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WI Role in 19th Amendment, Struggles that Still Exist

In 1919, Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment. In the next year, 35 other states followed that lead, paving the way for women's right to vote. (wisconsinhistory.org)
In 1919, Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment. In the next year, 35 other states followed that lead, paving the way for women's right to vote. (wisconsinhistory.org)
August 21, 2020

MADISON, Wis. -- Next week formally marks the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote in the United States. Wisconsin played an important role in the 19th Amendment, but there is mixed history behind the movement that's still playing out.

Tennessee often gets attention as the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920 - but a year prior to that, Wisconsin was the first state to approve it.

Simone Munson, collections development coordinator at the Wisconsin Historical Society, said -- like other parts of the country -- the suffragist movement saw plenty of struggles in the Badger State before lawmakers finally took action.

"Wisconsin is not a pro-Temperance state," said Munson. "We did not support the prohibition of alcohol. And so, women in Wisconsin did have an uphill battle when they were advocating for suffrage, because the men often thought that it would align with taking away alcohol."

It wasn't until World War I, when women maintained the economy while men went to battle, that the Legislature took notice.

But Munson said Black women were still prevented in many ways from voting. She noted the 19th Amendment was a launching point for other civil-rights movements, and that calls for equality are still evident in many of today's protests.

Munson said she believes there are many assumptions made by those who have never had hardships casting a ballot. She said she thinks a more comprehensive teaching of the 70-year struggle behind the suffragist movement could open more eyes about other struggles that persist.

"If we look at how we teach history," said Munson, "and if those explanations became more of the conversation in education, it might change how people view the rights they have today."

The 19th Amendment was certified by the U.S. Secretary of State on August 26, 1920.

Next Wednesday, Munson said people are being encouraged to wear white and ring bells at noon, which is how women celebrated 100 years ago. Because of the pandemic, formal celebrations will be held virtually.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI