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
History of Women in Local Government
Reports & Factsheets on Women in Elected Office
Women in County Government, 2017
Women in the WI Legislature: Prior Experience in State and Local Elected Office
Women in the WI Legislature: Prior Experience in State and Local Elected Office, 2017
Women in the WI State Legislature, 2017
Women in the WI Judiciary, 2017
Women in Local Government (2015 data)
Moving Wisconsin Forward, 2015
Women & Elected Office in state and local government in Wisconsin. Updated statistics and 10-Year Trends.
History of Women in Local Government
Research & Publications Archive
Moving Wisconsin Forward: An Analysis of Wisconsin Women and Elected Office
2005 Benchmark Report
Women in Elected Office in Wisconsin (published in 2006)
Timeline of Women's Political Firsts
in Wisconsin State Government
Click to Enlarge
About the Benchmark Report Series
These census reports on women in local government is the Wisconsin Women's Council's track percent of elected offices in state and local government in Wisconsin that are held by women. The first report, based on 2005 data (published in 2006), tracked women's status as elected and appointed officials in state and local governments at the end of 2005. Subsequent reports in 2010 and 2015 update those figures and looks at progress over the decade state, county, city, village, town and school board officials, including the Wisconsin jucidary.
With the 2015 report, Wisconsin continues its leadership as one of the few states to track women's participation and progress in holding local elected office. While information is available nationwide on women elected to federal and state legislatures, and selected offices such as governors and mayors of major cities, almost no information exists on the thousands of individuals who hold elected offices in local governments such as county boards, city councils and school boards. This represents a large gap in understanding women's political participation and leadership, and in the pipeline of women for higher offices in state and local government.
Serving in Local Government
The number of local elected seats held by women in Wisconsin - from County Boards to School Boards
We often think of state and federal elected offices – Governor, Senate, Assembly and Congress – as the policymakers that influence the taxes we pay, the public benefits and programs we receive and the social and economic climate of our state.
In fact, the vast majority - over 95%! - of elected offices in Wisconsin are in local government. It is local government officials that make many of the decisions and oversee programs that affect our everyday lives – from property tax rates to public health protections, foster care programs, zoning and local residential and business development, and the number of teachers in classrooms. Who represents you and the face of leadership in your community should matter to every Wisconsin citizen.
The Wisconsin Women's Council thanks the following organizations for their assistance and support in compiling this research:
League of Wisconsin Municipalities
WI Association of School Boards
WI Clerks of Circuit Courts Association
WI Counties Association
WI County Clerk's Association
WI County Treasurer's Association
WI Office of State Courts
WI Register of Deeds Association
WI Sheriff's & Deputy Sheriff's Association
WI Towns Association
Statements of fact and opinion are made on the responsibility of the WI Women's Council alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the organizations and individuals listed above. No endorsement by such organizations/individuals is given or implied.
Disclaimer. The information and data for this study and attached materials have been gathered from a variety of sources and are subject to change without notice. Neither the Wisconsin Women's Council, its members and staff, nor any other party involved in providing this study warrant that the information contained therein is in every respect accurate or complete and they specifically disclaim any responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions that may be contained in the report or related materials, or for the results obtained from the use of such information. You are encouraged to consult other sources and confirm the information contained within this report and related materials.