MADISON, WI (SPECTRUM NEWS) – Wisconsin forever made its mark in history books when it became the first state to ratify the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
That happened 100 years ago Monday.
Hundreds gathered in the rotunda of the State Capitol to witness the unveiling of the original 19th amendment document Monday afternoon.
It was a centennial celebration recognizing how Wisconsin and the nation have stood on the shoulders of our ancestors.
Lori Bessler's great great grandfather was David G. James who is the Wisconsin senator who took the paperwork from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. to make Wisconsin the first state to ratify the 19th amendment.
“It's funny because the most important part for me was watching my daughters and other nieces,” Bessler said after the ceremony. “Since I was a kid is when we've been hearing, me and my brothers and sisters have been hearing, about this story of this ancestor of ours.”
Bessler and her family helped unveil the original document to the public Monday as stories were shared about her ancestor and the long fight for women's suffrage.
Former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who is the current Executive Director of the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission, shared stories about the race for ratification.
“My papers were filed safely and I received a signed statement that Wisconsin was the first,” Kleefisch said, reading an account of David James' journey to our nation's capital.
State Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley also recounted how the suffrage movement had an impact on her career today.
“There was no law on the books that said women could practice in the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Bradley said. She also went on to point out that currently, six out of the seven justices on the State Supreme Court are women.
Wisconsin made history 100 years ago, but the celebration was also a reminder that other history is still being made.
“Please understand that as a Native American individual, we didn't have rights as citizens in the State of Wisconsin before the women of Wisconsin had the right to vote,” Shannon Holsey, President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, said.
While work still needs to be done, minorities have also made strides in democracy. State Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R-Oak Creek) is the first Hispanic immigrant to be elected to the Wisconsin Legislature and State Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) is the first African American from Dane County to be elected to the legislature. Both lawmakers offered a message that we can't forget past wrongs if we hope to correct them.
A public viewing of the original 19th amendment document, a tunic, and a small array of buttons and sashes was available for one day only in the rotunda of the State Capitol, which was kept open late until 10 p.m. Monday so the public had an opportunity to check the artifacts out.
Other centennial celebrations will be happening across Wisconsin throughout June. A list of those events, along with information and learning resources, is available on the new 19th Amendment Centennial Web Portal, which was announced by Governor Tony Evers and First Lady Kathy Evers last week.