Ellen Clara Sabin, a woman with a national reputation in elementary education, becomes president of Downer College. She begins a 30-year association with the college by quickly improving academic standards. As a result, the enrollment outgrows the school's Fox Lake campus.
When Parson Ames visits Downer College to address a chapel audience, mischievous freshman women hide his hat. This prank starts the traditional hat hunt rivalry between under- and upperclassmen - a tradition which continues when Downer merges with Milwaukee College. Milwaukee-Downer sophomores hide the hat and freshman women look for it, often having to wade through streams, chisel through rocks, and dig in the earth. The young woman who finds the hat is then ceremoniously carried throughout the campus on a large, wooden serving tray by her classmates, while they chant "We've found it!" The Hat Girl hides the hat the following year. The hat now is on display in the Downer Room in Colman Hall.
Milwaukee College learns of Ellen Sabin's accomplishments at Downer College and suggests a merger of the two colleges. In 1897, ground on the northeast outskirts of Milwaukee is broken for a campus for the new institution, Milwaukee-Downer College. Most of the institution's buildings are constructed between the and 1912.
Not so gently, Milwaukee-Downer women take to the Milwaukee River in a six-oared shell brought from Fox Lake. Crew quickly becomes a favorite sport of M-D women.
The first Downer yearbook, "Cumtux," an Indian word meaning "catch on," is published.