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Dorthy C. Enderis

1880 - 1952

Inducted October 1989

 "During working hours, we make a living. During leisure hours we make a life."
~Dorthy C. Enderis

Known as “The Lady of the Lighted Schoolhouse,” Dorothy Caroline Enderis was born in Elmhurst, IL, a suburb of Chicago. With the exception of the fi rst year of her life she lived in Milwaukee, WI. her entire life. Upon graduating from high school, Enderis enrolled at Milwaukee Normal School1, a two-year school for elementary teachers. After completing her degree, she took a summer course in library science and was hired at the Normal School Library, where she worked for eight years.

In 1909, Enderis became a fourth grade teacher in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward School. Know as “The Bloody Fifth,” the school was located in a depressed section of Milwaukee’s inner city. This position afforded her the opportunity to observe the multicultural dynamics of the community. In 1912, the school board established an extension department which eventually became the Municipal Recreation and Adult Education Department. Enderis was employed by Harold Berg, the initial extension department director, to assist in the operation of two afterschool centers. In 1920, Enderis was appointed director of the department and expanded their programs into six social centers and 14 playgrounds. By the time she retired in 1948 the department was operating 32 indoor centers, 62 playgrounds, and a variety of city-wide services. Milwaukee became known everywhere for its philosophy of the lighted schoolhouse, keeping school buildings open after hours for numerous leisure opportunities.

Regardless of age, gender, social class, or ethnic group there were programs for the entire community. The majority of these programs were designed to provide opportunities for participants to socialize and learn new hobbies or pastimes. The indoor centers offered child play areas, adult education, citizenship classes, music lessons, and clubs promoting activities from dance to photography. In some instances they provided individuals the opportunity to excel at areas they were already familiar with. For example, the municipal athletics division carried on a citywide program of competitive sports to supplement the activities conducted at the individual playgrounds and indoor centers.

The success of the Municipal Recreation and Adult Education Department was attributed to two primary factors. First, the dedication and high degree of competence of Enderis and her staff resulted in a very low turnover rate of administration. Secondly, a special tax levy assured continued financial support for the school board’s program. This financial security ultimately made it possible to maintain a regular staff and for the program’s continual expansion.

Under Enderis’ leadership, the Milwaukee public recreation department developed an international reputation for its unique programs. Delegates from all over the world came to observe their programs and ask advice. It was said, “Dorothy Enderis became known throughout the world because she demonstrated what a city can do to help its people live happy lives.” Rarely did she leave the Milwaukee area, but she did collaborate with the National Recreation Association (NRA) and their apprentice program. Milwaukee is credited for training more apprentices than any other city at the time. Several of these individuals went on to hold very important positions throughout the recreation movement. In 1932, NRA devoted an entire page in Recreation magazine to the excellence of Milwaukee’s recreation centers.

Dover Street Social Center 1920.
National Recreation Association Archives

Few recreation leaders have received recognition at local, state, and national levels. Dorothy Enderis was the first person to receive a Doctor of Recreation Service, which was awarded to her by Carroll College, Waukesha, WI. In addition, she received an honorary degree of Master of Arts from Laurence College, Appleton, WI, which was given to her “in recognition of her profound sympathy, prophetic vision, administrator skill, and great wisdom.” She also was elected an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa by the Milwaukee Donner College for the numerous honors bestowed upon her by educational and community organizations.

Among her national services were memberships on the Civilian Advisory Board for the Women’s Auxiliary Corps, the Committee for Leisure Time Services of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, and the Committee on Social and Religious Activities for Servicemen. Enderis was a popular lecturer at the NRA School and also taught at the University of Wisconsin. After her retirement, the City of Milwaukee honored her by dedicating a recreation area as the Dorothy C. Enderis Playground.

It was on September 30, 1948 that Enderis retired, after serving 36 years in the recreation field—eight years as assistant to the recreation executive, Harold O. Berg, and 28 years as director of the program. She became one of the most highly respected individuals for her diligent fieldwork. She is best known for demonstrating what a city can do to help its citizens lead happy productive lives. What stands out most as one thinks of Enderis and her years of service to the recreation movements, is what she herself said: “I have had an awfully good time at my job.”

Adapted from: Hartsoe, C, Sanders, D & Bridges, M (eds) (2009), Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame. National Recreation and Park Association and American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration.

  • Braucher, H. (December, 1948). “Dorothy Enderis Retires,” Recreation. 393-394.
  • Butler, G.D. (1965). Pioneers in public recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company.
  • National Recreation Association (November, 1932). The lighted school house, Recreation. 388.

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