The Women of Wisconsin

The following article appears in the March 2015 edition of The Historical Bulletin of the Brown County Historical Society:

The Women of Wisconsin
by Melinda Roberts

In its September 1913 Bulletin of Information No. 70: A Record of Landmarks in Wisconsin, the State Historical Society referenced its urgent request 25 years prior “that historic sites…be marked by local officials or societies.” The Society reported that, since 1898, “few seasons have passed that have not witnessed the unveiling of…tablets upon interesting sites, or of monuments of other kinds in commemoration of events or persons prominently connected with the…settlement of Wisconsin.”

The Society acknowledged “a large share” of the credit belonged to the Wisconsin State Federation of Women’s Clubs (many of whose leaders were members of the Wisconsin Historical Society), and reported it had “throughout gladly co-operated with the women in this excellent work.” And yet, after visiting nearly 3,500 Wisconsin historical markers and sites, this author has located only a few dozen tributes to females – less than 1% are dedicated exclusively to a Wisconsin woman!

Here follows a sampling of those few women whose accomplishments have been recognized:

Caroline Quiner Ingalls marker
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the “Little House” books. She was born in a log cabin seven miles northwest of Pepin. A State marker records her “lasting contributions to children’s literature”. A Waukesha County Historical Society marker is at the birthplace of Caroline Quiner “Ma” Ingalls, Laura’s mother.

Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, is honored twice – with a State marker at the UW-Milwaukee library named for her, and a privately-funded marker at the Milwaukee elementary school she attended (now the “Golda Meir Gifted and Talented School”).

A locally-sponsored marker in Jefferson County credits Anne Pickett with founding the first dairy co-op in Wisconsin “in her log house kitchen”.

State markers honor “world-renowned artist” Georgia O’Keefee, born 1887 “on the family farm” south of Sun Prairie, and Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), whose poetry, ranked among the 20th century’s finest, “celebrated the sights and sounds” of her Black Hawk Island (Jefferson County) home.

On a lonely stretch of Highway 80 in Juneau County, a barely-noticeable, weatherworn concrete tablet records the June 13, 1863 axe-handle murder of “Mrs. [Emma] Salter”, killed in front of her sleeping infant over keg of whiskey. The marker is placed at the gravesite of her murderers, Indian brothers, Jo and Jim Dandy, killed in revenge shortly afterwards by her husband.

Daguerreotype of Lucy Stone
Two markers in Viroqua (Vernon County) honor Lucy Stone, the “Morning Star of the Woman’s Rights movement”, at the site where she delivered, on July 4, 1856, “the first woman’s rights address and anti-slavery speech ever given by a woman in the great northwest.” In the midst of her speech, “the platform broke down. Rising unhurt she cried, ‘So will this nation fall unless slavery is abolished’.”

State markers honor Mabel Wanda Raimey (1898-1986), the first African-American woman attorney in Wisconsin and the first to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1918); and the Mabel Tainter Memorial, an ornate Romanesque-style auditorium erected by grief-stricken parents to the memory of daughter Mabel Tainter, a lover of music and the arts, who died at 19.

Unfortunately, space limitations require this article end here. However, throughout all of March, in honor of Women’s History Month, we will be posting regularly, on the Brown County Historical Society Facebook page, information on more markers honoring the Women of Wisconsin.

We leave you now with this question: What Wisconsin female’s gender was kept hidden so she could accompany the soldiers of Company C, 8th Wisconsin to the Civil War? Hint: Dozens of Wisconsin markers and monuments are erected in her honor. Check our Facebook page in March for the answer.*

September 1913 Bulletin of Information No. 70: A Record of Landmarks in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Historical markers website:

 * Posted to Facebook March 26, 2015
Wisconsin Woman of Distinction: Old Abe the War Eagle (May 1861 – March 26, 1881)
Today marks the anniversary of the death of Old Abe, who died of smoke inhalation from a fire at the capital building where she was housed following her service with the Wisconsin 8th during the Civil War.

Old Abe is Wisconsin's most famous female. In addition to her popularity while she was alive, her image was adopted as the eagle appearing on a globe in Case Corporation's logo, and she is the screaming eagle represented on the insignia of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.

Her gender has remained pretty much unacknowledged (and initially outright hidden) for generations. It is ironic that the anniversary of her tragic demise occurs during Women's History Month. I have a dream of placing on the myriad markers that tell her story with the pronoun "he", a medallion correcting the error and giving her credit for her gender.
Wisconsin's Most Famous Female -- Old Abe the War Eable
Old Abe spreads her wings for a portrait.

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