During its more than 155 years in print, the Waukesha Freeman has been the principal newspaper for Waukesha County and has a long career of journalistic innovation.
Founded by Martin Cullaton, the first issue of the weekly Waukesha Freeman appeared on March 29, 1859 and was published in an office above the Waukesha County Bank. Over the next fifteen years the newspaper had a series of owners. Under Theron W. Haight, who later sold the newspaper to his brother-in-law Henry Mott Youmans, the Freeman was considered a “school of journalism,” training many newspapermen, including the future founder of the Milwaukee Journal. In 1874 Youmans took over as owner, publisher, and editor, remaining in these roles until 1929. Shortly after Youmans gained ownership of the newspaper, he began work on building a new set of offices on Grand Avenue in Waukesha, which opened in 1879. The Freeman changed its name to the Waukesha Daily Freeman in 1920 and became a daily newspaper after merging with the Waukesha Daily Herald and Waukesha Dispatch. The Youmans family owned The Freeman until 1979, when the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company purchased the newspaper. Four years later, in 1983, the newspaper changed hands again, becoming part of Thomson Newspapers. Conley Publishing, with headquarters in Beaver Dam, purchased the newspaper in 1997. The Freeman, along with the Conley Publishing Group’s other newspapers, share a website where readers can access the paper digitally.
Despite its relative small circulation numbers the Freeman has had a large influence on state politics. Many of the state’s top politicians read it, and the paper’s investigations led to changes in state law. Not surprisingly, given Cullaton’s support for abolitionism and the newspaper’s title, the Freeman served the cause of anti-slavery. More generally, The Freeman tended to espouse a Republican ideology. Like the Republican Party, the Freeman opposed woman suffrage but advocated for a greater role for women in public affairs. Nevertheless, from 1888 on, The Freeman repeatedly published front-page stories on the women’s movement. Theodora Winton Youmans, the wife of H.M. Youmans, began the campaign within the pages of The Freeman in 1890, when she encouraged women’s rights activists to bring their clubs to Waukesha. In 1902, Waukesha clubwomen, in an attempt to raise funds for Downer College, published a “Club Women’s edition” of The Freeman. Approximately thirty-five hundred copies of the paper were sold, bringing in nearly $1,000 for Downer College. In 1912 Winton Youmans began writing a weekly “suffrage column.”
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Freeman waged several battles to end government secrecy, for which The Freeman was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1952. Unable to see a confidential report from an investigation into police brutality in Waukesha in 1963, the Freeman sued for the right of newspapers to access public records. In 1965, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Freeman in State ex rel. Youmans v. Owens. In the early 21st century, the paper provides a platform for conservative political commentary, including Ann Coulter and Mark Belling.
- ^ The History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin (1880; repr., Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1976), 566-567; “History of the Freeman,” Waukesha County Business Alliance website, http://www.waukesha.org/pages/TheFreeman/, accessed on June 29, 2015; Don L. Taylor, “Waukesha County: Business and Industry,” From Farmland to Freeways: A History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, eds. Ellen D. Langill and Jean Penn Loerke (Waukesha, WI: Waukesha County Historical Society, 1984), 401; Genevieve G. McBride, On Wisconsin Women: Working for Their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 142. Conley Publishing Group also owns newspapers in Minnesota, Colorado, and Arizona. See Mark Savage, “Conley’s Children Want out of Publishing Company,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 22, 1999, 1D, 3D. For the digital edition, see Conley Media, www.gmtoday.com.
- ^ Robert W. Engbring, “The Waukesha Freeman: A Study of Its Editorial Defense of Civil Rights from Its Founding March 29, 1859, to April 1863, Three Months after the Emancipation Proclamation” (Master’s thesis, Marquette University, 1970).
- ^ McBride, On Wisconsin Women, 146, 134, 191-192; Genevieve G. McBride, “Theodora Winton Youmans and the Wisconsin Woman Movement,” in Women’s Wisconsin, ed. Genevieve G. McBride (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2005), 349.
- ^ Linda de la Mora, “The Wisconsin Public Records Law,” Marquette Law Review 67 (Fall 1983): 76; David James Lippert, “The Enactment and Legal Interpretations of Wisconsin Access Laws to Public Records and Proceedings” (Ph.D. diss., Southern Illinois University, 1970), 50, 357, 369-370; Taylor, “Waukesha County: Business and Industry,” 401, 422.
For Further Reading
de la Mora, Linda. “The Wisconsin Public Records Law.” Marquette Law Review 67 (Fall 1983): 65-109.
Engbring, Robert W. “The Waukesha Freeman: A Study of Its Editorial Defense of Civil Rights from Its Founding March 29, 1859, to April 1863, Three Months after the Emancipation Proclamation.” Master’s Thesis, Marquette University, 1970.
The History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin. 1880. Reprint, Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1976.
Lippert, James. “The Enactment and Legal Interpretations of Wisconsin Access Laws to Public Records and Proceedings.” Ph.D. diss., Southern Illinois University, 1970.
McBride, Genevieve G. On Wisconsin Women: Working for Their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
McBride, Genevieve G. “Theodora Winton Youmans and the Wisconsin Woman Movement.” In Women’s Wisconsin, edited by Genevieve G. McBride, 346-356. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2005.
Taylor, Don L. “Waukesha County: Business and Industry.” In From Farmland to Freeways: A History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, edited by Ellen D. Langill and Jean Penn Loerke, 393-430. Waukesha, WI: Waukesha County Historical Society, 1984.