Wisconsin Historical Society
A century ago, on May 21, 1919, the US House of Representatives voted difinitively (304 to 89) in support of women’s suffrage. Two weeks later, Wisconsinite Belle La Follette sat in the visitors’ gallery of the US Senate chamber. She “shed a few tears” when it was announced that, by a vote of 56 to 25, the US Senate also approved the Nineteenth Amendment, sending it on to the states for ratification.1 For Belle La Follette, this thrilling victory was the culmination of a decades-long fight. Six days later, her happiness turned to elation when Wisconsin became the first state to deliver a certification of ratification. Her husband, Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, confided to their children that Wisconsin “beat ’em to it on the suffrage amendment [because of] your smart mother.” Belle La Follette, worried that Illinois would “try to steal first honors,” had wired representatives in her home state to be sure that Wisconsin acted as quickly as possible.2 Former state senator David James, whose daughter Ada had been a leader in the state’s crusade, was hailed by Belle as “the gallant, veteran courier” for delivering the papers to the state department just moments ahead of the messenger from Illinois.3 As soon as a telegram of confirmation was received, reported Bob, “I went on the floor and had it read into the [Congressional] Record. . . . Mamma and all of us feel good, you bet.”4
Unger, N. (2019). Belle La Follette’s Fight for Women’s Suffrage: Losing the Battle for Wisconsin, Winning the War for the Nation. Wisconsin Magazine of History, 102(4), 28–41.