutes also reflect that the school did not tolerate repeated harassing (bullying) of younger children by older students. Occasionally children with serious behavior problems were asked to leave.

The school provided some innovative programs. For example, German was taught four periods/week in the first grade starting the fall of 1954. The music program at Madison Lutheran was very strong. Students from the upper grades were invited to be helpers/mentors for students in the lower grades, helping with playground duties, correcting tests, etc.

This was the reported grading system:

Trouble Looms

In the 1950's doctrinal disagreements between the three Lutheran synods supporting Madison Lutheran School led to a break in "fellowship" with each other in the early 1960's. Board minutes from the 1950's foreshadowed the storm ahead. January 25, 1954 - "Board discussed what should or could be done in case of the dissolution of the Synodical Conference." November 30, 1954 - "Synodical problems were discussed. Rev. Ries suggested that we all offer prayers asking guidance." July 25, 1955 - "Report on Synodical relations." With the break up of the Synodical Conference, the school could no longer function as it had for nearly 20 years. In February 1961, Mt. Olive withdrew from the association. To resolve the problem of churches from three Synods no longer in doctrinal fellowship with each other, Immanuel (LCMS) bought the school in March of 1961 and planned to maintain it as Madison Lutheran School. A take-over date was scheduled for June 30, 1962. Rev. Alfred Zielsdorff was Immanuel's pastor. Other students were welcome to attend as "tuition students," and churches from the other synods were still supporting students. A letter from the Immanuel Lutheran Church Board of Parish Education to the pastors of the Synodical Conference Churches in Madison explained registration for the 1962-63 school year. The board suggested that "each congregation conduct its own registration of pupils. . . . Immanuel Congregation has approved the following tentative budget figures as a guide for congregations and individuals in estimating costs for the next school year:

Based on a continuation of the present enrollment, requiring ten teachers, the Budget has been estimated at $60,000. Assuming that there are 275 pupils, this is an annual cost of approximately $218.00 per pupil. If only nine teachers are required, the Budget has been estimated at $56,000, or $224.00 per pupil with an enrollment of 250 pupils.

... A large drop in enrollment, of course, would increase the per-pupil cost, but we are confident that there is a strong desire within each congregation for the kind of Christian Education that a Christian Day School provides for our children. We hope to make improvements in the school operation, but no drastic changes are contemplated, and we expect that most of the present faculty will remain."

In the spring of 1963, Immanuel called Fred Bartel to become the next principal of Madison Lutheran. The former principal, Elmer Behrens, would remain as the eighth grade teacher for the 1963-64 school year. Bartel arrived in June. That summer all the classrooms in Madison Lutheran were repainted by Immanuel's members, and Immanuel members' enthusiasm for the school was high.

This was the faculty for the 1963-64 school year:

In November 1963, Rev. Zielsdorff died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Immanuel called Rev. Luther Otto, who came in December. The next month, in January, 1964, Pastor Otto met with principal Fred Bartel to inform him that he felt Lutheran elementary schools were a thing of the past and that it was his intent to close Madison Lutheran and begin the new LCMS concept of the weekday school, with Bartel becoming Immanuel's Director of Christian Education. The children would attend public school and the church would hold classes (Bible History, Catechism, Biblical Geography, Singing) two days per week (4:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.) and also Saturday mornings from 9 until noon. In the spring of 1964, Immanuel called an associate pastor, Rev. George Lobien, who supported the senior pastor in the new educational format.

In January 1965, Pastors Otto & Lobien presented the new idea at an open congregational hearing. The MLS principal, Fred Bartel, who did not hold this view, presented the Christian Day School concept as it was carried out in Madison Lutheran School. The Madison Lutheran School program was favored by the majority of the people at this hearing. At the subsequent annual voters' meeting a week later, Immanuel voted in favor of continuing the present MLS program.

Eastside (WELS) voted to relocate their church from North Street with plans in their building for an attached school. At a congregational meeting on January 18, 1965, Eastside voted to open their own school in September 1965.

Former Principal Fred Bartel reported, "The 1964-65 school term (at Madison Lutheran) finished with a competent and dedicated staff who worked well together."

After Madison Lutheran's school year ended in June 1965, at Immanuel's quarterly congregational meeting, under new business a motion was made and seconded to close Madison Lutheran School for good. The majority of the school parents were not at the meeting since it was summer vacation for their families. The motion carried, and with very little discussion, MLS was closed.


Subsequent to the decision to close the school, 30 to 40 families left Immanuel Church and joined Eastside and Holy Cross. Eastside opened their school in the fall of 1965. Teachers included Elmer Behrens, Marjorie Schwefel, Eleanor Lester, and Esther Buchholz, former teachers at Madison Lutheran. Children from Holy Cross attended Eastside until Holy Cross opened their own school in 1971. Fred Bartel writes that he "never did hear anything more about the weekday school concept — anywhere."

Mr. Bartel, in a personal correspondence, January 2001, went on to observe,

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Today there is no longer one Madison Lutheran School. There are several Lutheran Schools in the Madison area supported by various congregations (Holy Cross - ELS, Our Redeemer - WELS, and Eastside -WELS). St. Andrew Lutheran School (WELS) opened in September 2001. It was reported that a LCMS church was planning on opening a new school.

Most of these schools can trace their history through Madison Lutheran School which served the Madison Community from 1942-1965.

The Madison Lutheran School building was demolished in June 1973.


Please help me fill in missing details on this site. Send additional information and corrections to Judy Kuster.

last modified January 22, 2021