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'Education Is The Answer': Lessons From The Daughter Of A Suffragette

Audrey Nowakowski
(L to R) Joan Robertson (daughter of suffragette Annette Roberts) with her daughter Annette Roberston in Joan's home.

Recently on Lake Effect we learned about the role monied women played in advancing the women’s movement from 1870 through the 1960s. The Power of Philanthropy event hosted by the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee Thursday will be honoring local philanthropists for their work in the community – and Joan Robertson will be among them.

READ: 'Funding Feminism' Examines How Philanthropy Advanced The Women's Movement

Robertson was born just before the 19th Amendment was ratified and is the daughter of Annette Roberts, an outspoken pacifist and suffragette who worked toward world peace and diplomacy up until her death at age 102.

"[My mother] marched with Jane Addams down in Chicago when [Addams] was leading the women's suffrage there," recalls Robertson, "and then she joined [Addams] when she lead the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom."

Even though her mother was very active in social movements, her father was a very conservative man who generally disapproved of her involvement according to Robertson. Despite this, the family would always discuss civic affairs and "[my mother] was able to hold her own and keep the family going very nicely. There never was any real rupture," she says.

Robertson herself is now 102 and still does the work about which her mother was so passionate — through the Annette J. Roberts and Joan R. Robertson Fund for World Peace, World Law and Peace Education. Tomorrow’s event honors Robertson’s legacy as a philanthropist here. Among other work, she helped establish Model U.N. programs in local schools.

Roberston says that her mother instilled a "deep sense of obligation" not only toward the disadvantaged in the United States, but all over the world.

"Education is really the big answer, the first primary answer," says Robertson. "And the more education people get the more they're going to realize their [civic] responsibility — women especially."

Lake Effect’s Audrey Nowakowski traveled to Robertson’s home to talk about her mother, why she continues to advocate for women’s equity and global diplomacy, and what she thinks about the progress being made and hindered in America:

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.