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WI Supreme Court Unique for Number of Women Justices

Wisconsin women were politically active long before they got the right to vote. Here, the Oshkosh Equal Suffrage League sends a message in 1912 with its July 4 parade float. (Used with permission of Wisconsin Historical Society)
Wisconsin women were politically active long before they got the right to vote. Here, the Oshkosh Equal Suffrage League sends a message in 1912 with its July 4 parade float. (Used with permission of Wisconsin Historical Society)
April 9, 2018

MADISON, Wis. — Last week's election of Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet to the state Supreme Court means Wisconsin has the nation’s highest percentage of women on the state's highest court, at 86 percent.

Nationally, women make up about 36 percent of state supreme court justices, and only 11 such courts are majority female. In Wisconsin, Justice Dan Kelly will soon be the only man on the bench.

But Christine Lidbury, executive director of the Wisconsin Women's Council, pointed out women are not the majority in other branches of government.

"A little over one-third of the Court of Appeals is female - which is also higher than most other levels of government, other than maybe school boards,” Lidbury said. “But otherwise, it tends to be more around 19, 20, 25 percent at different levels of government."

Today, more than 3,100 women hold government offices in the Badger State, so Dallet will be continuing a longstanding tradition when she's sworn in on August 1.

Organizations like Emily's List, which focus on helping women run for office, have been tracking these numbers nationally, and reported a wave of female candidates in recent years. Many women start out by seeking local government offices, which can be harder to track because there are so many.

Lidbury said her organization does attempt to keep up with them, and Wisconsin is in line with the national trend.

"City councils and school boards, that's had a good increase,” she said. “Even village boards have popped up."

She added that women holding public office in Wisconsin are nothing new. In the early 1920s, the state passed the country's first legislation allowing women to hold the same offices as men. By 1924, more than 400 women across the state held elected or appointed offices.

Elizabeth Braun, Public News Service - WI