Five things to know about Wisconsin’s role in women's suffrage

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Learn more about the Wisconsin's role in the women's suffrage movement.

1. Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th amendment.

Wisconsin was the first state in the country to ratify the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. Wisconsin lawmakers passed the amendment on June 10, 1919.

Lawmakers in Washington D.C. voted to add the amendment to the constitution on May 21, 1919. To make it official, they needed at least at least three-fourths of the state to ratify, or pass the amendment.

The Wisconsin State Legislature was in session during this spring. It was a budget year. According to archivists at the Wisconsin Historical Society, when suffragists heard about the passing of the amendment in Washington, they worked quickly to get a measure on the floor to ratify the amendment.

State Lawmakers in Michigan and Illinois also voted to ratify the amendment that day, but Wisconsin was the first to file the passing with the federal government.

Lawmakers in Wisconsin made a great effort to ensure that they would become the first to certify the paperwork. When the legislation passed, lawmakers immediately sent a man to get on a train and head to Washington D.C. Archivists with the Wisconsin Historical Society say the man was not even allowed to stop at home and pack a bag. Three days later he got to Washington and officially filed the ratification with the State Department, marking Wisconsin as the first state to officially ratify the 19th Amendment.

2. Wisconsin failed to give women a right to vote in state issues… twice.

Women in Wisconsin, and around the country, had been formally fighting for the right to vote for more than 30 years before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919. Their efforts to gain the right to vote started even earlier than that.

Before the 19th Amendment, several other states had passed laws to allow women the right to vote in local and state-wide elections. Suffragists in Wisconsin tried to get similar laws in place, but it never happened.

The first attempt was in the 18000s. The legislation is passed through one round of the legislature but did not make it through the second.

In 1911, the law passed through the legislature. To make it final, the state had to hold a referendum. In 1912, the men of Wisconsin (remember, only men could vote) voted against giving women the right to vote by 63 percent.

3. The 19th Amendment did not give all women the right to vote or give them access to voting

Even though the 19th Amendment was approved by Wisconsin in 1919, it would be 45 years until all women and all eligible citizens in Wisconsin secured the right to vote.

Many poor women and women of color were still disenfranchised from voting in Wisconsin and around the country.

In 1965 lawmakers in Washington passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This prevented states from putting laws into place that would prevent eligible citizens from registering to vote or participating in elections based on race or gender.

4. Why the yellow sashes and tunics?

There were many symbols of the women’s suffrage movement and many were intended to spread a message of unity and support.

One of those symbols is the color yellow. Wisconsin suffragists wore yellow tunics with the state’s name when they would travel to Washington to advocate for women’s right to vote.

According to archivists at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the sunflower became a symbol of the movement. The symbol originated in Kansas but spread to other movements across the country.

Many suffragists wore white as a symbol of solidarity for the movement. Today some women still wear white as a symbol for women’s rights.

To celebrate the 100th year of Wisconsin ratifying the 19th Amendment, American Girl Doll released a doll wearing a Wisconsin suffrage tunic, modeled after one wore by a notable activist, Theodora Youmans.

5. Wisconsin women of the movement

Archivists at the Wisconsin Historical Society say most women participating in the women’s suffrage movement were affluent, white women who already had a voice in the public. Here are a few of them:

Theodora Youmans: She is one of the first women to become a journalist in the state of Wisconsin. Theodora is originally from Dodge County, Wisconsin and after attending Carroll College, started working as a journalist and columnist for the Waukesha Daily Freeman. In 1913, she became editor for ‘The Woman Citizen,’ the magazine for the Women’s Suffrage Association. When Wisconsin ratified the 19th Amendment in 1919, she marched in the victory parade in New York City.

Olympia Brown: she became the first woman in America to enter the ministry of an organized church in 1863. In 1866, she met famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony at a convention and started turning her attention to the cause. In 1878 she moved to Racine, Wisconsin to preach at Good Shepard Church. She would also preach at churches in Mukwonago, Neenah and Columbus. From 1887 to 1912 she was the president of the Wisconsin Woman’s Suffrage Association.

Ada James: Originally from Richland Center, Ada was an active suffragist, social worker and reformer. She was a school teacher for several years after graduating high school but soon became active in the suffrage movement. Both of her parents were already involved in that movement. In 1911 she became president of the Political Equality League which eventually merged with the Wisconsin Women’s Suffrage Association. After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, she was active in many reform movements of the 1920s including the advocacy for birth control.