Wisconsin and the 19th Amendment

State of Wisconsin depicted in purple, white, and gold (colors of the National Woman’s Party suffrage flag) – indicating Wisconsin was one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment. Courtesy Megan Springate.
State of Wisconsin depicted in purple, white, and gold (colors of the National Woman’s Party suffrage flag) – indicating Wisconsin was one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment. CC0

Women first organized and collectively fought for suffrage at the national level in July of 1848. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened a meeting of over 300 people in Seneca Falls, New York. In the following decades, women marched, protested, lobbied, and even went to jail. By the 1870s, women pressured Congress to vote on an amendment that would recognize their suffrage rights. This amendment became known as the 19th Amendment.

After decades of arguments for and against women's suffrage, Congress finally voted in favor of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This is called ratification. After Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law.

On June 10, 1919, Wisconsin became the first state to vote in favor of ratifying the 19th Amendment. By August of 1920, 36 states (including Wisconsin) ratified the amendment, recognizing women's suffrage rights.

State flag of Wisconsin
State flag of Wisconsin. CC0

Women in Wisconsin

Before European colonizers arrived in America, the Wisconsin region was home to many Indigenous tribes including the Menominee and Ho-chunk. There are few written records about the Indigenous women of Wisconsin, but the account of a British soldier from the 1700s still survives. He wrote about a female chief of the Ho-chunk called Ho-poe-kaw, or Glory of the Morning. She was a powerful and important leader. As French and British fur traders moved into the area they often married Indigenous women who served as liaisons between their husbands and the leaders of their tribes.

When the territory of Wisconsin became a state in 1848, it drafted a state constitution. A heated debate about women’s rights and suffrage broke out. Some legislators wanted to recognize women's rights to own property and vote. But ultimately the constitution passed without any mention of women’s rights.

Many women in Wisconsin participated locally and nationally in advocating for women’s suffrage. Jessie Jack Hooper, for example, served at the first president of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters. Noted suffragist and temperance leader Frances Willard also grew up in Wisconsin in Rock County. The efforts of women like Hooper and Willard paid off. In 1919, Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

Last updated: November 1, 2018