Wisconsin State Law Library

Serving the Wisconsin Supreme Court and State of Wisconsin

Skip to content

Website Catalog

Library Highlights

June 10, 2019

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Wisconsin

"For 53 years," Theodora Winton Youmans wrote in the June 12, 1919 edition of the Wood County Reporter, "the woman suffrage question has been presented in some way to each session of the Congress of the United States." In June 1919, it was finally close to resolution when the Nineteenth Amendment was finally passed into law and set to the states to ratify. Youmans was one of the first women journalists and the president of the Wisconsin Women's Suffrage Association (WWSA) when Wisconsin ratified the amendment. Her words can be widely read in archived newsletters and newspapers, and paint a vivid picture of some of the arguments and issues of the time.

Women's Suffrage Centennial Celebration, Wisconsin State Capitol, June 10, 2019
Women were the engines of change, fighting for the right to vote for decades. While the conventional Wisconsin women's suffrage story tends to focus on the final frenzy of ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment and the subsequent rush to be first to file it in Washington D.C., the story of women's suffrage in Wisconsin is both rich and lengthy, stretching back to the origins of the state. Before women enjoyed full voting rights, they fought for limited rights to serve in office and vote in school elections.

June 10, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Throughout the month of June, the David T. Prosser Jr. Library will host a display featuring historical briefs and laws, related books, and photos and newspaper articles of the time.

Women's Suffrage Display at the David T. Prosser Jr. Library
Come into the library to read through these first hand. This display is set up so you can pick up individual pieces to examine them more closely. Don't miss our newsletter feature articles, Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Wisconsin and Women’s Suffrage Legislation in Wisconsin, or our blog posts featuring Supreme Court briefs related to women's suffrage: Brown v. Phillips and Gilkey v. McKinley.

Gilkey v. McKinley


Gilkey v. McKinley
75 Wis 543 (1890)

Women had the right to vote only in “school matters” and this was tested in 1887 by Olympia Brown’s case, Brown v. Phillips. The ability to vote in elections concerning school matters was additionally diminished when a close local election was decided by the margin of votes in a special voting box set aside for women. The runner-up sued, and the resulting Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, Gilkey v. McKinley, meant that clerks could not provide separate ballot boxes for women voting in certain local elections (which may involve “school matters”), nor could clerks inspect the women’s ballots to make sure they only voted on those items. It wasn’t until a decade later, in 1901, that the Legislature enacted a law requiring every precinct in the state to provide a separate ballot box for women voting on school matters. Prior to that time, women were unable to vote for school issues in elections which decided other matters or offices.


We have the Supreme Court briefs for this case in our library, and you can read them online as well: Gilkey v. McKinley.

Brown v. Phillips


Brown v. Phillips
71 Wis 239 (1888)

Olympia Brown led the Wisconsin Women’s Suffrage Association from 1884 to 1912. Beginning in 1886, women had been granted a limited right to vote in “any election pertaining to school matters.” The law headed for a test with the spring election of 1887. Olympia Brown, along with many other women, voted in her local municipal election for the offices of mayor, city clerk, comptroller, alderman, and supervisor. Brown argued that these offices were pertinent to “school matters” and were therefore permissible for her to vote on. When she was not allowed to vote, Brown sued the city.

While the circuit court agreed with Brown’s position, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Olympia Brown. You can learn more about this case on the Wisconsin Court System’s summary of famous cases: Brown v. Phillips and others.


We have the Supreme Court briefs for this famous case in our library, and you can read them online in two parts: Brown v. Phillips Part One, Brown v. Phillips Part Two.

June 3, 2019

WSLL @ Your Service June 2019

The June issue of WSLL @ Your Service is now online. Your comments are welcome! Please direct them to the editor, Carol Hassler.

In this issue: 

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage in Wisconsin

June 10, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Read more


Women’s Suffrage Legislation in Wisconsin

The process of passing full women's suffrage was decades in duration, and marked by setbacks. Read more


New Books

Our featured titles this month are Field guide to legal research and The family law guide to appellate practice. Don't miss our new book list as well! Read more


Tech Tip

Windows 7 is coming to an end. Although this operating system was introduced 10 years ago, it's estimated that almost 40% of PC users are still using it. Read more


Library News

Get a recap of recent events at the library and schedule a library tour for your summer associates, clerks, and interns. Read more


June Snapshot

There's no surer sign of spring in downtown Madison than tulips blooming around the Capitol! Read more

Blog Archive