By: Lydia Slattery 6/21/19 Oshkosh Northwestern
OSHKOSH - As more than 700 teens will come to UW-Oshkosh to participate in a week-long program about voting and governing, it's important to remember those rights weren't always guaranteed for them, organizers said.
Badger Girls State is in its 76th year, which means it was formed 24 years after the state Legislature ratified the 19th Amendment in June 1919, giving women the right to vote. The 19th Amendment wasn't even a part of the U.S. Constitution until more than a year later in August 1920 when enough states had ratified it.
Badger Girls State, which is sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary, is an annual program that teaches girls about governing and politics for a week in June.
They learn about how to run for office, voting and American ideals, said Dany Thompson chairperson of Badger Girls State. They have to create the laws they want, but they do it by themselves, she said.
In essence, it's like they're creating a 51st state, Thompson said.
The attendees form cities to live in, which they go on to represent via elections and enact laws and ordinances. It's a way to engage teens in government, according to the Badger Girls State website.
Most who attend are 16 or 17 years old, which means they'll soon be eligible to vote, so the program teaches them the importance of voting and how it affects state and local laws, Thompson said.
People can follow along about the 2019 election results on the Girls State website www.alabgs.org.
Georgia Eggert, of Shawano, and Emelia Smith, of Oshkosh, give one-minute speeches while running for county sheriff during American Legion Auxiliary Badger Girls State Monday, June 17, 2019, at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Georgia Eggert, of Shawano, and Emelia Smith, of Oshkosh, give one-minute speeches while running for county sheriff during American Legion Auxiliary Badger Girls State Monday, June 17, 2019, at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. (Photo: Danny Damiani/USA TODAY NETWORK-)
"We want more women running for office. We want people to go out and vote," Thompson said.
The attendees will also be eligible to run for office in the future, which women aren't always encouraged to do, Thompson said.
Women have have paved the way for future generations of women to run. Oshkosh's own Jessie Jack Hooper unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for U.S. Senate in 1922.
While women have been able to run for office for nearly a century, they're still underrepresented in the Wisconsin Legislature, since women hold a quarter of the seats in the Capitol but make up more than half the population in the state. Wisconsin has also never had a female governor.
It's open to Wisconsin girls who've just finished their junior year of high school and their grades must place them in the top two-thirds of the class rank, Thompson said. The girls are nominated by their high schools or American Legion Auxiliary, she said.
Between 700 and 730 teens attend the event each year, Thompson said. Each state has its own version and Wisconsin's is the third largest, she said. Indiana and Missouri host larger groups, she said.
Gov. Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul, Superintendent of Public Instruction Stanford Taylor and State Treasure Sarah Godlewski — a former Badger Girls State participant — were set speak to the attendees Thursday about Wisconsin's passage of the 19th Amendment 100 years ago and the importance of voting, Thompson said.
Badger Girls State has produced a number of elected officials throughout the years including state Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Steven's Point), Thompson said. A lot of young women also run for city and county offices, she said.
"We do know that it has made an impact," Thompson said.
She's proud of the program and the entire event is run by volunteers, Thompson said.