Libraries Announce Generous Gift from Dick Wagner Creating the R. Richard Wagner Pride Archives Fund

March 30, 2023

The UW-Madison Libraries are honored to announce a generous gift from Dick Wagner, which has created the R. Richard Wagner Pride Archives Fund. This bequest of more than $660,000 establishes an endowed fund that will provide lasting support for the LGBTQ+ Archive in perpetuity

2017 exhibit viewing (courtesy Scott Seyforth)

The LGBTQ+ Archive contains oral histories, personal papers, photographs, ephemera, and organizational records related to LGBTQ+ life in Madison and Dane County from the 1920s to today. Begun as an oral history project, the collection has grown to include an increasingly diverse array of materials and voices from the LGBTQ+ community.

Wagner, who died in 2021 at age 78, was dedicated to documenting the history of the LGBTQ+ communities in Wisconsin. He co-founded the LGBTQ+ Archive in 2015 with Scott Seyforth, Michele Besant, and others in partnership with former University Archivist David Null. The roots of the LGBTQ+ Archive, however, had taken hold well before 2015. In 2007, the Oral History Program, headed by Troy Reeves, started documenting the stories and memories of politicians, professors, students, and activists. The collection is located in the University Archives in Steenbock Library. 

Archive committee with the Governor’s Award for Archival Advocacy, 2020 (courtesy Scott Seyforth)

Wagner also served on the UW-Madison Friends of the Libraries board for eight years from 2005-2013. He strongly supported the Friends in every aspect, attending events, giving financially, and donating portions of his rich research material to the UW Archives and the Friends. He authored two ground-breaking books on the state’s LGBTQ+ history: “We’ve Been Here All Along” in 2019 and “Coming Out, Moving Forward: Wisconsin’s Recent Gay History” in mid-2020. Wagner is also featured prominently in the Wisconsin Public Television documentary “Wisconsin Pride,” which premiers in June.

Seyforth notes, “Dick Wagner was a transformational public servant. His commitment to bettering the circumstances around him was a deeply rooted part of his philosophy of life and how to live it. A historian by training (he received a Ph.D. in History from UW-Madison), Dick spent the better part of the last 20 years of his life dedicated to collecting, preserving, and writing about the LGBTQ+ history of our state.”

Dick Wagner, 1997 (courtesy Dick Wagner estate)

Reeves comments, “It was a privilege and a pleasure to get to know Dick. His support of our efforts was invaluable. His generous and thoughtful donation will allow our program to gather and preserve even more LGBTQ+ oral histories. Now, we will work daily to live up to his legacy.” 

Wagner was a trailblazer with a deep commitment to public service, community involvement, and advancing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. He was vital to Wisconsin passing its first protections for gay and lesbian people, including banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, employment, and housing. He was later appointed by the late Gov. Tony Earl as co-chair of the Governor’s Council of Lesbian and Gay Issues.

In addition to his work on the state level, Wagner served on the Dane County board from 1980 to 1994, the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Madison Landmarks Commission, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, and the board of Fair Wisconsin. As one of the early out-elected officials in the United States, Wagner helped form the International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials, which continues under Victory Institute.

The generous gift by Wagner speaks to his deep commitment to preserving a critical part of history. It shows his appreciation for the work required to ensure this preservation is possible. 

“Dick was such a generous, supportive, and tireless advocate, and we are extremely grateful for the endowed fund,” says Katie Nash, University Archivist. “His advocacy and legacy will live on for generations to come – as the UW Archives now has an initial donation on which to build a solid foundation of financial support for the continuation and growth of the LGBTQ+ Archive.”

The Archives committee, 2020 (courtesy Scott Seyforth)

Nash says there are plans to hire a student to continue to organize and describe some of the LGBTQ+ Archive collections. The team will collaborate with the Processing Archivist to create finding aids and catalog records to ensure the collections are discoverable and accessible to everyone. 

Donations to fund the work of the LGBTQ+ Archive can be made here. To learn more about other ways to support the UW-Madison Libraries, including through estate planning, please contact Frances Steiner (