In the last 125 years, The Pfister has hosted countless special events. From meetings, weddings, conventions, quinceaneras- the hotel does it all. Since the start of my tenure as the Pfister Narrator in May, there has not been a single day that the hotel was not welcoming guests to a special event. Large gatherings have always been part of life inside the hotel, and have been since its beginnings.
Being a Victorian Era hotelier was not for the faint of heart. Just four weeks after the grand opening of the hotel, The Pfister hosted its first convention. 1,200 doctors from the US and Europe gathered in Milwaukee to hear presentations from the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Association of Medical College Professors, the Medical Editors Association, and many more. Nearly 4,000 visitors descended upon Cream City to attend the convention slated to begin June 5, 1893. In the time before the advent of the convention center, hosting the visitors was a city-wide responsibility.
Convention headquarters was at the newly constructed Hotel Pfister and it housed all of the convention officers, the Board of Trustees, the Judicial Council, and all guests from abroad. Those not able to secure rooms at the hotel, and who did not receive an invitation to be the personal guest in the home of an area physician, stayed at nearby Plankinton House Hotel. While The Pfister housed the day-to-day operations of the convention, and presented all of the intimate banquets, lectures and receptions were held all around the city including the aforementioned Plankinton House, the Academy of Music and the Goldsmith Building.
The well-heeled wives of Milwaukee’s elite banded together to entertain the wives of the conventioneers. The fashionable ladies lined their carriages around the grand hotel and conducted sightseeing tours for the visitors. Eager to showcase the city’s hospitality, the women also presented an outdoor orchestral concert at Schlitz Park and hosted salons in the town’s most celebrated homes. Lest we assume all of the ladies in attendance were wives of the good doctors, Milwaukee resident and noted female physician Dr. H. Frances Sercombe hosted a private event in her Jackson Street home just for practicing female doctors. The 40 physicians in attendance were treated to an elegant affair featuring dainty finger foods and engaging conversation between some of the nation’s most talented women in medicine.
The convention was among the largest of its type seen in Milwaukee to that time, and we owe thanks for the visit to one forward-thinking physician. At the close of the previous year’s convention, the delegates debated the location of their next gathering. The excitement of the World’s Fair hosted in Chicago was already electrifying travelers across the nation, but made Chicago an impractical destination for the convention that would require more space than would be available in the Windy City. A Dr. Dennison of Denver, CO argued vigorously for Milwaukee as the ideal location, citing its proximity to Chicago and the opening of the new hotel. Eventually, Dennison persuaded the group and in turn was hailed as a bit of a hero, at first by grateful locals, and then by conventioneers who fell in love Milwaukee during their time at the convention.
Then, as now, Milwaukee worked together to ensure our guests felt at home and at ease in our city. As a modern day observer, I am in awe of the planning and preparation that goes into presenting special events at the hotel. I imagine the confidence Charles Pfister must have had in his vision of what he was creating when he accepted this booking for his not yet completed hotel. Pfister believed in his staff, and his city, and they rallied to provide the guests a lovely event and a friendly welcome. While many things have changed in 125 years, the city’s warmth for its visitors and the hotel’s commitment to excellence have remained constants.
Resources included archival news coverage from Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Sentinel, from May-June 1893.