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Wisconsin Was The First State To Ratify The 19th Amendment But Not All Women Got Voting Rights

Library of Congress
Women, representing the states of Wisconsin and Oregon, and delegations from Womans' clubs assemble in first national suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. in 1913.

It’s been 100 years since women in the U.S. gained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. And Wisconsin led the way: it was the first state to ratify the amendment.

On Monday, elected officials, prominent Wisconsinites and members of the public gathered at the State Capitol building to celebrate. While many took the opportunity to praise the state and the historical significance of what happened on June 10, 1919, others pointed out that the suffrage movement and women winning the right to vote did not apply to all women.

Here's a quick civics lesson:

  • The 19th Amendment passed the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919.
  • U.S. Senators passed the legislation on June 4, 1919.
  • From there, it had to be ratified by individual states and 36 out of the 48 states at the time had to agree. Of those state lawmakers, three wanted to be the first to ratify: Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is the executive director of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Celebration. She says that in the end, the real fight came down to Illinois and Wisconsin. She says Wisconsin prevailed.
“It has been 100 years since the women of America looked to Wisconsin, our great state, number one in liberty knowing that we were first to ratify the 19th Amendment,” Kleefisch says.

All Wisconsinites should be proud, Kleefisch says.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley also spoke, urging the people of Wisconsin to vote.

“Our democracy depends upon an engaged citizenry. And at the heart of that, fundamental to that is the right to vote,” Walsh Bradley says.

Credit Public Domain / Wikimedia
Activist and journalist Ida B. Wells circa 1893.

But the 19th Amendment did not give all women the right to vote. And state Rep. Sheila Stubbs, D-Madison, says we shouldn't lie to ourselves.

"The women’s suffrage movement at the time was controlled by white women at the expense of marginalizing the women of color. In fact, during the women’s suffrage march of 1913 that occurred six years prior to Wisconsin ratifying the 19th Amendment, the great activist and journalist Ida B. Wells was asked to join a separate colored group of suffragist at the back of the procession,” Stubbs says.

Black women did not gain the right to vote until the 1960s. Stubbs says despite those wrongs, today, black women make up one of the largest voting blocks in the U.S.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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