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Women's History Month message from the Executive Director
Women are running for elected office in record numbers. From Congress to State Legislatures, there are reports of a surge in women looking for training to run for office, running or likely to run for office, including double the 2016 statistics for women seeking Congressional, Governor and Statehouse seats.
March is Women's History month and a perfect time to step back and reflect that women couldn’t always hold public office. In Wisconsin, the groundwork for today’s surge on the path to political leadership began less than 100 years ago, on the heels of suffrage and nearly 75 years after statehood. In 1921, the Wisconsin legislature passed the nation’s first equal rights law. The bill granted women “full equality with men under civil law,” including the right to hold public office. In the late-1800s, women were allowed to serve in school-related office such as school and library boards but were not allowed to hold any other elected or appointed public offices. The Equal Rights Bill changed all that.
Wisconsin elected it’s first “lady Mayor” – Lulu Shaw – in Crandon (Forest County) in 1923. According to an article from the Crandon Public Library, Shaw’s mayoral election was such a momentous occasion for women it was mentioned in the New York Evening Telegram and the Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal. Born in 1866 in Omro, she was reported to be well educated in business and law. Characterized in the 1923 press as “a feminine revolt,” Shaw campaigned on reforms for lower taxes, less moonshine and fighting corruption.
“The women have only begun. They make good campaigners – fully as good as men.” Lulu Shaw
The new law sent women off and running, and winning. In 1924, UW Extension’s Municipal Information Bureau reported that more than 400 women were serving in local elected and appointed offices across Wisconsin–about half on school and library boards and the rest in a wide variety of local public offices from City Council’s to Cemetery Boards. A year later, Mildred Baker, Helen Brooks, and Helen Thompson were elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly, becoming the first women to hold state office.
More than 3,100 women now hold elected office in state and local government across Wisconsin. One of my recent college interns now sits on a County Board. Only a few years ago, my then-preteen daughter came home from school upset because her teacher said that none of the US Presidents were girls. With hands on hips, she needed confirmation that was true. My daughter and the college interns that pass through my office take it absolutely for granted that women can run, win and succeed in public office. Today’s young women are ready and empowered to themselves to step onto this historic path and follow in the strides of these trailblazing women. We are honored to bring forward these pioneering office holders and write their names back into our common history.
Our History is Our Strength (National Women’s History Project)
For a copy of “Wisconsin Women Roar into Public Office in the 1920s” and more on women in elected office in Wisconsin, and the roots of women and public office, go to www.womenscouncil.wi.gov.
A copy of the factsheet was also reprinted The Municipality, the monthly magazine of The League of Wisconsin Municipalities, see: www.lwm-info.org/828/The-Municipality-Magazine
Take a Seat at the Table
(and help other women pull up their chairs)
The late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm said: “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” The fastest and most effective way to make change at policymaking tables is to sit there. Help women take their seats by helping build and sustain the infrastructure needed for women to be successful public leaders.
from the Women's Definitive Guide to Getting Political, Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University