The Milwaukee Press Club is the oldest continuously operating press club in North America, and possibly the world. After efforts to establish a press club in Milwaukee failed in 1860, 1882, and 1883, four journalists formally established the Milwaukee Press Club on Nov.1, 1885. The club was to be a means of bringing together newspaper professionals, as well elevate the profession in general. Since its founding, the club has expanded its membership to include journalists working in other media, editors, publishers and individuals with a specific professional interest in the press.
Prior to 1971, the only female member of the club was Edna Dunlop who joined near the turn of the twentieth century. Later, a “men only” policy was adopted. It was finally overturned in August of ’71, after female journalists and the general public created an outcry against the antiquated practice. Mary Spletter was the first woman to cross the club’s threshold, and in addition to having lunch at the club, she was asked to sign a plaque in honor of the occasion.
While the Milwaukee Press Club prides itself on its steadfast tradition of fostering journalistic camaraderie, it’s led a vagabond existence in terms of its physical home. The first Milwaukee Press Club headquarters were in the Herold building at the corner of Mason and Broadway streets. The club moved several times in the next 19 years before settling into the third floor of the Miller Building at the corner of Mason and Water streets in 1904. In 1914, the Press Club moved again, this time to the eighth floor of the Jung Building on Water Street. The club remained there for more than 30 years until 1948, when it relocated to the Fine Arts building on Wells Street. At some time during its years in the Fine Arts building, the club established a separate business headquarters, while the Fine Arts location remained a social gathering place for club members.
In 1983, the club moved to the Marc Plaza Hotel on Wisconsin Avenue. Several more moves occurred after 1983, including stints at the Brown Bottle Pub, the Germania building, the Posner building, and the Park East Hotel. Finally, in May of 2000, the club unveiled its current (and hopefully permanent) home, the Newsroom Pub, in cooperation with the locally-venerated Safe House, at 137 E. Wells Street.
One of the longest surviving traditions of the club is the collection of signatures of visiting dignitaries. The signature collection, which numbers more than 1,200, dates back to the 1890s. Originally, dignitaries signed their names on the wooden walls of the Press Club. When that facility was vacated, club members snuck in and cut out the signatures. Since then, dignitaries have signed their names on mat board. The entire collection was donated to the Urban Archives of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2000. The signatures currently on display at the Newsroom Pub are technically on loan.