New Digital Collection Offers Insight into History of Socialism in Milwaukee

photo of seidel family

Emil Seidel and family, c.1910-15. Library of Congress Bain News Service Photograph Collection.

By Genaro C. Armas

A new digital collection from UWM Libraries offers insight into the history of socialist politics in Milwaukee and the life of former Mayor Emil Seidel, the first socialist to govern a major American city.


Milwaukee Socialism: The Emil Seidel Era, includes all of Seidel’s personal papers, Seidel’s unpublished autobiography and his official papers from his tenure as mayor. Serving between 1910-1912, Seidel was the first of three Socialist Party mayors elected in Milwaukee in the 20th century.


“The collection offers Seidel’s recollections of critical moments in the foundation of the Socialist Party of America and the socialist movement in Milwaukee,” said Aims McGuinness, an associate professor of history at UWM. He was instrumental in getting the Emil Seidel Collections digitized to make the collection more accessible for teaching and research.


The manuscript also includes Seidel’s reflections on the relevance of socialism in his later years, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, which McGuinness said was a period of decline in the Socialist Party’s support both in Milwaukee and nationally.


UWM Libraries staff and student employees in Digital Collections & Initiatives, the UWM Archives and Special Collections worked to identify and digitize more than 3,000 pages of records and manuscripts connected to Seidel, and created descriptive metadata records to ensure their discoverability and context.


The digital collection also includes selections from the UWM Special Collections’ monographs by and about the Milwaukee Turners, the German-American group that played a leading role in public life in Milwaukee especially in the late 19th century. The group still operates today with a continuing focus on social justice and physical activity and runs the downtown event venue Turner Hall.


The collection will continue to grow to meet the needs of students and researchers.