A group of women dressed in large hats decked with flowers and ribbons, and long sashes spoke before the River Falls City Council during the public comment section of the council's regular meeting Tuesday, May 28.
The group, lead by Lorraine Davis of the River Falls American Association of University Women (AAUW), had decked themselves out in the regalia of suffragettes in the year 1919, when the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, a group of representatives from a number of local organizations has come together to plan an event and spread awareness.
Mayor Dan Toland read a proclamation acknowledging June 10 as the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment during the council meeting.
During public comment time, Davis thanked Toland for the proclamation, and spoke briefly of a planned event set for June 19 at River Falls Public Library.
In a later interview, Davis said her interest in doing something for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment stems partially from her academic interests.
"I was a history teacher," she said.
She read about the anniversary last fall, and started working to organize a committee.
She called Cole Zrostlik, library event and gallery coordinator. From there others joined in the effort, including Kathryn Otto, Mary Baumgartner, Julie Huebel, Heidi Heinze and Jayne Hoffman of the River Falls Historic Preservation Commission; Lesley Dame, Brad Gee, Amanda Moeller, Kimberly Westberry, Morgan Paavola and Kurt Leichtle.
The committee includes representatives from the Pierce County Historical Association, the River Falls Historic Preservation Commission, River Falls Public Library, Tuesday Club, the American Association of University Women and more.
The first committee meeting was held in April. Davis said the goal was to create a meaningful event that involved the community.
Contacting the mayor, and asking him to make a proclamation regarding the 100th anniversary of Womens' Suffrage was one of the first things the committee did.
Toland obliged during the May 28 council meeting.
As a part of their work, the committee began looking into the history of women's suffrage in the area.
"This part of the state did not have a big suffrage movement," said Davis. She did find records of suffrage efforts in Durand and Eau Claire.
Baumgartner said she found a note in the Tuesday Club minutes from Jan. 21, 1919, in which a club member, Anna Wadsworth, spoke in favor of women's suffrage; the club voted in favor of her sending a letter to the local state representative at the time, asking him to support ratifying the 19th Amendment.
Davis said Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment.
"I think that's something for Wisconsin to be proud of," she said.
However, she said Wisconsin may be counted as first on a technicality.
Davis said Ada James, a women's suffrage leader in Wisconsin, came from a politically active family. Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan all ratified the 19th Amendment at about the same time, Davis said.
"But Ada James' father, I guess you'd call him a feminist of the time, got on the train to take the amendment papers to Washington," Davis said.
Therefore, she said, whether Wisconsin ratified the 19th Amendment first or not, Wisconsin got the paperwork in first.
Davis said more information about women's suffrage, including some local and area history, such as newspaper articles regarding the first election in which women were allowed to vote, and a photo of the first female voters in Hudson, will be on display at the River Falls Public Library at 6:30 p.m. June 19. The committee has also invited Betty Bergland, a UWRF Emerita Professor to speak about women's suffrage. Other activities include a tea, button making, exhibits and displays. There will be period hats and "Votes for Women" sashes that participants can wear.
Davis said it's important to remember the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, because many, especially women, worked long and hard to get the vote.