These profiles were provided courtesy of the Wisconsin Women Making History, a partnership of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Wisconsin Humanities Council, Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Media Lab, the University of Wisconsin Women's Studies Consortium and the UW Gender and Women's Studies Library.
Ho-poe-kaw Glory Of The Morning (1700s)
Ho-poe-kaw, which translates to "Glory of the Morning," was a Ho-Chunk chief in the 1700s.
The Ho-Chunk were some of the first people known to live in Wisconsin. Ho-poe-kaw was the first individual woman ever documented in a historical record — one written by an English traveler in 1766 — although previous travelers through the area had mentioned Native women generally in their accounts. According to oral history, Ho-poe-kaw was the daughter of a powerful Ho-Chunk chief. Around 1727, she was selected to succeed him and lead the largest Ho-Chunk village, which was east of Lake Winnebago near modern-day Neenah. A year later, she married a French officer named Sabrevoir Descaris, who was in Wisconsin fighting in the Fox War. He resigned his commission with the French army and lived as a fur trader.
Under Ho-poe-kaw's leadership, the Ho-Chunk sided with the French against the Meskwaki in several battles during the Fox War. Ho-poe-kaw's husband left with their daughter after several years and enlisted in the French army against the British over Canadian territory, and he died in battle. Ho-poe-kaw stayed in her tribal land with her two sons and led her people for about forty years. Although her daughter never returned, both of Ho-poe-kaw's sons succeeded her as chief during the turbulent times of the Ho-Chunk's forced relocation from Wisconsin by the U.S. government. Ho-poe-kaw's descendants, known as the Decorahs (an alternate spelling of their paternal last name), became one of the most prominent Ho-Chunk families and served as diplomats in treaty agreements with the U.S.
Electa Quinney (1798-1885)
City: Kaukauna, Stockbridge
County: Outagamie, Calumet
Electa "Wuhwehweeheemeew" Quinney was Wisconsin's first public schoolteacher.
Quinney was a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. She grew up in New York with a passion for education, attending some of the best boarding schools in the area. She moved to the Kaukauna area of Wisconsin during the mass removal and migration of native peoples from New York in 1827. A year after arriving, Quinney opened a school — the first one in Wisconsin that did not charge an enrollment fee. She taught both Native and white children, many who could not have attended school if there had been a fee, and had forty to fifty children in her class at a time. She moved to Missouri for a time because of her husband's work, but after his death, she moved back to Stockbridge, Wisconsin, and lived there until her death in 1885.
Elizabeth Baird (1810-1890)
City: Green Bay, Prairie du Chien
County: Brown, Crawford
Elizabeth Baird's newspaper stories about the developing Green Bay area in the 1800s were among the earliest written accounts of life in Wisconsin.
Baird was born Elizabeth Fisher in Prairie du Chien, nearly 40 years before Wisconsin became a state. Her aunt and her grandmother were successful fur traders, and her grandmother was a descendant of an Odawa chief. In 1812, when she was two, she moved to Mackinac Island (Michigan) with her mother, who opened a school there for fur traders' daughters. There, at the young age of 14, Baird met and married her husband, a lawyer, and the couple moved to a developing area in the Wisconsin Territory known as Green Bay. Her husband was the area's first practicing lawyer. Baird, who spoke fluent French and Odawa, taught herself English to communicate with her new neighbors in the growing settlement of Green Bay. She learned quickly and eventually became a translator at her husband's law office. She also began to write about life in the Green Bay area. In 1832, the Bairds moved to a farm, and Elizabeth took over its management and raised their four daughters. When the federal government began selling deeds in the Green Bay area, the resulting work in her husband's law office increased so much that Baird stepped in to be the recorder of deeds. After the 1871 Peshtigo fire in northern Wisconsin, people from all over the country sent relief supplies, and she distributed them to the town's survivors.
Baird's writings about her childhood, the development of Green Bay, and the nearby Ho-Chunk and Menominee Indians were originally published as articles in the Green Bay State Gazette and later edited for Wisconsin Historical Collections. She lived in Green Bay until her death in 1890.
Caroline Quarlls (1824-1892)
City: Milwaukee, Pewaukee, Waukesha, Spring Prairie, and Burlington
County: Milwaukee, Racine, Walworth, Waukesha
At age 16, Caroline Quarlls was the first known person to escape slavery through Wisconsin's Underground Railroad network.
Quarlls was enslaved by her grandfather on her father's side and worked as his housemaid in St. Louis, Missouri. Even though she looked like her white half-brothers and half-sisters, Quarlls was not allowed the same freedoms. On July 4, 1842, she was able to escape by passing as a white girl, taking a steamboat to Alton, Illinois, where she began a five-week journey to freedom.
Her owner paid lawyers to bring her back, and bounty hunters pursued Quarlls through Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, but abolitionists of all colors gave her food, clothing, shelter, and transportation until she crossed into the safety of Canada. She met and married another freed slave, Allen Watkins, and together they raised six children in Sandwich (now Windsor), Ontario, Canada.
Laura Ross Wolcott (1834-1915)
Laura Ross Wolcott was the first woman physician in Wisconsin and was active in the women's suffrage movement.
Wolcott was born in Maine in 1826. She graduated from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1856 — the third woman in the U.S. to earn a medical degree. She then moved to Milwaukee in 1857, but was denied admittance to the Medical Society of Milwaukee County because she was a woman. In 1867 she went to Paris, where she sat in on lectures at the Sorbonne and worked in a hospital.
After Wolcott returned to Milwaukee from Paris, she was eventually admitted to the Milwaukee County Medical Society, thanks in part to the influence of an older doctor, Erastus Wolcott, whom she then married. She is said to have been the first "bonafide" woman graduate of a medical school to practice medicine in Wisconsin. She was also active in the women's rights movement. She organized important women's suffrage meetings, in Milwaukee and Madison, at which Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Mary A. Livermore spoke.
Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880)
Lavinia Goodell was the first female lawyer admitted to the bar of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Goodell, born Rhoda Lavinia Goodell, was the daughter of a prominent abolitionist family in New York. While in high school &mdash a decade before women were admitted to law school or the bar in the U.S. &mdash she expressed interest in studying law. Goodell was active in the abolitionist and temperance movements as a young woman, and in 1867 she became an editorial writer for HARPER'S magazine. At the age of 32, she moved with her family to Janesville, Wisconsin. After being denied an apprecenticeship at several Janesville law firms because she was a woman, Goodell was hired as a copyist at the firm of Jackson and Norcross, where she taught herself law by reading volumes in the office library. After less than two years of study, she applied to the Rock County bar and was admitted in 1874. In Goodell's first court cases, she represented a group of temperance women who prosecuted two liquor dealers for illegally selling liquor on Sundays. She won both cases.
Many of Goodell's clients continued to be women. When one case required her to appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the question of whether or not to allow a female lawyer to argue in front of the highest court in the state was considered. (Had she been a man, she would have automatically been admitted.) Goodell wrote her petition for admission, and a male attorney presented it on her behalf, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied it. She then turned to the state legislature and, in 1877, successfully lobbied for passage of a law prohibiting discrimination in the practice of law because of sex. She reapplied to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1879, and this time she was admitted to the bar. Although Goodell died less than one year later, she had successfully paved the way for countless women to practice law in Wisconsin.
Janet Jennings (1842-1917)
Janet Jennings, a news reporter, became known as "the Angel of the Seneca" for her heroic nursing work during the Spanish-American War.
Jennings was one of twelve children raised on a farm outside of Monroe. As a young woman, although she had never trained as a nurse, she went to Washington, D.C., during the Civil War as a volunteer to help care for wounded soldiers. Years later, she became a respected journalist and even published two books, including ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE GREATEST AMERICAN.
After the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Jennings travelled to Cuba along with the Red Cross, hoping to cover the conflict as a reporter, but ended up stepping in to fill a desperate need for medical help. She cared for ill and wounded soldiers in a poorly equipped, understaffed Army hospital, and then volunteered as the only nurse on the ship Seneca, which evacuated "the worst of the wounded" back to the U.S. to make room in the hospital in Cuba for new casualties. The ship had only two inexperienced doctors and hardly any medical supplies, and the harrowing trip to New York, with limited water, bad weather, and numerous soldiers and other passengers wounded and sick with fever, took longer than expected. Officers and passengers on the ship signed a testimonial letter thanking Jennings for her heroic efforts, and she became known as "the Angel of the Seneca." In the months following the ship's arrival in New York, Jennings gave interviews to newspapers, spoke to audiences in Wisconsin, and even testified before a presidential commission about the conditions she had witnessed and experienced.
Betsy Thunder (1850s-1912)
City: Black River Falls
Betsy Thunder was a respected Ho-Chunk medicine woman known for her skill in making remedies from roots and plants.
Thunder was born near Black River Falls in the 1850s, although her exact birth year is unknown. She was a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, also called the Winnebago Sky Clan. She was a descendant of the Decorah family, whose founding mother was Ho-Chunk chief Ho-poe-kaw (Glory of the Morning). Thunder married a medicine man who was much older than she was. He taught her how to collect, prepare, and administer traditional and ceremonial medicine, and hoped that she would pass the knowledge and skills on to the next generation after his death.
Thunder became well known in the area for her skill with medicine. She treated both Ho-Chunk and white patients, despite knowing little English. As was the custom for Ho-Chunk healers, Thunder received gifts of clothing, food, or blankets as payment for her work. One of her patients gave her lumber to build a small cabin in the town of Shamrock, and the people of the town built the cabin in appreciation. In the early 1900s, the U.S. government ordered Thunder's tribe to be moved from Wisconsin to Nebraska, but she refused to leave her ancestral land. Thunder hid in the hills of Jackson County and remained in Wisconsin until her death.
Bertha Reynolds (1868-1961)
City: Lome Rock, Avoca, Thiensville
County: Iowa, Ozaukee
Bertha Reynolds, known as "Dr. Bertha," was one of the first women to be licensed as a doctor in the state.
Reynolds was born and raised on a farm in Thiensville. Her family moved to Nebraska in 1892; she trained as a teacher at the Lincoln Normal School and then taught school for a short time, but her real dream was to follow in the footsteps of nine other people in her family and become a doctor. She was discouraged from pursuing such a career, both by family members and at the University of Nebraska; but finally, in 1898, at the age of 30, she was able to enroll in the Woman's Hospital Medical College of Chicago. She earned her M.D. degree in 1901.
After she graduated from medical school, Reynolds came back to Wisconsin and joined her brother Nelson in a medical practice in Lone Rock. After he moved away, she was the only doctor serving in that rural area, getting around by boat and horseback as well as by car. In 1923, when the Wisconsin River was flooding and impossible to cross, she even got aviator Charles Lindbergh to fly her across the river to reach patients in need. Reynolds, who was known as "Dr. Bertha," practiced medicine about 20 years before Dr. Kate Pelham Newcomb, a more well-known pioneering Wisconsin physician. Although Reynolds tried to retire in 1940, in the town of Avoca, she ended up practicing medicine again when Avoca's only doctor left to serve in World War II. She retired again in 1953, and died in 1961.
Helen Farnsworth Mears (1872-1916)
Helen Farnsworth Mears's statue of Frances Willard was the first sculpture of a woman to be placed in National Statuary Hall.
Mears was a self-taught sculptor. Born in Oshkosh, she learned anatomy from her father and used the family woodshed as a studio. She won her first award at the age of nine, at the Winnebago County Fair, for a bust of the god Apollo. Mears studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and, at age 21, received her first commission from the State of Wisconsin to create a heroic figure for the Chicago World's Fair. She sculpted a woman on a winged eagle and titled it "The Genius Of Wisconsin." Mears went on to assist famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, working with him in New York, Paris, and Italy.
Her most famous commission is the statue of suffragist and temperance reformer Frances Willard; this piece was the first sculpture of a woman to be placed in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Her other famous works include a bust of Saint-Gaudens and a bas relief of composer and pianist Edward Alexander MacDowell. But even though she was one of the most well-known sculptors of her era and was acclaimed for her skill in bas relief and monumental sculptures, Mears died destitute at the age of 43.
Olympia Brown (1835-1926)
Olympia Brown was the first woman to be ordained a minister in the U.S. and was president of Wisconsin's Woman Suffrage Association for 28 years.
Brown was born in a log cabin in Prairie Ronde, Michigan. After being educated locally, she began teaching school at age 15, then searched for a college that would admit her. Refused entrance to the University of Michigan because she was a woman, she attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts for a year, and went on to receive her bachelor's degree from Antioch College in Ohio in 1860. She then searched for a divinity school to accept her and was admitted to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. Brown was among the first women to graduate from college in the U.S., and she became the first woman minister in the U.S. in 1863 when she was ordained in the Universalist Church.
Brown held pastorates in several cities before arriving at Church of the Good Shepherd in Racine, Wisconsin, a position she left in 1887 to focus on working for women's suffrage. She served as president of Wisconsin's Woman Suffrage Association from 1884 to 1912. She campaigned across the country to amend state constitutions to allow women the right to vote, but soon grew frustrated at the slow progress of state-by-state change and began working with a group of suffragists on passing a federal constitutional amendment to grant voting rights to all women in the country. Brown was among the 1000 women who marched on Washington to call on President Woodrow Wilson to take action. She lived to see the 19th Amendment pass in 1920.
Lutie Eugenia Stearns (1866-1943)
City: Madison, Milwaukee
County: Dane, Milwaukee
Lutie Stearns, "the Johnny Appleseed of books," started free libraries all over Wisconsin and was an outspoken advocate for social justice.
Lutie Eugenia Stearns, the youngest of eleven children, was born in Massachusetts in 1866, but moved with her family a few years later to the Milwaukee area in Wisconsin. Although she had a stuttering problem that made her early school years difficult, she eventually succeeded and became a teacher herself. There were hardly any books for students at her first teaching job, so Stearns brought baskets full of books from the public library to her classroom every week.
In a speech to the American Library Association in 1894, Stearns argued that children under age 12 should be able to check out books from libraries — something not usually allowed in those times. Even though she had trouble speaking because of her stutter, she received a standing ovation when she finished.
Stearns is best known for helping found the Wisconsin Free Library Commission and running its Department of Traveling Libraries. From 1895 to 1914, she traveled around Wisconsin, bringing about 1,400 portable libraries to Wisconsin communities where books were scarce, and helping to start many permanent libraries as well. In later years, Stearns was known as a champion of world peace, women's equality, and other Progressive causes. She traveled and lectured in many states, was a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and even saw the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact in 1928. From 1932 until 1935, she wrote a column called "As a Woman Sees It" for the Milwaukee Journal.
Stearns died in 1943. She was inducted into the American Library Association's Library Hall of Fame in 1951 and was among the first honorees in the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2008.
Dorothy Walker (1899-1983)
Trial lawyer Dorothy Walker was the first female district attorney in Wisconsin.
Walker graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1921 — the only woman in her class — and began working with the Portage law firm of Grady and Farnsworth, where she became a partner before long. At the age of 23, she was elected district attorney, or prosecutor, for Columbia County — the first woman in Wisconsin to hold such a position.
After serving part-time as district attorney for two terms, Walker devoted herself full-time to private practice, and in 1938 she opened her own firm. She earned a reputation in the legal community for the care with which she prepared cases on behalf of her clients. She served on the Special Committee on Women Lawyers and assisted, along with 100 other women, in planning Wisconsin's Centennial Celebration. In 1974, Walker became the first woman to receive the Distinguished Alumni Faculty Award from the University of Wisconsin Law School Alumni Association. She continued practicing law right up until her death at age 84.
Ada Lois James (1876-1952)
City: Richland Center
Ada Lois James was a social worker, reformer and suffragist active in politics throughout her life.
James graduated high school in 1894 and taught school for several years. Both her parents were active in the women's suffrage movement. Ada soon became involved in the movement as well.
In 1911 she became president of the newly formed Political Equality League. She held the office until 1913 when the league combined with the Wisconsin Woman's Suffrage Association, led by Mrs. Henry Youmans. Ada Lois James was active in many of the reform movements of the 1920s, including pacifism, birth control advocacy and prohibition.
In 1922, she became vice-chairman of the Republican state central committee. In 1923, she was elected president of the Wisconsin Woman's Progressive Association. James left the organization when Robert M. La Follette insisted on supporting Governor John J. Blaine. During the 1920s, Miss James was involved in a series of slander suits with Levi H. Bancroft due to her support for S. E. Smalley for the Republican nomination as a Wisconsin circuit court judge.
Active in social work, she administered the David G. James Memorial Fund established in 1922 for the relief of needy families in Richland County. She was chairman of the county children's board for many years.
Helen C. White (1896-1967)
Helen C. White was the first woman to hold a full professorship in the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
White, born in Connecticut in 1896, was already reading by the time she started school in 1902. She graduated from Girls High School in Boston, Massachusetts, and went on to Radcliffe College, where she achieved membership in Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude in just 3 years.
In 1919, White became an English instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she taught both advanced composition and Shakespeare. A year later she delivered her first major essay on the English poet Blake to the Modern Language Association. She completed her Ph.D. in 1924 (her dissertation was also about Blake's poetry), and by 1936 she had advanced from assistant professor to full professor in the UW-Madison's College of Letters and Science; she was the first woman to do so. In addition to teaching, White authored books — including novels — and mentored graduate students. In 1955 she became the first woman to chair the Department of English at the UW-Madison. She also served as president of the American Association of University Women for three terms and was the first woman president of the American Association of University Professors. The building that houses the undergraduate library on the UW-Madison campus is named after her.
Orine Niedecker (1903-1970)
City: Fort Atkinson
Lorine Niedecker, an important 20th century poet, was highly regarded for the poems she wrote about her Wisconsin surroundings.
Niedecker was born on Blackhawk Island in Rock River, and attended school in nearby Fort Atkinson, where a high-school English teacher inspired her interest in poetry. She graduated in 1922 and then attended Beloit College, where she joined debate and poetry clubs. In 1924, she left college to care for her ailing mother.
After Niedecker married, she worked at a local library. But the Great Depression brought financial hardship to the couple, and neither the marriage nor the library job lasted. Niedecker's early poems were about dreams and the subconscious. A friendship with New York poet Louis Zukofsky developed her interest in poetic objectivism, in which the attention is on an object rather than on one's feelings. Blackhawk Island was the inspiration for much of her poetry, which she wrote outside of her job with the Federal Writers Project, where she researched state biographies and wrote for radio station WHA. Later she worked as a proofreader for the publication HOARD'S DAIRYMAN and as a cleaner at a local hospital. In 1946, Niedecker's poetry collection NEW GOOSE was published. She published three more books in her lifetime — MY FRIEND TREE, NORTH CENTRAL, and T&G — and her poems appeared in many literary magazines. After her death, her reputation continued to grow and her poetry received international recognition. Critics have called her the Emily Dickinson of the 20th century.
Frances Hamerstrom (1907-1998)
City: Plainfield, Madison
County: Waushara, Dane
Frances Hamerstrom, an ornithologist who helped save the prairie chicken population in Wisconsin, was the first woman in the U.S. to earn a master's degree in wildlife management.
Hamerstrom, born Frances Flint in 1907, grew up in a wealthy family near Boston, Massachusetts. She demonstrated an interest in wildlife from a very young age, when, as she later wrote, "grownups forbade wild pets and tried to squelch my companionship with creepy crawly creatures." Although she flunked out of Smith College because of her interest in "birds and boys," she graduated from Iowa State College in 1935 with a bachelor's degree in biology and then studied under famous conservationist Aldo Leopold at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where in 1940 she became the first woman to earn a master's degree in the young field of wildlife management.
Hamerstrom and her husband Frederick, also a wildlife biologist, helped to stabilize Wisconsin's prairie chicken population after much of that bird's habitat was destroyed by farming and other development. In 1949 she became the second woman to work as a wildlife professional in Wisconsin. From then until 1972, she was the assistant project leader of the Prairie Grouse Management Research Unit for the Conservation Department (now called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). After that, she researched raptors (hawks, eagles, and owls), directed the Raptor Research Foundation, and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She and her husband received many awards, including the National Wildlife Federation's Special Achievement Award in 1970, and were inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1996. Hamerstrom remained active as a scientist and writer until her death at age 90. In her 60-year career, she published many scientific articles and wrote many books, including Birds Of Prey Of Wisconsin (1972), the children's book Walk When The Moon Is Full (1975), and The Wild Food Cookbook (1989).
Mildred Barber (1902-1976)
City: Greenwood, Stevens Point
County: Clark, Marathon
Mildred Barber was one of the first three women elected to the Wisconsin Legislature.
Barber was born in Greenwood in 1902 and attended public school in Marathon. She earned a teaching degree at the Stevens Point Normal School and taught in Marathon County for two years.
Barber was the first Wisconsin woman to attend a political convention as a delegate, and she was elected secretary of the Republican platform convention in 1924. That year she also ran for the Wisconsin State Assembly on a progressive liberal platform, and won. She credited her victory to her opponent's Prohibitionist stance, which was not popular in Marathon County at the time. Just a few years after women had earned the right to vote, Barber (age 23), Helen Brooks, and Helen Thompson were the first women elected to the Wisconsin Legislature. At that time Barber's father was an elected member of the Wisconsin State Senate, and they became the first father-and-daughter pair in the history of the U.S. to serve together in a state legislature. As a representative to the Wisconsin State Assembly, Barber proposed an amendment to a state eugenics law that would include women in mandatory medical examinations aimed to determine if an individual was "suitable" to have children. She also served on a committee that inspected state prisons. After her time in office, she worked in Wisconsin as a schoolteacher.
Helen Connor Laird (1888-1982)
City: Grand Rapids
Community leader Helen Connor Laird was the inspiration for the Laird Endowment Fund for the Arts in central Wisconsin.
Laird, born Helen Connor, spent most of her life in central and northern Wisconsin, where her family owned a successful lumber business. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1912 and married her husband, Melvin, the following year. Their third son, named for his father, would become the U.S. secretary of defense in 1969. Helen, an active clubwoman, helped found the Wood County Republican Woman's Club in the 1940s. She also supported the Council on Foreign Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She was the first woman president of the Marshfield Board of Education, and in 1951 she became a member of the University of Wisconsin's Board of Regents, where she chaired the education committee.
Laird had two passions: education and the arts. Both of these areas continue to be served today by the Laird Endowment Fund for the Arts, which has distributed more than $1 million in support of the fine arts in central Wisconsin, including funds to build both a theater and a fine arts institution on the UW-Marshfield campus. Laird's daughter-in-law, also named Helen, wrote a biography titled A MIND OF HER OWN about the Laird family and its matriarch.
Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)
The first book in author Laura Ingalls Wilder's popular LITTLE HOUSE series is about Wilder's childhood in Wisconsin.
Wilder, born Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, was born in Pepin in 1867. The Ingalls family moved to Kansas in 1869, but returned to Pepin two years later. In 1874 the family began moving again — first to Minnesota, then to Iowa, back to Minnesota, and finally to South Dakota, where they settled. Because her family struggled to make ends meet, Wilder worked as a seamstress while still very young. In 1882, at the age of 15, she earned her teaching certificate and started teaching school in a small town near her family's home. She met her husband there; they married in 1885 and had a daughter, Rose, the following year.
The young Wilder family moved several times before settling on a farm in Missouri. Wilder worked on the farm and was also secretary-treasurer of the Mansfield Farm Loan Association. She later wrote columns for the MISSOURI RURALIST, MCCALL'S MAGAZINE, and other publications. Daughter Rose became an accomplished writer and encouraged her mother to write books as well. Wilder wrote her first book at the age of 65 — LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, based on her early childhood in Pepin. Her third book, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, was based on her family's years in Kansas; it became the inspiration for a television series of the same name. Wilder published a total of nine books in her series about her pioneer childhood, and eight of them became Newberry Honor books. More than 60 million copies of the LITTLE HOUSE books have been sold, and the series has been translated into more than 25 languages.
Kate Newcomb (1885-1956)
City: Boulder Junction, Woodruff
County: Vilas, Oneida
Dr. Kate Pelham Newcomb, also known as the "Angel on Snowshoes," was a popular physician in Northern Wisconsin who provided health care where few medical services were available.
Newcomb, born Kate Pelham in Kansas, grew up in Buffalo, New York. Her mother died when Kate was very young; later on, when a high-school friend also died, she told her father that she wanted to be a doctor. He said no, so she became a teacher, but then she gave that up, too, to help her father after his second wife died. Newcomb eventually convinced her father to let her go to medical school at the University of Buffalo. After earning her M.D. in 1917, she moved to Detroit for an internship at the women's hospital, working in a section dedicated to unwed mothers. She met and married her husband and eventually moved with him to his hometown of Boulder Junction, outside Eagle River, Wisconsin.
Newcomb stopped practicing medicine for a few years after her firstborn son died in infancy. However, when her town's need for medical services became too great, she began traveling — often on snowshoes, by canoe, or by snowmobile — to treat patients in the area, and eventually she also set up an office in the town of Woodruff. She was the only physician serving a town of 7000 and its surrounding communities in Northern Wisconsin. She delivered more than 3000 babies in her career and never lost a mother. She also helped to improve the town's health conditions by cleaning up the water supply and starting vaccination programs. As she got older, traveling to patients in the harsh weather became more difficult, and she set out to build a hospital. Thanks to donations from patients and community members, construction on the hospital began, but the money ran out before the building could be completed, until students from a local geometry class got involved. They launched a "million penny parade" to raise an additional $10,000 toward construction, and even got Newcomb an appearance on a TV show called "This Is Your Life," which raised more than $100,000 from donors all over the country. Newcomb's Lakeland Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1954. She died two years later, having achieved her dream.
Zona Gale (1874-1938)
In 1921, American author and playwright Zona Gale became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for the play MISS LULU BETT.
Born in Portage, Gale started to identify as a writer at the early age of 7, when she wrote her first book. She tried to get a novel published when she was 13, but editors rejected the manuscript. Gale was determined to succeed, though, and studied at the UW-Madison, where she took classes in literature and wrote poetry in her spare time. After graduating in 1895, she became one of the first female newspaper reporters in Milwaukee. Education remained important to Gale, and she received her master's degree, also from the UW-Madison, in 1901. She then moved to New York, where she worked as a reporter for the EVENING WORLD, although her assignments were usually to write about social events.
Gale returned to Portage, where she would live for the rest of her life. Her first published novel, ROMANCE ISLAND, in 1906, was a financial success, but literary critics of the time did not like it. Two years later she published FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE, a collection of stories about the idyllic town life of Portage. By the 1920s, Gale's writing showed a new sense of realism. In 1920 she published the popular novel MISS LULU BETT, which was about family dynamics and the role of women. MISS LULU BETT was made into a stage play, and in 1921 Gale won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama because of it. Gale kept writing throughout her life and also continued to work on progressive social and political issues, especially women's rights. She helped write the Wisconsin Equal Rights Law (1921), which prohibited discrimination against women.
Arrie Chapman Catt (1858-1947)
County: Fond du Lac
Women's suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt was very important in getting the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed.
Catt was born Carrie Clinton Lane in Ripon. In 1880, she graduated from Iowa Agriculture College, where she was the only woman in her class. Catt worked as a law clerk, a teacher, and eventually a school principal. She married and became co-editor of her husband's newspaper, THE REPUBLICAN, where she wrote a weekly feature called "Woman's World," which discussed the issue of women's suffrage, or right to vote. Catt began working for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890, and was soon asked by Susan B. Anthony to speak to Congress about the proposed suffrage amendment. In 1900 she was elected president of NAWSA; she served from 1900 to 1904 and then again from 1915 to 1920. Catt also helped organize the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and traveled to other countries to promote equal voting rights worldwide.
Catt's writing and speaking for NAWSA built her reputation as a leading suffragist. People also thought of her as a brilliant strategist because of the "Winning Plan" she developed to win suffrage for American women. On August 26, 1920, Catt was rewarded for her relentless hard work when the 19th Amendment was officially added to the U.S. Constitution, granting women in the United States the right to vote. After this victory, Catt stepped down as NAWSA's president and founded the League of Women Voters.
Mildred Fish-Harnack (1902-1943)
Mildred Fish-Harnack was the only American woman to die by Adolf Hitler's direct order for spying on Germany during World War II.
Mildred Fish was born in Milwaukee in 1902. She studied and then taught English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she also met a German student named Arvid Harnack. When the couple married in 1926, Mildred chose to hyphenate her last name (as Fish-Harnack), because she was a progressive woman and proud of her name. A few years later, she and Arvid both moved to Germany, where she taught and also worked on her doctorate while he worked for the German government. During this time Fish-Harnack became interested in the Soviet Union, where women could choose where to work and also had other rights that women in the U.S. did not have.
During the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime, Fish-Harnack and her husband joined a small resistance group, which the Nazi secret police — or Gestapo — would later call the Red Orchestra. The group smuggled important secrets about the Nazis to the U.S. and Soviet governments and helped Jews escape from Germany. Their espionage cost them their lives. Fish-Harnack's husband was hanged in December 1942, and in February 1943 she was executed as well. Fish-Harnack was the only American woman ever put to death on the direct order of Adolf Hitler for her involvement in the resistance movement. Her last words were, "And I have loved Germany so much."
In the Cold War years after World War II, Fish-Harnack's name and legacy were not honored in the U.S., because she and her husband were believed to have been connected with Communism. That eventually changed, however, and in 1986, Mildred Fish-Harnack Day was established in Wisconsin. It takes place every year on her birthday, September 16th.
Jessie Jack Hooper (1864-1935)
Jessie Jack Hooper, a suffragist, was president of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters and also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1922.
Hooper was born on a farm in Iowa, but lived most of her life in Oshkosh. A local leader in school reform and public health, she joined the women's suffrage movement in the 1910s and dedicated her life to the movement as a speaker, a Democratic Party leader, and an advocate for peace.
After the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave U.S. women the right to vote, Hooper became the first president of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters and led the organization's lobbying efforts. In 1922, she was selected by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to run as their candidate for the U.S. Senate against popular incumbent Robert La Follette, Sr. Although she was defeated, she won a remarkable 16 percent of the vote. Hooper chaired the League's Indian Affairs Committee and was an advocate for Native Americans and for the Menominee Tribe in particular. She was also a member of the League's Committee for International Cooperation to Prevent War, which advocated for world peace. In 1932, Hooper traveled to the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, to present a petition, signed by a million Americans, calling for the reduction of deadly weapons after World War I. She continued the campaign for world peace until she was diagnosed with cancer in 1934.
Belle Case La Follette (1859-1931)
City: Summit, Baraboo, Madison
County: Waukesha, Sauk, Dane
Belle Case La Follette was the first woman to graduate from law school in Wisconsin and an outspoken advocate for women's right to vote.
Born Belle Case in Summit, La Follette moved with her family to a farm in Baraboo, where she grew up. At age 16 she started attending the UW-Madison, where she met her husband, Robert. Already a skilled orator, she delivered a prize-winning commencement speech when she graduated in 1879. She then taught high school in Spring Green while her husband continued on to get his law degree. La Follette would often help her husband with court cases, and in 1883 she began taking law classes herself. In 1885 she became the first woman to earn a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
La Follette believed that women should have the right to vote, and she was a strong advocate for peace and equality. When her husband ran for Congress, governor, the U.S. Senate, and then the presidency, she helped write his speeches and manage his campaigns. She co-edited LA FOLLETTE'S WEEKLY MAGAZINE, which later became THE PROGRESSIVE, and wrote a column for it called "Home and Education." In 1915 helped found the Woman's Peace Party, which later became the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. La Follette led meetings, rallies, and parades to help teach others about living peacefully and treating individuals equally. She traveled the country speaking out for women's right to vote, which became law in 1920. When her husband died in 1925 while still in office as a U.S. senator, she was asked to take his place, but she declined, and her son Robert La Follette, Jr., filled the vacancy instead. Her other son, Phillip, later served three terms as Wisconsin's governor, and her daughter Fola was a well-known suffragette, labor activist, and actress.
Mountain Wolf Woman (1884-1960)
City: Black River Falls
Mountain Wolf Woman's autobiography was one of the earliest firsthand accounts of the experiences of a Native American woman.
Mountain Wolf Woman was born in the Ho-Chunk tribe. She was the sister of Sam Blowsnake, who told his story via an anthropologist in the book called CRASHING THUNDER: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN INDIAN. From 1893 to 1895, Mountain Wolf Woman attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs School to learn English, but then her family removed her from school to be married. As was the custom at the time, her brother chose her husband for her. She ended that marriage in divorce after the birth of her second child. Her brother then proposed another husband, Bad Soldier, and that marriage was happy. Mountain Wolf Woman and Bad Soldier had seven children together.
In 1958, Mountain Wolf Woman consented to tell the story of her life to University of Wisconsin anthropologist Nancy Lurie, a woman she had adopted as her niece thirteen years earlier. That autobiography, MOUNTAIN WOLF WOMAN, SISTER OF CRASHING THUNDER, details seventy-five years of Native American life and the role of women in native cultures, and was seen as an important contrast to her brother's book from thirty-five years earlier. In her autobiography, Mountain Wolf Woman explains how her family was displaced to Nebraska by the U.S. government and later returned to Wisconsin. She also describes her brief stay at mission school, her marriage to Bad Soldier, and her struggle to maintain her family through many hardships.
Emma Toft (1891-1982)
City: Baileys Harbor
Emma Toft is known as "Wisconsin's First Lady of Conservation" for her efforts to save an ancient forest in Door County from being destroyed by logging and commercial development.
Before Toft's birth in 1891 in Baileys Harbor, her father had purchased more than 300 acres of ancient forest that today make up Toft's Point. She grew up hiking on this family land and developed an understanding of the importance of nature to the well-being of the earth. Toft attended Oshkosh Normal School to become an English teacher and briefly studied nursing in Chicago. When her father died in 1919, she started a summer resort on the Toft's Point land with her mother, brothers, and sisters. Over the next 50 years, guests from all over the country came to enjoy the natural beauty, simple living, and delicious food at Toft's Point Resort.
Toft, affectionately referred to as "Miss Emma," spent her life fighting to protect Toft's Point from developers who wanted to use the land's natural resources or turn it into an expensive, exclusive resort. Because of her work, the ancient forest at Toft's Point remains nearly unchanged today from what it was a thousand years ago. Toft also had a lifelong friendship with fellow conservationist and famous landscape architect Jens Jensen, because of their shared goal to preserve The Ridges Sanctuary, also located in Baileys Harbor. In 1967, the Toft estate sold Toft's Point to the Wisconsin Nature Conservancy, which then turned it over to the University of Wisconsin System. The UW Green Bay now cares for the area, and students go there to conduct research.
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
City: Sun Prairie
One of the major American artists of the 20th century, Georgia O'Keeffe developed a unique approach to abstract painting that reflected the landscapes around her.
Born the second of seven children on a farm near Sun Prairie, O'Keeffe knew from an early age that she wanted to be an artist. By age 18, she had left Wisconsin and begun her art training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Not long after that, she moved to New York, where she studied at the Art Students League in 1907-1908. Although the artwork she made as a student was well received, she did not find it fulfilling, so she decided to find work as a teacher instead, and she taught at various schools and colleges in Virginia, Texas, and South Carolina until 1918. During this period, O'Keeffe produced a series of charcoal drawings that came to the attention of the famous photographer-turned-gallerist Alfred Stieglitz; he first exhibited her work in 1916. By 1918, Stieglitz had convinced her to move to New York to become a full-time painter. The two quickly developed a close relationship, and they married in 1924. Until his death in 1945, Stieglitz was a steadfast promoter of O'Keeffe's work, which was shown in over twenty solo exhibitions and numerous group installations.
While living in New York and Lake George in the 1920s, O'Keeffe produced some of her most famous paintings, which were of landscapes and flowers inspired by her lakeside surroundings. The well-known close-ups of flowers began to appear in her work in 1924, and these paintings helped establish her reputation as an innovative modern artist. But the challenges of the New York art world, a strained relationship with Stieglitz, and her boredom with Lake George put pressure on O'Keeffe's physical and emotional health by the end of the decade, so she took her first trip to New Mexico in 1929. She immediately started to paint the rugged mountains, color palate, light, and animal bones of the Southwest in her work, and those features came to mark another important phase in her career. She made New Mexico her permanent home after Stieglitz died, and she continued to paint and her fame grew during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1970 the Whitney Museum of American Art had an exhibit representing her life's work, showing that O'Keeffe was one of the most important and influential artists in the U.S. She died in 1986 at age 98.
Vernice Gallimore (1919-2004)
Vernice Gallimore became Milwaukee's first African American policewoman in 1946.
Gallimore, born Vernice Evelyn Chenault, grew up in Kentucky and attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned a master's degree in social work from Atlanta University. During World War II, Vernice met and married sailor Ulysses Gallimore, Jr., and moved to Milwaukee to be closer to her husband. In 1946, Gallimore became the first African American policewoman to serve with the Milwaukee Police Department. ""She was a force to be reckoned with in the best sense of the word,"" recalled one of Gallimore's colleagues.
After the birth of her first child in 1955, Gallimore was not allowed to continue serving as a police officer. She later became a probation officer, a role in which she visited schools to teach cultural awareness and served as a mediator between white teachers and minority students. Gallimore was an active member of the Vel Phillips YWCA and the A.M.E. Church. She was also a charter member and chairwoman of the county's Human Rights Commission.
Dickey Chapelle (1919-1965)
Dickey Chapelle was the first female American war correspondent to parachute with American troops and the first killed covering combat.
Chapelle grew up in Shorewood and graduated from high school first in her class at the age of 16. She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as one of only three women admitted to study engineering. While in college, she also wrote articles about flying and took pictures from planes. Deciding she preferred flying planes to designing them, she moved back to Wisconsin to work at a Milwaukee airfield, and later moved to Florida and took classes in photography.
Chapelle's lifelong passion for adventure and writing developed into a career as a reporter and photographer. She became one of the first female war correspondents. On assignment to cover World War II nurses, Chapelle talked her way to the front lines to photograph the famous battle on the island of Iwo Jima. Later she worked for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. She even took up parachuting in order to cover guerrilla conflicts in inhospitable terrain, and became the first female reporter to win approval from the Pentagon to jump with American troops in Vietnam. In 1965, on assignment with the Marines, Chapelle became the first American woman war correspondent to be killed covering combat in the Vietnam War.
Ruth Harman Walraven (1913-1993)
Ruth Harman Walraven was a trailblazing female pilot in the mid-20th century.
"I'm crazy about it," Walraven said in a 1931 interview when asked how she felt about flying. She became hooked on aviation while she was still in high school, after a single ride in an airplane. The aspiring pilot worked after graduation to pay for flying lessons and earned her pilot certificate in 1932, shortly before her 20th birthday. She learned aerobatics and, billed as the "Girl Flyer," performed her flying routine at air shows across the state.
By 1936, Walraven had earned both a commercial pilot license and a flight instructor certificate. She became the first woman to manage an airport in Wisconsin when she bought the Kenosha airport from the city in 1940. During World War II, Walraven was one of only fifty female instructors nationwide — and the only one in Wisconsin — to train Navy cadets in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. She owned the Kenosha airport until 1950, when her family relocated to California.
Ruth Gruber (1911-2016)
Ruth Gruber was a journalist and humanitarian known for her work documenting the lives of refugees.
Gruber was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants. At age 18, she graduated from New York University and received a fellowship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study German and English literature. She earned her M.A. in 1931 and that same year received an Institute of International Education fellowship to study in Cologne, Germany. According to the NEW YORK TIMES, Gruber was the youngest Ph.D. in the world when she graduated, magna cum laude, at age 20, having completed her doctorate in just one year.
Gruber began writing for the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE when she returned to the U.S. In 1935 she won another fellowship, this time to conduct a study of women under fascism, communism, and democracy. She traveled through Europe and was the first foreign correspondent, female or male, to visit the Soviet Arctic. After completing that study, Gruber studied the economic conditions in Alaska for the Secretary of the Interior. The HERALD TRIBUNE invited her to cover Exodus 1947, a ship that carried 4500 Jewish World War II refugees to British-controlled Palestine to seek entrance. Gruber was one of three journalists allowed on the ship, and the only one with a camera to document the voyage. She wrote books about her experiences, including I WENT TO THE SOVIET ARCTIC; HAVEN: THE UNKNOWN STORY OF 1,000 WORLD WAR II REFUGEES; and EXODUS 1947: THE SHIP THAT LAUNCHED A NATION. Gruber received five honorary doctorates, including one from the University of Wisconsin.
Gruber passed away on November 17, 2016, at the age of 105.
Angna Enters (1907-1989)
Angna Enters was a renowned dancer, producing over 200 mime compositions.
Enters, born Anita Enters in New York City, grew up in Milwaukee, graduated from North Division High School, and took classes in design and illustration at Milwaukee State Normal School. In 1922, she moved to New York City to study under the celebrated Japanese mime choreographer and dancer Michio Itō. She performed her first piece, titled "Ecclesiastique," on Broadway in 1924, and the following year presented her first solo at the Greenwich Village Theatre with a budget of $25. Her career then took off as she debuted in London in 1928 and Paris in 1929. Over the next 30 years, Enters became highly regarded for her mime character development, creating 300 separate characters — including many portraits of young women — for her touring Theater of Angna Enters.
Enters was not only a dancer but also a sculptor, painter, costume designer, composer, and accomplished author. She designed all the props and costumes for her performances and composed some of the music. She also published three autobiographies, a novel, and a book about her life's work called ON MIME. Enters retired from dance in 1960 and lectured at universities across the country. She was an artist in residence at the Dallas Theater Center and Baylor University and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University.
Ruth DeYoung Kohler (1906-1953)
Ruth DeYoung Kohler was a journalist, a historian, and an outspoken advocate for women's rights.
Kohler was the daughter of Frederic R. DeYoung, a justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois. She studied history and led the judicial branch of the student government at Smith College in Massachusetts. After, Kohler traveled through Europe before taking a job as the women's editor at the CHICAGO TRIBUNE in 1929. In the years 1935-1937, she organized the TRIBUNE's Women's Congress, a forum attended by 5,000 women that discussed the leading issues of the day.
In 1937, she married Herbert V. Kohler, president of the Kohler Company, and left her job at the TRIBUNE to travel abroad, where she surveyed conditions in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Central Europe. Kohler also served on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs. For the state's centennial celebration in 1948, she published THE STORY OF WISCONSIN WOMEN, which paid tribute to more than 1500 women who had worked and lived in the state. Just before Kohler passed away, she led the Kohler Foundation's efforts to restore the historic Wade House in Greenbush.
Helen Van Vechten (1868-1949)
Cities: Mosinee, Wausau
Helen Van Vechten co-owned the Philosopher Press in Wausau and became an expert in hand-printing books.
Van Vechten was born in Mosinee in 1868, but grew up mainly in Wausau. After attending college in Milwaukee, she returned with her husband to Wausau, where he was invited to join a printing house called the Philosopher Press. Helen initially offered to help manage the financial side of the business, but she soon found herself drawn to book-making and took on more of the printing work, as her husband focused more of his attention on their lumber business. The press also published a literary journal called THE PHILOSOPHER, which grew out of visits with intellectuals and authors at the print shop.
The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800s, with its rejection of automation and mass production, led to a renewed interest in printing books by hand. A self-taught printer, Van Vechten became an expert in all aspects of book-making. She devised a method of paper feeding that allowed for accurate, equal printing on both sides of the page — an accomplishment previously thought impossible by the printing experts of the day. From then on, she signed all of her books, which became highly sought after by collectors. Van Vechten, who earned a national reputation for her skill and dedication, may have been the only female book-maker in America at that time.
Ellen Bravo (1944-present)
Author and activist Ellen Bravo has fought tirelessly for policies that support working women and their families.
In 1982, Bravo helped found the Milwaukee chapter of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. As its first director, she worked to win economic justice for low-wage women by fighting for pay equity, family leave, fairness for part-time and temporary workers, and an end to sexual harassment and punitive welfare laws. Bravo served on several state and federal commissions, including the bi-partisan Commission on Leave appointed by Congress to study the impact of the Family and Medical Leave Act. She also co-chaired the Economic Sufficiency Task Force of the Wisconsin Women = Prosperity project, led by then-lieutenant-governor Barbara Lawton. Her numerous honors include a Ford Foundation Visionary award, the Francis Perkins "Intelligence and Courage" award, and a Woman of Vision award from the Ms. Foundation. In 2004, she became the national director of the Family Values @ Work Consortium, a national network working for paid sick days and family leave.
Bravo has taught women's studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, including master's-level classes on family-friendly workplaces and sexual harassment. She is the author of TAKING ON THE BIG BOYS, OR WHY FEMINISM IS GOOD FOR FAMILIES, BUSINESS AND THE NATION (2007), based on her grassroots organizing work, and the new novel AGAIN AND AGAIN (2015), among other books. She has also written numerous articles and reports, including "Quality Part-Time Options in Wisconsin," funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Lynda Barry (1956-present)
City: Richland Center, Madison
County: Richland, Dane
Lynda Barry, assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity at the UW-Madison, is a celebrated cartoonist, author, speaker, and instructor.
Barry was born in Richland Center in 1956, but spent much of her childhood in Seattle, Washington. In her teens she worked as a hospital janitor, a subject that inspired her early poetry. She remained in Washington to attend Evergreen State College, where her work was influenced by the instruction of the painter Marilyn Frasca. Barry also met Matt Groening—creator of THE SIMPSONS—at Evergreen State College, and he became an early fan and supporter of her talent.
Barry graduated from college in 1978. The next year, she began writing a comic strip called ERNIE POOK'S COMEEK. The strip became wildly popular and ran for 30 years; at its peak it was published in 75 newspapers nationwide. As her popularity rose, Barry also published a number of book-length graphic works: these include her first novel, THE GOOD TIMES ARE KILLING ME, a coming-of-age story about a biracial friendship; the darker CRUDDY, ONE! HUNDRED! DEMONS!, which she calls an "autobifictionalography"; WHAT IT IS, about her creative process; and SYLLABUS: NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL PROFESSOR, about her teaching process. She has been interviewed several times on National Public Radio and had her work published in MOTHER JONES MAGAZINE, MADEMOISELLE, SALON, and ESQUIRE. Barry is also a very popular speaker and teacher. Her creativity workshop "Writing the Unthinkable," which fills up quickly, was featured in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 2011. In 2013 she became assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she encourages students to call her "Professor Old Skull."
Ellen Kort (1936-2015)
City: Appleton, Menominee, Glenwood City
County: Dunn, Outagamie, St. Croix
Ellen Kort was Wisconsin's first poet laureate.
Kort was born in Glenwood City and grew up in Menomonie. She wrote her first poems while she was an elementary school student, and continued to write poetry as well as prose throughout her life. Known as a "godmother of Wisconsin poetry," she believed that the art of poetry was not exclusive, but belonged to everyone. Her writing honored the people and natural beauty of Wisconsin, as well as the passages of life and love. Her published collections of poetry include THE SACRED GROVE (an ode to trees) and IF DEATH WERE A WOMAN. She is also the author of WISCONSIN QUILTS: HISTORY IN THE STITCHES and THE FOX HERITAGE: A HISTORY OF WISCONSIN'S FOX CITIES.
In 2000, Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson appointed Kort as the state's first poet laureate, and she held the position until 2004. Kort fulfilled the responsibility and mission of the poet laureate—"to contribute to the growth of poetry across the state"—by sharing the art everywhere and seeking to make it accessible to all. Quotations from her poems are inscribed in such places as the Green Bay Botanical Garden, the Milwaukee Midwest Express Center, and the Fox River Mall, and stamped into the cement of Appleton sidewalks. She even carried around glow-in-the- dark chalk for impromptu sidewalk writing. She received the Pablo Neruda Literary Prize for Poetry, the Columbia Pacific Review Poetry Award, and the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Prize for Poetry. Kort encouraged people to write and to use writing as a way to heal. She held writing workshops for troubled youth, for example, as well as for survivors of AIDS, cancer, and domestic abuse. She also co-founded the Fox Cities Book Festival, a gathering to connect regional authors with readers and celebrate literature.
Sarah Harder (1937-present)
City: Eau Claire, La Crosse
County: Eau Claire, La Crosse
Sarah Harder started the women's studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and built many women's coalitions in Wisconsin and nationally.
Harder was born in Chicago. She attended the University of Iowa, but dropped out after two years to get married and move to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Later, as a divorced single mother, she continued her studies at the UW-La Crosse, where in 1963 she received joint degrees in history and English. In 1966 she earned a master's degree in English from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and in 1968, she and her second husband began teaching English at the UW-Eau Claire. In 1971, when Harder was expecting her fourth child, she requested two weeks off work for the birth, but was denied because the university's sick-leave policy did not cover pregnancy. She fought that decision, and her efforts led to changes in maternity-leave policy throughout the whole UW System. During her 34-year career at UW-Eau Claire, she founded the women's studies program and worked to make it easier for non-traditional students — many of whom were women with low incomes — to go to college.
Harder became active in state, national, and international women's organizing in the 1970s and 1980s. She was elected co-chair of the National Women's Conference Committee and was a founding member of the National Council of Women's Organizations. In Wisconsin, she helped organize the state's first chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Wisconsin Women's Network. In 1985, she was elected to a four-year term as president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), where she started programs to support girls in public education. When her term with the AAUW ended, she became active in the National Peace Foundation, an organization dedicated to community-based violence-prevention projects around the world. She worked extensively for women's rights in Russia, and in 2000 she became president of the National Peace Foundation.
Caroline Sandin (1915-1996)
Caroline Sandin was a respected civic leader and served on the University of Wisconsin System's Board of Regents.
Sandin graduated from County Teacher's College in St. Peter, Minnesota, and then made her home in Ashland, Wisconsin, where she and her husband raised seven children. She was active in her church, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, PTA, and the Chequamegon Bay Civic Music Association. In 1954, she helped start the League of Women Voters of Ashland and was its first president. She was elected to the local school board in 1961 and served for 21 years, many of them as president.
Sandin was appointed to the Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin System in 1968 — the first woman Regent since 1954 — and served for nine years. In that position she was a strong proponent both for women's rights and for the disadvantaged. She was elected to Ashland County's board in 1978 and served for 18 years, during which time she was also elected to and served on Ashland's city council. She was named Ashland's Woman of the Year in 1979 and Ashland's Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 1984. After her term as UW System Regent, Sandin served on countless boards and commissions, including the board of visitors for both the UW-Eau Claire and the UW-Superior, the Governor's Conference for the Status of Women, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court's Board of Attorneys' Professional Responsibility. She also sat on her church council and on the advisory council for Lutheran Social Services and the Wisconsin Upper Michigan Synod Board. Later in her life, she was active in health and human services in the area, as a mentor to women diagnosed with cancer and as a volunteer for the Red Cross. In 1993, shortly before her death, the Head Start Center in Ashland was dedicated in Sandin's honor in recognition of her years of service to youth education.
Sheri Swokowski (1950-present)
City: Manitowoc, DeForest
County: Manitowoc, Dane
Transgender advocate Sheri Swokowski, a former colonel in the U.S. Army, has worked to end employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Although she was assigned male when she was born in Manitowoc, Sheri Swokowski felt "different" as a young child, but she "just didn't know what it was called." It was taboo in the 1950s and 1960s to have a transitional identity, so she tried to live as male well into her adulthood. Throughout her military career, which included service as an infantry officer, teaching in the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) at the UW-Stevens Point, and working for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, Swokowski fought the urge to live life as a woman. She finally started her gender transition after retiring from the military in 2006. She also began teaching at the U.S. Army Force Management School in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and found a community of trans women in the Washington, D.C., area. She came out to her family and then to some of her mentors in the military, who seemed to be mostly supportive.
Swokowski had gender reassignment surgery in 2007. When she tried to return to work, she was told that the military had "found a replacement" for her at the Army Force Management School. She went on to help then-Representative Tammy Baldwin try to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA passed in the U.S. Senate in 2013, but failed to make it out of the House of Representatives. In 2014, however, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to protect federal and government contract employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And on June 30, 2016, the ban on transgender service in all branches of the U.S. military was overturned by then-secretary of defense Ashton Carter.
As a retired U.S. Army colonel, Swokowski is the highest-ranking "out" transgender individual in the country. She was also the first individual to be granted a change-of-gender marker on her record of military service without legal representation. In June 2015, after being out of uniform for ten years, she wore an Army infantry uniform — the first woman to legitimately do so — in the Pentagon's Pride event; and along with four other past and present transgender service members, she attended a White House reception in uniform. Swokowski serves on the board of directors for Fair Wisconsin and continues her advocacy efforts at both the state and the national level.
Estella Leopold (1927-present)
Estella Leopold is a paleobotanist and conservationist who conducted groundbreaking research on fossilized pollen.
Leopold was born in Madison, the youngest of five children of well-known forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold and his wife, whose name was also Estella. When the younger Estella was eight years old, the family bought a farm along the Wisconsin River, and she grew up helping to restore the ecology of that land. After receiving a degree in botany from the UW-Madison in 1948, she went on to earn a master's degree at the University of California Berkeley and a doctorate at Yale University. She specialized in a form of paleobotany known as palynology, or the study of pollen, especially in fossilized form. Leopold worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Colorado, collecting and comparing fossils from the Rocky Mountains and other places in the U.S. and the world. When developers threatened the rich fossil beds of Florissant Valley near Denver, she spearheaded a conservation effort that led to the area being protected as a national monument.
Leopold left the USGS to join the Quaternary Research Center at the University of Washington, where she documented the fault zone that runs through Seattle and compared vegetation history across the Pacific Northwest and China. In the 1980s, she fought to establish the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and in 1982, she and her siblings founded the Aldo Leopold Foundation, which has its headquarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Although she retired from teaching at the University of Washington in 2000, Leopold continued to be an active researcher. She has published or contributed to more than a hundred scientific papers and articles in her career. Along with two of her siblings, she is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences; and in 2010 she was awarded the International Cosmos Prize for her work in conservation.
bell hooks (1952-present)
University of Wisconsin graduate bell hooks is a prolific writer, speaker, and scholar who is best known for her work on gender, race, and class.
hooks, who was born Gloria Jean Watkins to working-class parents in a racially segregated Kentucky community, later adopted the pen name bell hooks (intentionally lowercase) in tribute to her grandmother. An avid reader at a young age, she published her first poems in a Sunday School magazine. After graduating from high school, she studied English at Stanford University in California. She started writing her first book — AIN'T I A WOMAN: BLACK WOMEN AND FEMINISM, which examines racism and sexism from a Black woman's perspective — when she was only 19; it became an influential feminist work when it was later published. hooks earned a master's degree in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1976 and taught college courses for several years before earning her doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1983. She later taught at Yale University, Oberlin College, and the City College of New York. Since 2004 she has been Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College in Kentucky.
hooks has written dozens of books. Many of them look at the connections — rather than the differences — among various kinds of oppression; one example is FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY: PASSIONATE POLITICS. She has also written memoirs, volumes of poetry, and several children's books focused on raising self-esteem — including HAPPY TO BE NAPPY, which praises Black girls' hair. Her work, which also touches on love and spiritual healing, appeals to a wide range of people, and she speaks to packed audiences. hooks's life and work were celebrated in a "year of bell hooks" in 2014, at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. In 2015 she returned to St. Norbert for a weeklong residency that included a public dialogue with another famous feminist, Gloria Steinem.
Joyce Carlson (1923-2008)
Joyce Carlson was a Disney artist known for her work on the film LADY AND THE TRAMP and on the "It's a Small World" theme park attraction.
Carlson, who was born in Racine, moved with her parents to California in 1938. In 1944, she began working in the traffic department of Walt Disney Studios, where she delivered — in addition to mail — art supplies to the animators. Several months into the job, she submitted a portfolio of sketches to her employers and was hired as an artist in the ink and paint department. After starting out animating training films for the Army, she worked for the next 16 years as an "inker" on such films as CINDERELLA, PETER PAN, and SLEEPING BEAUTY.
Carlson became the lead ink artist for the 1955 film LADY AND THE TRAMP. She also worked on the original model and designed many of the singing dolls for the "It's a Small World" attraction, which debuted at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and went on to be installed in every Disneyland theme park as well as in Walt Disney World. Carlson was the first woman to reach the 50-year employment milestone at the Walt Disney Company. Upon her official retirement in 2000, she was named a Disney Legend in recognition of her important contributions to the company over the years.
Hannah Rosenthal (1951-present)
Jewish activist Hannah Rosenthal served as a U.S. special envoy to work against anti-Semitism.
Rosenthal, daughter of a rabbi and Holocaust survivor, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in religion, and then attended graduate school for rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College in the country of Israel. She was a strong voice for social justice and was the founding executive director for the Wisconsin Women's Council.
In 1995, Rosenthal was appointed by President Clinton as the Midwest regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also served as the executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, where she worked on domestic and international policy for the Jewish community in North America. Under President Barack Obama, Rosenthal served the U.S. State Department as a special envoy, heading the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. In 2012, she became CEO and president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Angie Brooks (1928-2007)
Angie Brooks is best known as the first African woman to serve as president of the United Nations General Assembly.
Brooks was born in Liberia in 1928 and grew up there, but came to the U.S. as a young woman to pursue higher education. She graduated in 1949 from Shaw University in North Carolina with an undergraduate degree in social sciences, and then, in 1952, earned both a law degree and a master's degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin. She also completed graduate work at the University College Law School of London, Liberia University, Shaw University, and Howard University.
Brooks served as counsellor-at-law to the Supreme Court of Liberia; as assistant attorney general of Liberia; as vice president and later president of the International Federation of Women Lawyers; as a professor of law at Liberia University; and as vice president of the National Liberian Political and Social Movement. She was Liberia's delegate to the United Nations General Assembly for many years, and was the first African woman — and second woman ever — to be elected president of the Assembly, where she presided over the 24th session (1969-1970). After her death in 2007, Brooks was praised by Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her courage, determination, and commitment to service.
Donna Shalala (1941-present)
Donna Shalala was the first woman to head a Big Ten university and the longest-serving secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Shalala was born in Ohio and studied history at Western College for Women. She worked in Iran from 1962 to 1964 as one of the first U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, and then earned a Ph.D. in public affairs from Syracuse University in 1970. After teaching at Bernard M. Baruch College and Columbia University, she served in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter, from 1977 to 1980.
After serving as president of Hunter College (part of the City University of New York), Shalala became chancellor of the UW-Madison in 1988. She was the first woman to lead a Big Ten Conference school, and only the second woman in the country to head a major research university. She served as chancellor until 1993, when President Bill Clinton appointed her as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). She held that position for eight years, becoming the longest-serving HHS secretary in history up to that time. She became president of the University of Miami in 2001 and led the school for 14 years. In 2015, the Clinton Foundation, an international charitable organization started by the former president's family, invited Shalala to be its chief executive officer.
Chia Youyee Vang (1971-present)
City: Milwaukee, Shorewood
Chia Youyee Vang is a leading advocate for Hmong cultural preservation and education.
Vang, a Hmong American, immigrated to Minnesota from Laos at the age of nine, as part of a refugee resettlement program after the Vietnam War. She grew up in St. Paul and received her bachelor's degree from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1994. She earned a master's degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota in 1996, and a Ph.D. in American studies in 2006. That same year, she began teaching Hmong history and U.S.-Asia relations at the UW-Milwaukee, where she went on to establish a certificate program in Hmong diaspora studies.
In 2008, Vang published a book titled HMONG IN MINNESOTA, which includes the history of, and her own experiences among, the Minnesota Hmong community. In 2010 she published another book, HMONG AMERICA: RECONSTRUCTING COMMUNITY IN DIASPORA, which is highly regarded as a resource on Hmong experiences across the U.S. Vang has served as a board member for the Wisconsin Humanities Council and as president of the Hmong American Peace Academy's board of directors.
Kathryn Morrison (1942-2013)
Kathryn "Kate" Morrison was the first woman elected to the Wisconsin State Senate.
Morrison was born in Madison. She studied business administration at the UW-Madison, earning her M.B.A. in 1965, and then taught economics at the UW-Platteville before running for political office.
Morrison, a Democrat, was elected by the state's 17th senate district in 1974, defeating Republican incumbent Gordon Roseleip, who opposed women's rights. During her four years as senator, Morrison made progress toward improving the status of women in Wisconsin. One of her greatest accomplishments was to help pass a "no-fault" divorce law. She also fought against efforts to weaken a gender equality bill that passed in 1975. In 1976, Morrison became the first woman to join the legislature's influential Joint Finance Committee. When she lost the 1978 election, she went on to work for the federal government under President Jimmy Carter, in the Department of Health and Human Services. In 1983, she became administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Health. Later, she served in top leadership positions in the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the March of Dimes.
Katharine Lyall (1941-present)
Katharine Lyall was the first woman president of the University of Wisconsin System.
Lyall, who was born Katharine Culbert, grew up in Pennsylvania. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University in in 1963, and then an M.B.A. from New York University and a Ph.D. from Cornell. She taught economics at Syracuse University as well as at Johns Hopkins University; and while at Johns Hopkins, she became director of the school’s graduate program in public policy. Lyall also served as deputy assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Jimmy Carter.
Lyall joined the UW-Madison faculty as an economics professor in 1982. She served as vice president for academic affairs and as executive vice president of the UW System. In 1992, she was appointed the fifth president — and the first woman president — of the UW System. As president, she was responsible for 26 Wisconsin campuses attended by 160,000 students — the eighth-largest university system in the country at that time. She increased funding for UW System programs by attracting new grants and private donations, and she more than doubled distance education courses and enrollments during her term. She also introduced the country’s first university accountability report, which allows the public to evaluate the services provided by the campuses in the system. Lyall served as president of the UW System for 12 years before she retired in 2004. She has also chaired the board of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Sister Joel Read (1926-present)
Sister Joel Read served for 35 years as president of Alverno College and became widely known and respected for her innovative education reforms.
Read, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis, was born December 30, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a bachelor's degree in education from Alverno, a Catholic women's college in Milwaukee, in 1948. She went on to study history at Fordham University in New York, and then joined the faculty of Alverno College as a history professor in 1955.
Read became Alverno College's sixth president in 1968, and she served for 35 years, longer than any other president in the school's history. Under her leadership, the college started many programs to meet its students' needs in new and creative ways. Read introduced a curriculum based on developing skills in thinking and learning, and she made it a priority for students to have one-to-one support from faculty. She also got the college to start offering weekend classes so women with families or careers could attend more easily, and she created one of the country's first internship programs, in which students could get experience as leaders in professional settings. Read has been recognized internationally for education reform. She has served as president of the American Association for Higher Education and on the boards of the Foundation for Independent Higher Education, the American Council on Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the National Catholic Education Association.
Ingrid Washinawatok (1957-1999)
Ingrid Washinawatok, which translates to "Flying Eagle Woman," was a celebrated human rights advocate for indigenous peoples who was killed in South America.
Washinawatok was a member of the Menominee Nation. At age 14, she joined the movement to re-establish the Menominee as a federally recognized tribe. Three years later, she traveled to New York City as an intern with the International Indian Treaty Council, which monitors Indian rights in the Western hemisphere. After graduating from high school in 1975, Washinawatok attended the University of Wisconsin and then the University of Havana, Cuba. She helped found the Indigenous Women's Network (IWN) in the 1980s, and worked for the indigenous philanthropy organization Fund of the Four Directions, which named her executive director in 1998. During that time, she served as a committee chairperson for the UN's International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples and was an active member of the Indigenous Initiative for Peace. She also lectured worldwide on indigenous rights and co-produced the documentary film WARRIOR.
In 1999, Washinawatok and two other advocates were invited to the South American country of Colombia to help an indigenous community establish an education program for children. On their return trip, she and her two colleagues were kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC, which has been in armed conflict with the Colombian government for decades. All three were killed several days later. The Menominee Nation honored Washinawatok with a full warrior's funeral.
Ruth Bleier (1923-1988)
Ruth Bleier was a neurophysiology professor whose pioneering work showed that there was gender bias in the field of biological science.
Bleier was born in Pennsylvania. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from Goucher College, and in 1949 she earned a medical degree from the Women's Medical College in Pennsylvania. While running her own medical practice in inner-city Baltimore, Bleier raised two children. During the 1950s, she advocated for civil rights with the Maryland Committee for Peace, and her activism attracted the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The committee added her name to its blacklist for refusing to cooperate, and she lost her hospital privileges as a result. Unable to practice medicine, Bleier entered Johns Hopkins University to get more education. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in 1961 and became an instructor at the Adolph Meyer Laboratory of Neuroanatomy. In 1967, she left Johns Hopkins to join the Department of Neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
During the 1970s, Bleier began to see how sexism affected the biological sciences, and she devoted herself to looking at scientific theories and practices in a feminist way. She disproved the myth that many differences that seem to exist between women and men — such as differences in math, language, or creative skills — are biologically based. Those differences, she argued, are actually the result of social and political influences, not of biology. Her publications are considered classics in women's studies: SCIENCE AND GENDER: A CRITIQUE OF BIOLOGY AND ITS THEORIES ON WOMEN, and her anthology, FEMINIST APPROACHES TO SCIENCE. While at UW-Madison, Bleier was a founding member of the Association of Faculty Women, which successfully campaigned for equal pay among female and male faculty.
Margaret Farrow (1934-present)
City: Kenosha, Madison
County: Kenosha, Dane
Margaret Farrow was the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in Wisconsin.
Farrow attended Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine High School in Racine before going to Rosary College in Illinois. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science and education from Marquette University. She began her career in government as the trustee (1976-1981) and then the president (1981-1987) of Elm Grove Village. Farrow was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1986. Three years later, she was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate from a district comprising most of Waukesha county. She was re-elected in 1990, 1994, and 1998.
In 2001, Farrow, a Republican, was appointed the 42nd lieutenant governor of Wisconsin after Scott McCallum, who had held that office, became governor upon the departure of Tommy Thompson. Farrow was the first woman to hold the office, which is the first leadership position in the line of succession after the governor of Wisconsin. Farrow spearheaded two statewide commissions to advance reforms that reduce the cost of government, and she played a leadership role in reforming welfare and tax policy to encourage work, saving, investment, innovation, capital formation, labor force productivity, and economic growth. She chaired the Wisconsin Women's Council for several years and served as a member during her tenure as lieutenant governor. Farrow also chaired the governor's work-based learning board and co-chaired the governor's task force on invasive species. She has chaired the board of WisconsinEye, a public affairs television network; and in 2013, she was appointed to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.
Barbara Lawton (1951-present)
City: Hales Corners, Waterford, Green Bay, Madison, Algoma
County: Milwaukee, Racine, Brown, Dane, Kewaunee
Barbara Lawton was the 43rd lieutenant governor of Wisconsin and a strong advocate for arts integration.
Lawton, born Barbara Smith, grew up in the village of Hales Corners and then on a farm near Waterford in southeastern Wisconsin. She attended the UW-Green Bay and then transferred to Lawrence University, where she earned a degree in Spanish. Later she received her master's degree in Spanish from the UW-Madison.
In 2002, Lawton was elected the state's 43rd lieutenant governor, which made her the first in the line of succession after the governor of Wisconsin. She was only the second woman to serve in the position, Margaret Farrow having been the first. Lawton, a Democrat, served alongside Governor Jim Doyle for eight years. During her time in office, Lawton became chair of the Wisconsin Arts Board. She encouraged the integration of arts into businesses and organizations to help boost the economy. She also advocated for initiatives to invest in the talents of women in the state, and expanded access to mental health services. Lawton served as vice chair of the National Lieutenant Governors Association and on the national leadership council for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Since her time in office, she has been an outspoken voice for campaign finance reform.
Shirley Abrahamson (1933-present)
Shirley S. Abrahamson was the first woman justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the first female chief justice in state history.
Abrahamson was born Shirley Schlanger in New York City. She earned an A.B. magna cum laude from New York University in 1953 and a J.D. with high distinction from Indiana University's School of Law in 1956. She then moved to Madison and in 1962 earned her doctor of juridical science (S.J.D.) degree in American legal history from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She practiced law in Wisconsin for 14 years and taught at the law schools of both the UW-Madison and Marquette University.
In 1976, Abrahamson was appointed to Wisconsin Supreme Court by then-governor Patrick Lucey, and she has won re-election every ten years since. From 1976 to 1993 she was the only woman on the court. In 1996, she became chief justice, a position awarded to the justice on the court who has served the longest. Abrahamson has been involved in deciding more than 10,000 petitions for review, bypasses, certifications, and lawyer and judicial discipline cases. In 2013, she became the longest-serving Wisconsin Supreme Court justice ever, breaking Orasmus Cole's previous record of 36 years and seven months (1855-1892).
Pleasant Rowland (1941-present)
Pleasant Rowland founded the American Girls Collection, a popular line of books, dolls, and accessories that features girls living during various eras in U.S. history.
Rowland was born in Chicago. After graduating from Wells College in Aurora, New York, she became an elementary-school teacher. "Reading is at the heart of all achievement," she once said. "Without it, the American dream is out of reach. With it, anything is possible." Her desire to teach children how to read led her to create language arts programs that were used in schools throughout the country. She is the author of BEGINNING TO READ, WRITE, AND LISTEN and THE ADDISON-WESLEY READING PROGRAM.
In 1985, Rowland founded the American Girls Collection as a way to inspire children to learn about history through story-telling and play. Each doll in the collection represents a different era, culture, or event in American history. Rowland served as president of the Middleton-based company for 15 years, until she sold the company in 2000 and founded the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation to provide funds for the arts, education, and historic preservation. A few years later, she established the Rowland Reading Foundation to improve reading instruction in the primary grades. Rowland holds honorary degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Edgewood College, and the University of Hartford (Connecticut).
Barbara Nichols (1939-present)
Barbara Nichols was the first African American president of the Wisconsin Nursing Association and of the American Nursing Association.
Nichols was born in Maine. In 1959, she graduated from the Massachusetts Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Boston and became a nurse, during a time when many hospitals were still racially segregated. She earned her bachelor's degree in nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and took a job at Boston Children's Hospital, where she was the only African American registered nurse on staff. She joined the Navy Nurse Corps and then moved to Madison to work at St. Mary's Hospital. Nichols was active in the Wisconsin Nursing Association (WNA) and the American Nursing Association (ANA). She founded the Wisconsin Society for Healthcare Education and Training, where she created innovative professional development curricula for nurses in the area.
In 1970, Nichols was elected president of the WNA, making her the first African American to hold the position in the organization's 100-year history. In 1979, she was elected president of the ANA, becoming the first African-American to hold the national leadership position as well. She served two terms, traveling 12,000 miles a month from coast to coast to speak on behalf of the organization. In 1983, Nichols became the first African American woman in Wisconsin to hold a cabinet-level position when she was appointed secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing. During her career, she has published more than 200 manuscripts on nursing and health care delivery and has been an outspoken advocate for diversity in the field of nursing across the country. She holds a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin and is a visiting lecturer at the UW-Milwaukee School of Nursing.
Lynne Cheney (1941-present)
Lynne Cheney, who served as second lady of the United States, has devoted much of her career to writing and speaking about the importance of American history education.
Cheney, born Lynne Vincent, grew up in Wyoming. She received her B.A. in English literature from Colorado College, her M.A. from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and her Ph.D., in 19th-century British literature, from the UW-Madison. Her husband Dick served as the vice president of the U.S. under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009.
In her efforts to educate individuals about American history, Cheney served as chair of the National Endowment for Humanities from 1986 to 1993. She published AMERICAN MEMORY, a report that warned about the failure of the U.S. educational system to give students enough knowledge of history. Over the course of her career, she has authored and co-authored many books, including six bestsellers about American history for children and their families. Cheney has worked hard to raise money for education, and a portion of the proceeds from her book sales goes to charity. She also established the James Madison Book Award, which rewards authors for bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to young people.
Golda Meir (1898-1979)
Golda Meir was a teacher and organizer in Milwaukee before becoming Israel's first female prime minister in 1969.
Born in Russia, Meir and her family fled Jewish persecution and moved to Milwaukee in 1906. She graduated at the top of her class from the Fourth Street School in 1912, and eventually became a teacher at a Folk-Schulen (folk school) where she taught Yiddish. She was active in the Zionist community in Milwaukee before moving with her husband to British-controlled Palestine in 1921.
In 1948, Meir participated in the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and was also appointed Israel's minister to the Soviet Union. The following year, she became the first minister of labor, a position she held until 1956, when she was appointed foreign minister. In 1965, Meir became secretary-general of Mapai, Israel's dominant political party. When the prime minister of Israel died in 1969, the Labor Party supported Meir to take his place. She became Israel's first female prime minister and the third woman prime minister in the world. As prime minister, she was the principal negotiator between the Jews, the Palestinians, and the British Government during the Zionist movement in Palestine.
Carin Clauss (1939-present)
Carin Clauss was the first woman Solicitor in the U.S. Department of Labor.
Clauss was born in Tennessee and received her B.A. from Vassar College in 1960. In 1963, she graduated from Columbia Law School, where she was one of six women in a class of 320 students. She then began her legal career in the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., and eventually served as Solicitor there from 1977 to 1981.
In the Office of the Solicitor (SOL) — the chief legal office of the Department of Labor — Clauss was responsible for enforcing the nation's labor laws. She helped develop the department's litigation strategy for the enforcement of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and took on 35 cases that built the framework for financial equality for men and women in the workplace. In one significant case, she negotiated to open up exclusively male or female jobs at AT&T to both men and women. She also helped eliminate wage disparities affecting women managers working at AT&T, and ensured that Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards were established in workplaces to protect women's reproductive health. After her work with the Department of Labor, Clauss taught at the UW-Madison Law School, where she specialized in labor and employment law and administrative law and civil procedure.
Bonnie Blair (1964-present)
Bonnie Blair is a world record-holding speed skater, a six-time Olympic medalist and the most decorated woman in Winter Olympic history.
Blair was one of the top speed-skaters of her time. After graduating from high school in Illinois, she moved to Milwaukee to train with the U.S. national speed-skating team. She went on to compete for the U.S. in four Olympics: In the 1988 Winter games, she won her first gold medal in the 500-meter race and also set the world record. She won gold in both the 500- and 1,000-meter races in 1992, and again in 1994, when she finished .36 seconds ahead of the second-best time in the 500-meter and 1.38 seconds ahead of second-best in the 1,000-meter race — the largest margin of victory in the history of the speed-skating event. Blair also became the first American woman to win five gold medals at any Winter Olympics.
Blair is a member of both the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. In 2004, she was also elected to the United States Olympic Hall of Fame, and at her induction she was the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian of all time. After retiring from competitive speed-skating, Blair became a motivational speaker and founded the Bonnie Blair Charitable Fund.
Carie Graves (1953-present)
City: Spring Green
Carie Graves was a three-time Olympian and a medal winner for the U.S. women's rowing team.
Graves was raised on a farm in Spring Green in a family of rowing enthusiasts. She joined the UW-Madison's rowing team during her sophomore year in 1973 and was a letter winner from 1974 to 1976. In 1975, she and her team took second place at the World Rowing Championships in England — the best finish ever for U.S. women at that time. Graves then made the U.S. team for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and won a bronze medal in the eight-oared shell category there. She qualified again for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, but did not compete because of the U.S. boycott that year.
In 1984 she qualified for her third Olympic Games and won a gold medal in Los Angeles. Graves became a coach and built distinguished rowing programs at Northeastern University in Boston and also at Harvard University. In 1998, she helped launch the rowing program at the University of Texas, and she became the head coach there. During her time at Texas, Graves led her team to two consecutive NCAA championship appearances in 2003 and 2004. She also led Texas to victory at the Big 12 Rowing Championships in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. She coached for the University of Texas for 16 years before retiring.
Ineva Reilly Baldwin (1904-2000)
Before Ineva Reilly Baldwin championed the "Wisconsin Idea," she was a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant commander during World War II—the highest rank ever attained by a woman at that time.
Baldwin received her undergraduate education at the UW-Madison, the University of Colorado, and the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and then earned a master's degree in botany at the UW-Madison. During World War II, Baldwin enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and became a lieutenant commander, the highest rank achieved by a woman at that time. After serving, Baldwin returned to the UW-Madison, where she was the assistant dean of women from 1941 to 1942 and then, from 1946 to 1954, first the assistant dean and then the associate dean of the College of Letters and Science.
Baldwin and her husband, Ira, created the Wisconsin Idea Endowment fund to help faculty, staff, and students share the University of Wisconsin's knowledge and resources around the world and bring knowledge from the world back to the university. The fund helps to promote the "Wisconsin Idea," which is the philosophy that the work done at Wisconsin's state universities should benefit the people of the state, the nation, and the world.
April Ulring Larson (1950-present)
City: La Crosse
County: La Crosse
The Reverend April Ulring Larson became the first female Lutheran bishop in North America, and the second in the world, when she was elected by the La Crosse Area Synod in 1992.
Born in Decorah, Iowa, Larson studied music at Luther College and earned a bachelor's degree in vocal music from the University of Iowa. She taught K-12 vocal music at a Catholic school in Iowa until she felt called to go to seminary. She and her husband both attended Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, where Larson was among the first 10 women to graduate. She co-pastored with her husband at three parishes in Iowa and spent four years as the assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod before being elected, in 1992, bishop of the La Crosse Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Larson served as bishop for 16 years. During that time she served as a Bible study leader, Eucharist presider, and presenter at both the 50th and the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Lutheran World Federation, held in Hong Kong and in Lund, Sweden, respectively. She also served as a member of the executive committee and as chair of the agenda committee of the ELCA's Conference of Bishops, and for two years she was president of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Larson and her husband had three children. Her 25-year-old son Ben, a Lutheran seminary student, was tragically killed in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti while teaching theology there.
Patricia Loew (1952-present)
City: Milwaukee, Madison
County: Milwaukee, Dane
Patricia "Patty" Loew is a celebrated journalist, filmmaker, and educator about Native Americans in Wisconsin.
Loew, a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, grew up in Milwaukee. She received her bachelor's degree in mass communications from the UW-La Crosse and started her journalism career in La Crosse as a television and radio reporter; then she moved to Madison and worked her way up to the anchor's desk at the ABC affiliate WKOW-TV. Loew covered state environmental issues as a journalist, and when the rights of tribes to fish Wisconsin waterways became a top news debate, she gave voice to the views and perspectives of native populations as few mainstream journalists had done before.
Loew then pursued master's and doctoral degrees in mass communications at the UW-Madison. She became a professor in 1999 and two years later published the award-winning book INDIAN NATIONS OF WISCONSIN: HISTORIES OF ENDURANCE AND RENEWAL, which is based on almost a hundred interviews with tribal elders and educators. In 2003, she published another award-winning book, a social studies text for children, NATIVE PEOPLE OF WISCONSIN. Loew also co-hosted the Wisconsin Public Television program WEEKEND and produced a number of documentaries focused on Native American history and culture, including one about American Indian war veterans titled WAY OF THE WARRIOR, which aired on PBS in 2007. Her other documentary titles include NO WORD FOR GOODBYE, SPRING OF DISCONTENT, NATION WITHIN A NATION, and SACRED STICK. She has served on the board of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, which includes the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, and the Native American Journalists Association.
Kathryn Clarenbach (1920-1994)
City: Sparta, Madison
County: Monroe, Dane
Kathryn "Kay" Clarenbach was a founding member and the first chair of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and won gains for women's rights in state and federal politics.
Born Kathryn Frederick in Sparta, Clarenbach graduated from high school as the valedictorian of her class at age 16. She earned bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in political science at the UW-Madison. She and her husband then taught at several universities before returning to Madison in the 1950s. Clarenbach taught at Edgewood College in 1961, and also served on the board of trustees of Alverno College in Milwaukee. Starting in 1962, she worked for University of Wisconsin-Extension, creating continuing education courses for women who were seeking a college education and employment during a time when few careers were available to women.
Clarenbach convinced Wisconsin governor John Reynolds to authorize a state commission on the status of women in 1964. Working to change laws that discriminated on the basis of gender, Clarenbach was the commission's first chair (1964-1969) and served as chair again from 1971 to 1979. She became a leader in the national women's movement as well, co-founding the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. She chaired NOW's board from 1966 to 1970 and later served as president of NOW's Legal Defense and Education Fund. In 1971, along with feminist icons Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Shirley Chisholm, she helped organize the National Women's Political Caucus to increase the number of women in elected and appointed office. After governor Lee Dreyfus eliminated the Wisconsin Commission on the Status of Women in 1979, Clarenbach worked for the next four years to establish the Wisconsin Women's Council to continue the efforts of the commission. She served as a member of the council and continued as a professor at UW-Extension until she retired in 1988.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938-present)
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first female head of state of any African country.
Sirleaf was born in Monrovia, capital of the West African country of Liberia. She came to Wisconsin in 1961 with her husband, who studied at UW-Madison, and earned a degree in accounting at Madison Business College. Upon returning to Liberia, she worked in the Ministry of Finance. Later, after she and her husband divorced, she continued her studies in the U.S., first in economics at the University of Colorado and then a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University. Sirleaf returned to Liberia, where she became assistant finance minister and then deputy finance minister. Finally appointed finance minister in 1979, Sirleaf was the first woman in Liberia ever to hold the position. But when a coup d'etat killed many of the leaders of the administration in 1980, she fled the country. She returned to Liberia briefly in 1985 to attempt a run for vice president, but was arrested and forced to flee again.
After a nonviolent women's movement forced Liberia's corrupt leaders out of the country, Sirleaf returned to help restore the government. In 2006, she became the 24th president of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa. Throughout her career, Sirleaf has demonstrated her compassion and commitment, fighting for the rights of women and advocating for education, justice, and equality to provide a successful future for her country. In 2011, Sirleaf and two other women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their non-violent struggles for women's rights.
Ada Deer (1935-present)
City: Keshena, Madison
County: Menominee, Dane
Ada Deer was the first woman to head the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the first Native American woman from Wisconsin to run for U.S. Congress.
Deer was born in Keshena as a member of the Menominee Tribe. Her mother was a strong advocate for Native American rights, and Deer followed in her footsteps. She was the first Menominee to earn an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin. In 1961, she was the first Native American to receive an M.S.W. from the Columbia University School of Social Work. Her work on behalf of the Menominee led to the Menominee Restoration Act of 1972, which officially returned the Menominee Reservation to federally recognized status. Because of this accomplishment, Deer became the first woman to chair the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin.
Her political activism included running for Wisconsin secretary of state in 1978 and again in 1982. In 1992, she became the first Native American woman in Wisconsin to run for U.S. Congress. In 1993, Deer was appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; she was the first Native American woman to hold that position. While in office, she helped set federal policy for more than 550 federally recognized tribes. As an educator and social worker, she taught classes at the UW-Madison School of Social Work and, in 2000, she became director of the American Indian Studies Program.
Laurel Clark (1961-2003)
City: Racine, Madison
County: Racine, Dane
Laurel Clark was an accomplished doctor, U.S. Navy captain, and NASA astronaut who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Clark grew up in Racine and graduated from William Horlick High School. She enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she completed a bachelor's degree in zoology in 1983 and a doctorate in medicine in 1987. She joined the U.S. Navy and underwent extensive training as an undersea medical officer. Assigned as medical department head for a submarine squadron, she performed numerous dives to evacuate U.S. submarines in medical emergencies. "I joined the Navy and was exposed to a lot of different operational environments, working on submarines and working in tight quarters on ships, and learning about radiation medicine," Clark recalled. After that assignment, she trained in aeromedicine and became a naval flight surgeon, practicing medicine in the most challenging environments.
NASA selected Clark for astronaut training in 1996. Although she qualified for flight after two years of training, she worked for several years in the Astronaut Office Payloads/Habitability Branch before going on her first flight in January 2003, as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia on its STS-107 mission. On the 16-day mission, the STS-107 crew successfully conducted more than 80 experiments, including astronaut health and safety studies and technology development, and Clark helped create an astronaut treadmill for the international space station. As it returned to Earth on February 1, 2003, however, the Columbia broke apart over Texas during re-entry, just 16 minutes before it was due to land in Florida. Clark and the six other crew members of the STS-107 mission perished.
Vel Phillips (1924-present)
Vel Phillips achieved many firsts, including first woman and first African American to be elected to the statewide office of secretary of state.
Phillips, born Velvalea Rodgers, grew up on Milwaukee's south side and graduated from North Division High School. She received a national scholarship to attend Howard University, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree. In 1951, she was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Five years later, Phillips became the first woman alderman elected to the Common Council of Milwaukee. She fought tirelessly for fair housing policies to protect minorities from discrimination when buying or renting homes. She was active in the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, and she participated in many non-violent demonstrations for civil rights. With Father James Groppi, the advisor to the NAACP Youth Council, she brought national attention to Milwaukee's civil rights movement when she organized community members to demonstrate for more than 200 days in support of fair housing legislation.
In 1971, Phillips resigned as an alderman when Governor Patrick J. Lucey appointed her as the first woman judge in Milwaukee County and the first African American to serve in Wisconsin's judiciary. She achieved another first in 1978 when she was elected secretary of state of Wisconsin. One other woman, Glenn Wise, had held that seat previously, but Wise had been appointed rather than elected. Although Phillips was not re-elected in 1982, she secured a prominent place in Wisconsin history, and her fight as a community organizer for civil rights in Milwaukee continued into the 21st century.
Dorothy Davids (1923-2014)
Dorothy "Aunt Dot" Davids was a respected Native American educator in Wisconsin and an author, speaker, community organizer, and activist for peace and justice.
Davids was born on a farm in Red Springs, outside of Gresham, Wisconsin, on the banks of Big Lake. She was a member of the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe of the Mohican Indians. When the bank foreclosed on her family's farm during the Great Depression, she began boarding at the Lutheran Indian Mission School. She graduated from Bowler High School and in 1945 became the first Native American to earn a bachelor's degree in education from Wisconsin State Teacher's College in Stevens Point. She taught elementary and junior high school for 16 years and was a strong advocate for students.
In 1961, Davids began working with the National Congress of American Indians and earned her master's degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that same year. She went on to work for the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Madison as an associate professor of education and community development. Davids made significant contributions to developing curriculum for and about Native people, and paid special attention to Native American women and bias in educational materials. She was a specialist in multicultural education, group dynamics, and cultural awareness and had wide personal knowledge of Native American literature, issues, and resources.
Gerda Lerner (1920-2013)
University of Wisconsin scholar Gerda Lerner founded the academic field of women's history.
Lerner was born to Jewish parents in Austria during the rise of German fascism and was involved in the Nazi resistance movement as a girl. Her family fled Austria in 1938, and she immigrated to the U.S. a year later. She earned her B.A. from the New School for Social Research in New York and went on to receive her Ph.D. in American History, in 1966, from Columbia University. Her dissertation traced the history of the Grimke sisters, abolitionists who traveled the country speaking out against slavery. At the time, historians rarely studied the lives of women. While at Columbia, Lerner joined fellow activists and helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW). She also began teaching at Long Island University, where she taught the first post-World War II college course in women's history.
In 1972, Lerner moved to Sarah Lawrence College, where she founded the first graduate program in women's history and served as the program's director from 1972 to 1976 and again from 1978 to 1979. In 1980, she began teaching at the UW-Madison, where she founded the Ph.D. program in women's history. Lerner's countless essays and texts, including her two landmark works, THE CREATION OF PATRIARCHY and THE CREATION OF FEMINIST CONSCIOUSNESS, have guided the study of women's history and established it as a formal academic field. On the subject, she has said, "Women's history is women's right — an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long range vision."
Ardie Clark Halyard (1896-1989)
Ardie Clark Halyard co-founded the first African American-owned savings and loan association (S&L) and was the first woman president of the Milwaukee NAACP chapter.
Halyard was born in Covington, Georgia, to a family of sharecroppers. She graduated from Atlanta University and settled in Milwaukee with her husband in 1923. They opened the first African American-owned S&L — Columbia Savings and Loan — with just a ten-dollar bill. This Milwaukee establishment helped many African Americans secure home loans free from discrimination based on race and thus have the same home-owning opportunities as whites. By day, Halyard was employed at Goodwill Industries, where she worked for 20 years, and by night she donated her time to the S&L.
Halyard is also credited for reviving the NAACP in Milwaukee and in other cities in Wisconsin. With Father James E. Groppi, she established the NAACP Youth Council, whose members were leaders in Milwaukee's fair housing movement. In 1951, Halyard became the first woman president of the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP. She served on the Wisconsin State Board of Vocational, Technical, and Adult Education for more than eight years. Halyard was also a member of the Wisconsin Governor's Commission on the Status of Women.
Glenn Wise (1896-1991)
City: Wyocena, La Valle, Madison
County: Columbia, Sauk, Dane
Glenn Wise became the first woman to hold a statewide public office in Wisconsin when she was appointed secretary of state in 1955.
Wise was born in Wyocena, grew up in La Valle, and graduated from Reedsburg Area High School. She attended Milwaukee-Downer College and received her master's degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1919. Wise was very involved in community organizations and her church, as well as in the Republican Party.
In 1955, Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr., appointed Wise as secretary of state to fill the vacancy left by Fred R. Zimmerman, who had first been elected in 1938 and been re-elected multiple times, but had died before he could serve his final term. Wise held the office until 1957. Her bid for re-election was defeated in the 1956 Republican primary by Zimmerman's son, Robert C. Zimmerman. She remained a steadfast Republican until her death in 1991.
Gwen Moore (1951-present)
Gwen Moore was the first African American from the state of Wisconsin to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Moore was one of nine siblings born to a school teacher and a factory worker in Racine. She grew up in Milwaukee, where she was student council president at North Division High School. With support from a program that helped low-income, first-generation students attend college, she earned her degree in political science from Marquette University. She was very active in her community, helping to start a credit union for her community VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members and earning the VISTA "Volunteer of the Decade" award for the years 1976-1986.
Moore, a Democrat, was elected in 1989 to the Wisconsin State Assembly, where she served two terms. She then became Wisconsin's first female African American state senator, serving from 1993 to 2004. While in office, she earned a Harvard University certificate for senior executives in state and local government and advocated strongly to improve economic conditions for low-income communities and help the children of low-income families get through school. In 2004, Moore was elected to represent Wisconsin's 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services, which oversees the banking, housing, and insurance industries, and the House Budget Committee. She has been an outspoken voice for women's health and security, leading the effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in Congress.
Miriam Ben Shalom (1948-present)
City: Waukesha, Milwaukee
County: Waukesha, Milwaukee
Miriam Ben Shalom was a drill sergeant in the U.S. Army before being discharged for her sexual orientation; she was later the first LGBT serviceperson ever reinstated.
Born in Waukesha to a Roman Catholic family, Ben Shalom lost her mother at an early age and was raised primarily by her father, a World War II veteran. After graduating from high school, she was married briefly and had a daughter. She converted to Judaism and moved to Israel with her daughter to become a citizen and join the Israeli Army. After returning to Wisconsin, she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in creative writing from the UW-Milwaukee. She enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1974 and was one of the first two female drill sergeants to graduate from the 84th Division of the U.S. Army Reserve. Active in the LGBT community of Milwaukee, Ben Shalom was open about her sexual orientation with her commander, who did not move to discharge her even though the military had a strict ban against gay soldiers at that time. But when a local news reporter asked her how it felt to be a gay person in the military, her response caught the attention of her superiors. She was discharged after two years of her three-year tour of duty.
Ben Shalom appealed the decision, and in 1980, after a long battle in the courts, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Army to reinstate her, ruling that Ben Shalom's discharge violated her constitutional rights of free speech and free association. The Army refused to comply until an appeals court threatened to fine the Army for contempt of court. Ben Shalom was reinstated in 1987 to finish her original tour of duty, becoming the first LGBT serviceperson ever reinstated after being discharged. When she tried to re-enlist, however, the Army put up more of a fight, and Ben Shalom again went to court. Her military hopes ended in 1990, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal. Ben Shalom spent the next 20 years fighting the military's policies against gay soldiers. The outright ban was replaced in 1993 with a compromise that came to be known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which was successfully repealed in 2010.
Carol Bartz (1948-present)
City: Alma, Madison
County: Buffalo, Dane
Carol Bartz is the former president and CEO of the internet company Yahoo!
Bartz was born in Winona, Minnesota. After losing her mother at a young age, she moved with her brother to her grandparent's farm in Alma, Wisconsin. She took a job at a bank at age 15 to help support her family. Good grades in high school earned her a scholarship to William Woods, a prestigious all-girls college in Missouri. She transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked her way through college as a waitress. In 1971, she earned her degree in computer science.
When Bartz joined the manufacturing company 3M in 1972, she was the only woman professional in a division of 300 men. She faced frequent discrimination, and in 1976 she quit after being refused a transfer to headquarters. "Women don't do these jobs," Bartz later recalled being told. She was recruited by Sun Microsystems, and then, in 1992 was named CEO of Autodesk, Inc., a mid-sized computer software company. Within days of starting in her new role, Bartz was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she refused to take more than a month off for treatment. She beat cancer, and under her leadership, Auto Desk increased its annual revenue from $285 million to more than $1.5 billion. In 2009, Bartz became CEO of Yahoo!, a Fortune 500 internet company, where she promptly restructured the organization while cutting positions, reinforcing anti-discrimination policies, and investing in innovation. Her approach did not please the company executives, however, and she was fired less than three years later. She went on to serve on the board of directors for the software giant Cisco.
Debra Amesqua (1951-present)
Debra Amesqua was the first woman chief of the Madison Fire Department and one of the first women fire chiefs in the country.
Amesqua, born Debra Jane Hernandez, grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. Her parents were migrant famers with roots in Mexico who enjoyed music. Her early exposure to music influenced her to study the clarinet and guitar at Florida State University (FSU), making her the first person in her family to attend college. Amesqua left FSU before graduating, and in 1983, she became a firefighter. She served as a trainer in Tallahassee before relocating to Madison, Wisconsin.
Amesqua, who became Madison's first woman fire chief in 1996, was only the seventh woman in the country to lead a fire department. She faced strong opposition during her first years as chief but gradually earned the respect of her department. Chief Amesqua oversaw nearly 400 personnel and 12 stations including the opening of two new stations (the first in 25 years). Under her leadership, Emergency Medical Services protocol improved throughout Dane County, and the emphasis on fire prevention strengthened. As a result, the City of Madison recorded only one fire fatality in three and a half years, compared to the national average of seven to eight fatalities in a three-year span. Amesqua received numerous awards during her career, including Chief of the Year by the Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association. After 16 years as the Madison fire chief, she retired in 2012.
Tammy Baldwin (1962-present)
Tammy Baldwin was the first woman elected to represent Wisconsin in Congress and the first openly gay senator in U.S. history.
Baldwin was raised in Madison by her grandparents. After graduating from Madison West High School, she majored in political science and mathematics at Smith College in Massachusetts, and then went on to earn her law degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1989. While in law school, Baldwin served on the Madison Common Council and was elected to her first of four terms on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. Baldwin was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly as a representative for the 78th District in 1992 and served three terms.
In 1998, Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District elected Baldwin to the U.S. House of Representatives, making her the first woman from Wisconsin to be elected to Congress. Although several U.S. representatives had already come out as gay during their terms, Baldwin was the first to be openly gay at the time of election. During her seven terms in the House, Baldwin, a Democrat, was an advocate for middle-class economic security and health care. She voted against allowing Wall Street and big banks to write their own policies, helped develop the Affordable Care Act, and led the effort to allow young people to remain on their parents' health insurance plans until age 26. In 2010, Baldwin defeated former governor Tommy Thompson to make history again, this time as the first Wisconsin woman elected to the U.S. Senate and the nation's first openly gay senator of any gender. Throughout her career she has been a steadfast voice for LGBT and women's issues, including gay marriage and anti-discrimination policies.
Mee Moua (1969-present)
Mee Moua was the first Hmong American to be elected to a state legislature in the U.S.
Moua was born in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. During the Vietnam War, she and her family fled Laos for a refugee camp in Thailand and then, after four years, relocated to the U.S. when she was nine years old. After living in Rhode Island for a short time, they settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, where they were one of few families of color in an area where most residents were white and Catholic. The adjustment was challenging, and Moua clung tightly to her Hmong roots for strength. She also joined the Girl Scouts, the debate club, and the basketball team, and sang in the choir at the Catholic church. She attended Brown University in Rhode Island to study medicine, but when she discovered her passion for politics, she switched her focus to public policy and studied issues of poverty, welfare, and Medicare. Moua became a junior fellow at Princeton University in New Jersey, and she received a Woodrow Wilson fellowship to study public policy at the University of Texas-Austin.
In 1997, Moua began to study law at the University of Minnesota. She got a taste for running a political campaign when she helped her uncle, Neal Thao, get elected to the St. Paul School Board. She also served as leader of the Hmong Chamber of Commerce and the Hmong Bar Association. When a Minnesota Senate seat became vacant in 2002, Moua decided to run. She won the special election with 60 percent of the vote. She was re-elected two more times and served a total of nine years in the Minnesota Senate. Moua chaired the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee and was a voice for civil rights, education, housing, economic development and safety. After retiring in 2010, she became the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization that works to promote human and civil rights for Asian Americans and social equity for all.