Timeline – 1903 – An Early History Major

George Coleman Poage, History BA, 1903
George Coleman Poage, History BA, 1903. Image provided by UW Madison Creating Community.

Information on our History majors is lamentably sparse, but, because of his accomplishments in sports, we do know that George Coleman Poage was a History major at UW-Madison in the early twentieth century.

An African American, Poage moved with his family from Missouri to La Crosse, Wisconsin, as a small child. After graduating from high school in La Crosse, he entered UW-Madison in 1899 as a History major. He worked with Frederick Jackson Turner and wrote his senior thesis on “An Investigation into the Economic Condition of the Negro in the State of Georgia during the period of 1860‐1900.” Poage graduated in 1903 and pursued advanced studies in History in 1903-1904.

Poage was an accomplished member of UW-Madison’s Philomathia Society, a debating club, and also a star member of the university’s track team. In 1904 he became the first African American to win an Olympic medal.

Sources: Bruce L. Mouser, “George Coleman Poage – 1880-1962: America’s First African American Olympic Medalist: A Biography (pdf),” Harvard University, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research; “UW-Madison Black History: Alumnus Cleared Hurdles on the Track in Life,” UW-Madison Creating Community.