Women in Government

By WWN Communications Intern, Julia Mroczkowski

“Women’s history is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.” –Gerda Lerner[1]

In 1980, Lerner started a women’s history program at the University of Wisconsin, and then established similar programs throughout the United States. She firmly believed that liberating women helps improve democracy so that there is equal representation of the genders in government. Women first began to have political representation in Wisconsin when three women were elected to the legislature in 1925: Helen Thompson, Helen Brooks, and Mildred Barber.[2] Since then women in Wisconsin have made some gains towards equal representation of in state government. In the 1950’s, women held four seats in the Wisconsin legislature; nine women in the 60’s, fifty-one women in the 70’s; and since 2001, 230 women have held a seat in the state legislature. Thompson, Brooks, and Barber paved the road for women to take part in the public decisions that effect women’s lives. Exemplary women such as Wisconsin’s first woman state senator, Kathryn Morrison, Wisconsin’s current U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who currently serves Wisconsin’s 4th District, continue the legacy started by Thompson, Brooks, & Barber. Women need equal representation in government to increase women’s rights, to advance gender equality, and empower women. Without equal representation gender discrimination will continue, and decisions about women’s issues will be continually be made by men.

The Wisconsin legislature did not have a woman senator until 1975. Currently, in the Wisconsin legislature there are a total of 132 members consisting of 33 senators and 99 assembly members. [3] According to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, only 126 women have held seats in the legislature since 1925. Former Senator Kathryn Morrison was the first and only woman to represent Wisconsin’s 17th senate district. [4] From 1999 to 2001, 11 women served in the Wisconsin senate, the greatest amount of any historical term. In 2003, the Wisconsin legislature consisted of 37 women, setting the record for number of women representatives in Wisconsin. Currently, 34 women serve in the Wisconsin legislature, 25 in the assembly, and 9 in the senate.[5]

Wisconsin’s first woman U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin, and the first woman to represent Wisconsin’s 4th district, Rep. Gwen Moore, are both advocates for equality and especially women’s equality. These two women were not in support of the recent Wisconsin Voter ID law because they want all of their constituents to be able to exercise their right to vote.[6] Senator Baldwin is not only a representative for women, but is also the first openly gay woman elected to the U.S. Senate. The main issues that she supports are education, health care, and an economic recovery that ensures a strong middle class. Rep. Moore, serves not only Wisconsin’s 4th district, but also serves as an advocate for Wisconsin’s African-American population. Congresswoman Moore promotes women’s rights and has a strong focus on the community by creating jobs. These women have been working together to ensure that women in Wisconsin are guaranteed their rights. For example, they both were against the voter identification requirement and wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general approving of his stance on the bill. They also have been sending letters to Governor Scott Walker since 2012, insisting that the state adopts the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, which would allow Wisconsinites to have health insurance.[7] Sen. Baldwin and Rep. Moore focus on social issues that have the most impact on women and children and represent their needs.

Looking forward to Wisconsin’s representation in government it would be best if more women were elected in order to promote gender equality. Wisconsin women representatives have been increasing since 1925, but still have a long way to go for equality among the genders. Encouraging young girls that Wisconsin needs women representatives will increase gender equality. Rep. Gwen Moore[8] and Sen. Tammy Baldwin[9] are serving on committees that support women’s rights and diversity. Within the last ten years women have gained more representation in the Wisconsin legislature and women’s issues are now being decided on by both genders. Women throughout history have struggled to gain representation in government, and unless Wisconsin encourages girls to become political leaders women will remain underrepresented.

[1] National Women’s History Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[2] Keane, M. (2013, January 1). Wisconsin Women Legislators-A Historical List. Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[3] http://legis.wisconsin.gov/

[4] Keane, M. (2013, January 1). Wisconsin Women Legislators-A Historical List. Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[5] Women in State Legislatures for 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[6] Congresswoman Gwen Moore : Press Releases : Baldwin, Moore, Kind and Pocan Send Letter to U.S. AG Applauding his Voter Protection Efforts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[7] Congresswoman Gwen Moore : Press Releases : Kohl, Baldwin, Kind, Moore and Pocan Encourage Governor Walker to Implement State-Based Health Insurance Exchange. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[8] Working for Women. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://gwenmoore.house.gov/working-for-women/

[9] About Tammy | Tammy Baldwin | U.S. Senator for Wisconsin. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://www.baldwin.senate.gov/about

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