Suffrage Centennial

Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley addressed attendees at the women's suffrage centennial celebration on Monday. 

One hundred years after Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the Constitution's 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, officials say there's more that needs to be done to promote female involvement and representation in the political process. 

Hundreds of attendees — some wearing white, in honor of the suffragettes, and "Votes for Women" sashes — gathered at the state Capitol Monday to commemorate the centennial.

The celebration, led by First Lady Kathy Evers, featured the unveiling of the original signed 19th Amendment document and a bipartisan group of speakers who stressed the historic nature of the moment and encouraged continued activism going forward. 

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, one of six female justices currently serving on the state Supreme Court, said she was hopeful girls and young women would continue to be inspired by the female leaders who came before them and become involved in the political process. 

"Success is not yet at hand," she said. "There's much, much more to do." 

Currently there are 36 women serving in the Legislature, making up 27 percent of lawmakers. The overall figure is a near-historic one — the largest number of women to serve in a session is 37, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, a number that was reached in the 1989 and 2003 sessions. 

Women first began serving in the state Assembly in 1925, and the first woman to join the state Senate did so in 1975. 

State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, the first African-American to represent Dane County in the state Legislature, applauded Wisconsin's "radical vision for a more inclusive democracy," but noted the suffrage movement was largely run by white women and often excluded women of color. 

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And for some women of color, Stubbs added, access to the polls wasn't granted until the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a history she said couldn't be forgotten. 

"We can do better because in Wisconsin, we know better," she said, later adding: "We must uplift all women and exclude no woman. No woman left behind."

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, executive director of the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission, recounted the race to first ratify the amendment, a contest Wisconsin narrowly won.

On June 10, 1919, former state Sen. David James, 76, took the state’s official ratification documents to Washington, D.C. via train to deliver them to the State Department -- the same day Illinois lawmakers also voted to ratify the amendment. But because there was an error with Illinois’ document, the new copy didn’t arrive until more than a week after Wisconsin’s was filed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Wisconisn beating Illinois became a tradition because of women’s right to vote -- two years before the Packers and the Bears ever played each other,” Kleefisch joked.

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