Hannah Swart

Date in History: 1913 – 1984

In 2004, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the death of former Curator Hannah Swart, the Fort Atkinson reprinted some excerpts from the remarks made by Hugh Highsmith at a memorial service in her honor on July 30th, 1984.

t is my privilege to speak at this service for Hannah Werwath Swart, to acknowledge the great contribution she has made to this community, and the pleasure that I and others have known working with her over the years. This fine museum can be considered a memorial to Hannah and the 17 years she worked to help make it what you see today. It is an unusual and valuable asset for our city. I do not know of a comparable city of 10,000 people in this country with such a fine historical museum and active historical society. Many other people contributed in many important ways, of course, but Hannah was surely the leader in building this museum to its present state.

Hannah Werwath was born in Milwaukee on March 21, 1913, the daughter of Oscar and Johanna Werwath who had, in 1903, founded the Milwaukee School of Engineering. She graduated from Milwaukee University School in 1931 and later attended Milwaukee Downer College and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Those of us who have known Hannah only since she came to Fort Atkinson, will be surprised to learn that when quite young she became an excellent swimmer and won many medals and a national reputation. She, I am told, was considered for an Olympic team until her father decided a young girl should not appear before so many people in a bathing suit. Hannah was also one of the earliest licensed airplane pilots in the state. She piloted a plane when it was still the great adventure and she, her daughter tells me, knew Amelia Earhart before her tragic death in the Pacific.

Hannah married George J. Swart, then an official at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, in 1937. Both continued to serve at the school until 1951 when they moved to Fort Atkinson; George’s old home where the Swart family first settled in 1843. Hannah continued serving at the School of Engineering.

In 1960, working with Mrs. Mary Hoard, Hannah wrote her first book about local history, entitled “Footsteps of our Founding Fathers.” In 1967, after Zida Ivey’s death, she became the Curator of this museum. As Bob Angus pointed out in his editorial last Friday in the Daily Union, “Hannah was a unique person, perfectly suited for the role she filled. She had a brilliant mind, including a great ability to remember and to recall, and she loved and had a complete knowledge of local history.”

Perhaps, her greatest contributions are her books. She wrote several, beginning with “Footsteps of our Founding Fathers,” as previously mentioned. In 1975, she wrote “Koshkonong Country,” the first update of the history of Jefferson County since 1917. In 1981, she began a series of three planned books titled Koshkonong Country Revisited. The first volume of this series covered the 50 years between 1830 to 1880. The next volume, published just last year, covered the next 50 years to 1930. The third and last volume was to complete the series of 1980 and be issued in 1986 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Fort Atkinson. In the longtime future, these books will be another memorial. They will be used by future generations, surely as long as this country endures.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the debt many of us owe Hannah personally for encouraging and enabling us to develop our interests in history. I, myself, was encouraged over the years to develop my interest in Indian History. Others such as Crawford Thayer and William Starke became active in researching and producing plays and books about the Black Hawk War. Still others, encouraged by Hannah, have developed hobby interests in most every facet of history from dolls to architecture to quilts.

She helped change the course of many lives. Hannah’s fine work and ability was also recognized state-wide and nationally. She received many notable awards and has been listed in Who’s Who in America since 1970. She was active in the State Historical Society and served as a curator and president of the former State Auxiliary. She also contributed much to the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters and served on their board.

Through the years, Hannah seemed to keep a single purpose in mind – to promote, protect and improve this museum.”

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