Wisconsin's Muddled Past With Women's Suffrage Unfolds In 'Journal Sentinel' Series

May 16, 2019

This year is the centennial anniversary of the U.S. Congress passing the 19th amendment. Although women would not officially get the right to vote until a year later, states began to ratify the amendment in 1919.

League of Women Voters poster from the Adele Goodman Clark Papers, M 9 Box 233 f7, Special Collections and Archives
Credit VCU Libraries / Flickr

The first state to ratify the amendment was none other than Wisconsin. But the state’s own history with women’s voting rights is a bit complicated.

"Wisconsin probably should've been one of the last states to ratify the vote, given our history," says Meg Jones, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has been working on a series about the women's suffrage movement in the state.

There were many forces at play in Wisconsin's suffrage movement, including many women who were out-spoken proponents of women's suffrage. While they would make some inroads, convincing a few legislators to take up the cause, their efforts were continually stymied by male politicians or male voters.

Wisconsin's business and cultural interests also played a major role in denying women the right to vote, according to Nancy Stohs, the editor and driving force of the series.

"One reason Wisconsin was so opposed to women's suffrage is because a lot of the suffragists were also ... part of the temperance movement. And with all the German beer drinkers, brewers in the state, the Tavern League — they were very much against that," Stohs explains.

The Journal Sentinel will also be holding a storytelling event to accompany the series. The event titled “Women and Power” will be on Tuesday, June 11.