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William Freeman Vilas | Inducted by 1920

Wisconsin state Senator, law professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and cabinet member during President Cleveland's administration.

1840-1908| Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)

Impact & Accomplishments

William Freeman Vilas was born in Vermont but moved to Madison, Wisconsin, as a boy. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1858 and Albany (New York) Law School in 1860, enlisting in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Following the war, he was a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, years later, also served as a regent of the university. He helped institute the first winter course in agriculture for farmer’s sons there and lobbied for agriculture legislation. A longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, he was chairman of the 1884 national convention and also worked on the party platform.

Although he was elected to the Wisconsin legislature in 1885, the newly-elected U. S. President, Grover Cleveland, appointed Vilas to the position of United States Postmaster General. He served from 1885 to 1888, and then became Secretary of the Interior from 1888 to 1889. After leaving the Cabinet, William Freeman Vilas was elected to the United States Senate, serving from 1891 to 1897. In his final years, Senator Vilas practiced law and was involved in projects to build the United States Congressional Library, the Wisconsin State Historical Library, and a new statehouse for Wisconsin.

Did You Know?

Statue of Vilas at Vicksburg National Military Park. Photo by Dsdugan - Own work, CC0,

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