We recall a summer of contentment when American law was suffused with optimism, a season ending a long winter of despair and disorder. For the first fifteen years of this century, many (and perhaps most) American lawyers were filled with confidence that America had healed the wounds of civil war and was healing those of class struggle. We could, and we would, overcome all obstacles to peace and prosperity, not only for our people but for all mankind. This, it was widely believed, would be our century. As early as 1879 Daniel Coit Gilman, the premier educator of his time, had foretold that we would turn America into a vast "earthly paradise, void of crime, poverty, and unjust discrimination or privilege." In 1906 Roscoe Pound, then dean of the University of Nebraska Law School, challenged the ABA to deal with the many "causes of popular dissatisfaction" with the law, and within a very few years he, John Henry Wigmore, and others had turned the ABA (at least for the moment) from reaction to reform."
In no sphere of American life was there greater optimism than in higher education. During the nation's first century, American colleges had found it a newest, scrutinizing every arrangement and motive of its life, and stands ready to attempt nothing less than a radical reconstruction, which only frank and honest counsels and the forces of generous cooperation can hold back from becoming a revolution. The new academic profession, especially the legal academy, expected to play a large role in fashioning our earthly paradise. The model for this role was cast in the most heroic bronze at the University of Wisconsin. One reason may have been that Wisconsin was a state with a large population of German immigrants,' who had brought Prussian notions of government responsibility and higher education (including the idea of lehrfreiheit, or professorial autonomy) to this continent. The state was also the scene of the most vigorous Progressive politics. Accordingly, it was the best venue for the formation of an academic subprofession devoted to social and economic reform. Indeed, the idea of progressive political reform as an academic mission came for a time to be known as the Wisconsin-Idea. Among those striving to rebuild Wisconsin as an earthly paradise in the early years of this century were several members of the university law faculty. A leader among them was Eugene Gilmore. This article is an account of the Wisconsin Idea at the law--school, and hence a partial account of Gilmore's career.
Paul D. Carrington & Erika King, Law and the Wisconsin Idea, 47 J. Legal Educ. 297 (1997)