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College of Commerce

Kenosha, Wisconsin

1893-1940 (?)


The Archives of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside provided a scan of the 1911 catalog of the Kenosha College of Commerce and its sister school at Racine.  Shorter accounts are found in Wisconsin: Its Story and Biography 1848-1913 and The City of Kenosha and Kenosha County, Wisconsin.


Otis L. Trenary opened College of Commerce in June of 1893 with only four students, that number growing to 30 in the first year.  Since neither Professor Trenary nor his wife, who taught with him, were natives of Kenosha, the early years of the school were difficult.   The catalog notes, “There was a great jubilee in the Trenary family when . . . a sufficient number of students was enrolled to pay our rent and board.”


By 1907, the Kenosha campus had become so successful that Trenary opened a second school at Racine, close enough that he could also give every student his personal attention.  The catalog shows total 1910-1911 enrollment as 158 at Kenosha and 145 at Racine.


The catalog shows two courses of study: Business and Shorthand.  Each course was ten weeks, divided into two five-week units.   Both courses required classes in grammar, writing, spelling, and rapid calculation.


The Business course of study emphasized bookkeeping, office practice, arithmetic, commercial law, commercial paper, business correspondence, and banking. The Shorthand course focused on principles of shorthand, typewriting, dictation, composition, punctuation, and letter writing,   White the catalog states that a student could finish a program within the ten weeks, the graduation statistics suggest that only about one in four students actually finished in that time.


The catalog shows that almost every graduate had achieved a position with a reputable company or with the government.


The school sponsored a literary society with programs every other Friday.  In addition to parliamentary law, these programs provided opportunities for  orations, debate, and vocal and instrumental music.  Also at 9:00 each day the school assembled in main room for a program of song and guest speakers.  The school held regular parties with dancing and games and a yearly picnic involving both campuses.   


In 1911 the Wisconsin's Legislature required all public schools to offer technical education.  When the local schools opened departments of commerce, Professor Trenary shifted the focus of his college to stenography.  When he died in 1940, his obituary still lists him as President of the College of Commerce, which he had operated for 46 years.  At some point, after that  the college closed.

The first graduating class from the Racine campus.  Image from the catalog.

The 1901 Kenosha building.  Image from the catalog

Bricks and Mortar

Trenary opened College of Commerce in Simmons Hall on Main Street in Kenosha.  For the next eight years he was able to rent rooms on the first floor of the Kenosha County Courthouse.  In 1901 he purchased property at the corner of Market Street and Sheridan Road and had a building constructed especially for the demands of a commercial college—the first such building in Wisconsin.  The catalog notes light coming from the right angles, steam heat, proper ventilation, and adequate blackboard space. The furniture was solid oak with desks that could be adjusted to any height.  The main room was large enough to hold the entire school.  These features were repeated at the new Racine building.    


After 1911, Trenary leased and later sold both buildings to the respective cities for use as commercial high schools.   The Kenosha building later became the Administration Building for the Kenosha School District. 


Trenary moved his Kenosha operation to the Isermann Building on Market Square.  Market Square Apartments now occupy the Isermann Building space.


Trenary notes that the Colleges of Commerce were “old fashioned” with no recesses and no playgrounds.  The school day extended from eight to five with an hour off for lunch.  So it is surprising that the schools had any sports programs.


College Football Data warehouse shows three football games over a period of eight years—all scoreless defeats.  Racine College—by this time a high school—defeated the Kenosha college 28-0 in 1896 and 18-0 in 1904.  Carroll University won 41-0 in 1902.  The Milwaukee Journal also show a 37-0 defeat by a team from Merrill in 1904.


Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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