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Women's Suffrage in the Progressive Era
Robert LaFollette on Women's Public Role

Robert La Follette (1855-1925) was a Republican politician who held a variety of public offices, from county district attorney, to Wisconsin Governor, to national representative and Senator. His autobiography traces that public life. He championed most reforms associated with the progressive movement--regulation of business interests (especially the railroads) and utilities; election reforms; taxation reform; and public management of public resources by highly qualified, non-partisan public servants. In the excerpt from his autobiography below, in what ways does La Follette indicate his support for women's suffrage and women's greater role in public affairs?

View LaFollette's Autobiography, from Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910.

It has always seemed to me that women should play a larger part than they do in the greater housekeeping of the state. One of the factors in the improvement of conditions in Wisconsin has been the selection of able women for positions in the state service, particularly upon those boards having to do with the welfare of women.

In my first message to the legislature, after I became governor, I recommended the appointment of a woman as factory inspector, and also that women should serve on the Boards of University and Normal School Regents, and on the very important Boards of Control, which has charge of all the charitable, penal and reformatory institutions of the state.

At first, even in our own camp, there was some opposition to the appointment of women in the state service -- a survival of the old political belief that "the boys ought to have the places" -- and especially the places that carried good salaries -- but that feeling has disappeared before the evidences of the high character of the services which these women have rendered.

Mrs. La Follette and other interested women exercised a helpful influence in securing the legislation and in making the appointments. . . .

I believe not only in using the peculiar executive abilities of women in the state service, but I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in woman suffrage. The great economic and industrial questions of to-day affect women as directly as they do men. And the interests of men and women are not antagonistic one to the other, but mutual and coordinate. Co-suffrage, like co-education, will react not to the special advantage of either men or women, but will result in a more enlightened, better balanced citizenship, and in a truer democracy. I am glad to say that the legislature of Wisconsin passed, at its last session, a suffrage law which will be submitted on referendum next November to the voters of the state. I shall support it and campaign for it.
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View the Table of Contents of LaFollette's Autobiography, from Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.