Vintage Wisconsin: Ice Skating For Fun, Fashion

Wisconsinites Have Ice Skated Since Early 19th Century

Women in fashionable hats ice skate in Milwaukee
Photo: Wisconsin Historical Images

When the weather gets really cold, some people hibernate and others … go ice skating! In the best hats. And is that a muff? The three women in the above image show how skating can be fun and fashionable as they glide across a Milwaukee rink.

People in Wisconsin have taken skate blade to ice since at least the early 19th century. Young Mary Ann Brevoort, who spent much of her childhood at Fort Howard in Green Bay, was passionately fond of skating.

“As soon as the old Fox River was mirrored with ice, Miss Brevoort was among the first to prove its glacial qualities; and if she had been attractive in her walk on terra firma, she was perfectly bewitching with her skates, on the ice,” recalled her former teacher, Gen. A.S. Ellis, of Brevoort in the 1820s.

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Brevoort was so irresistible that several young men thought they would give chase and try to win her affection. She entertained them, “dallying with them coyly for a few moments.” But, when she figured out their intent to keep her from escaping, she left her suitors “like a flash of light.”

Brevoort was ahead of her time. Although ice skating began in Europe (some 3,000 years ago, people in Northern Europe developed tools, including ice skates, that allowed them to travel across frozen lakes), it became a national craze during the Civil War.

Many Wisconsinites took to the ice as cheap entertainment during the war, while soldiers skated the cold and boredom away in their semi-permanent winter quarters.

We haven’t stopped skating since.