On January 7, 1856, not one but two men were sworn into office as governor of Wisconsin: William Barstow, the Democratic incumbent, and Coles Bashford, his Republican challenger. For weeks, Wisconsinites waited to see if the standoff would end in civil strife. Ultimately, the contested election came before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The court’s decision in Bashford v. Barstow reaffirmed the separation of powers under the Wisconsin Constitution and helped Wisconsin weather its first political crisis.
Wisconsin’s first female legislators took office in January 1925 and the legislature reached its highest number of female legislators in the 2021–22 legislative session. This publication highlights other firsts among women members of the Wisconsin Legislature, such as appointment on the Joint Committee on Finance (Senator Kathryn Morrison in 1975), service in legislative leadership (Representative Louise Tesmer as deputy speaker in 1981), and service as the presiding officer of either house (Senator Mary Lazich as senate president in 2015).
Representative Lucian H. Palmer became the first Black member of the Wisconsin St ate Assembly in January 1907, paving the way for other Black Wisconsinites to chair legislative committees (Representative Isaac Coggs in 1959), serve on the Joint Committee on Finance (Representative Lloyd Barbee in 1965), and win election to the Wisconsin Sta te Senate (Senator Monroe Swan in 1972). This publication provides a list and brief history of Wisconsin’s Black lawmakers.
In his oral history interview with the LRB, Patrick Lucey recounts his work as a Democratic campaigner, state representative, Wisconsin governor, and U.S. ambassador to Mexico. In addition to recounting his legislative achievements as governor, such as the University of Wisconsin System merger, Lucey details his work on the presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and John Anderson.
Senator Judy Robson’s oral history interview with the Legislative Reference Bureau focuses on her service in the Wisconsin State Legislature as an extension of her advocacy on behalf of nurses. Robson describes her efforts to secure health care reform and reduce prescription drug prices, as well as her path to becoming the first woman to serve as both senate minority leader and majority leader for the Democratic caucus.
Walter John Chilsen was both a storied local broadcaster and an influential figure in the WisconsinState Senate, in which he served from 1967 to 1990. In his oral history interview with the Legislative Reference Bureau, Chilsen describes his service as a bombardier in World War II, work as a news anchor for Wausau’s first TV station, friendship with fellow legislators such as Clifford “Tiny” Krueger, and reflects on money in politics.
Senator David Berger’s oral history interview with the Legislative Reference Bureau focuses on his service in the Wisconsin State Legislature in the 1970s and 1980s and his role i n reforming legislative oversight of administrative rules. Berger also describes door-to-door campaigning in his Milwaukee district, collaborating with future governor Tommy Thompson, his “hardball” political style, and his role in creating the State of Wisconsin tartan.
Article IV, section 8, of the Wisconsin Constitution permits the Wisconsin State Legislature to punish or expel members for “contempt and disorderly behavior.” This overview of the legislature’s disciplinary power details its myriad uses throughout Wisconsin history—from expelling a member of the territorial government for killing another member in 1842 to suspendi ng a state senator for bribery in 1906.
Margaret Farrow served as a state representative, state senator, and Wisconsin’s first female lieutenant governor. In her oral history interview with the Legislative Reference Bureau, she describes her engagement in local government in Elm Grove, the debate over the Brewers’ stadium bill, the internal politics of the Wisconsin Women’s Council, and her role in creating WisconsinEye.
This article recounts how the 1919 Wisconsin State Legislature enacted innovative veterans legislation following World War I, including temporary support for veterans with disabilities, cash bonuses for service, and bonuses to pursue education. These programs served as precursors for important federal legislation, such as the GI Bill.
On June 10, 1919, members of the Wisconsin State Legislature voted to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This publication provides a narrative introduction to that day and details the movement that made it possible, which was led by Wisconsinsuffragists like Jessie Jack Hooper, Theodora Winton Youmans, and Ada James.
In his oral history interview with the Legislative Reference Bureau, Representative Edward Brooks relates his career as a dairy farmer, leader in dairy cooperatives, local official in Reedsburg, and state representative. He also reflects on the importance of committee work, his bel ief in “smaller government when possible,” and the value of bridging the divide between legislators from rural and urban districts.
Drawing from interviews with current and former legislators, this article profiles women in the Wisconsin State Legislature. It surveys their decisions to pursue politics, experiences campaigning, strategies for pursuing legislative goals, and reflections on whether and how sexism or gender bias has affected their careers.
WISCONSIN LEGISLATIVE REFERENCE BUREAU
A nonpartisan agency serving the Wisconsin Legislature since 1901