History of the Nakoma League
The Nakoma League is a neighborhood social and charitable group. All residents of Nakoma are automatically members of the league. The Nakoma District Welfare League, as it was called when it was founded in May 1920, was formed by a group of 30 Nakoma women when there were 26 homes in the neighborhood. Today, there are nearly 700.
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 leagues activities have changed over the years as womens 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 womens group, which met in a neighborhood home one afternoon each month. Its first work was the piecing of a quilt. Some of the leagues 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.
The ladies afternoon meetings always featured refreshments and socializing, as well as entertainment or an educational program. Typical agendas included vocal selections, piano recitals, dramatic performances or poetry readings by neighborhood women. They also discussed books and shared stories of their travels abroad. University professors were frequent guest lecturers. In September of 1934, Professor Aldo Leopold addressed the ladies of the Nakoma League, who met at the Nakoma Country Club, to talk about construction plans for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.
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 Madisons 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 universitys
Elvehjem Art Museum bears his name.
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 mostly 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 womens social calendar
from the 1940s to about 1970.
The 1970s brought changes to the traditions of the Nakoma League. Ethnic awareness and womens liberation collided with longstanding traditions, resulting in a time of gradual reorganization for the league. The womens afternoon meetings gave way to evening couples parties and holiday events for the 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.
Nakoma League events of the 1930s to 1960s were regularly
covered on the society pages of the Madison newspapers. By the early
1970s, however, these activities were no longer deemed newsworthy. One
of the last Nakoma League events to be covered in the newspaper drew
an unexpected reaction. Remembering
that the first residents of Nakoma were the Native Americans, the ladies
of the Nakoma League enjoyed a 30-year tradition (1940s to 1970s) of
incorporating Native American headbands and dresses, drums, songs, hand
signals and dances into their programs welcoming new neighbors at Twelfth
Night and installing new officers at the Garden Breakfast.
Not meaning to be offensive, the league gradually abandoned its use of Native American rituals. Finally, all but one of the leagues nine Indian blankets were sold at a silent auction at the last Dessert & Bridge Benefit in 1979. For two years following the protest, the league sponsored a holiday party in the Wisconsin Dells for Native American children and their families and gave scholarship money for Native American children to attend Camp Bird in Menomonee County.
Over the years, Nakoma League has made contributions to many charitable organizations, including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Washington Orthopedic School (now the Doyle Administration Building), Dane County Mental Health Center, Red Cross, Empty Stocking Fund, March of Dimes, Thoreau School and Cherokee School. For many years, a committee of the Nakoma League collected money from Nakoma neighbors for 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 the 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.
The Nakoma Leagues current social calendar is family-oriented
and includes the following events: