100 years ago today, Wisconsin became the first state to officially ratify the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Technically, though, Illinois was the first State Legislature to pass ratification.
"There were a lot of states that wanted to be number one," said former Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who now serves as the executive director of the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission. "Obviously Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois were all in that group and all of their Legislatures went to the floor on the morning of June 10th, 1919. On the floor, Wisconsin got a notice that Illinois had already ratified."
The Wisconsin Legislature had to act quickly. It held the vote immediately, raced to Governor Emmanuel Phillip to sign, and then tried to get the paperwork to Washington, D.C. as quickly as possible.
"They were all kind of looking around the room to try to figure out who's going to take these to D.C.," Kleefisch said. "They decide that former Senator David James, the father of one of the great suffrage activists from Richland Center, Ada James, should do it."
He was completely unprepared, though, as he had only traveled to Madison to see the 19th Amendment ratified because his daughter was such a big supporter. He didn't even bring enough money with him to pay for a train ride to Washington.
"Ada shoved her purse into his hands, Wisconsin's Secretary of State at the time shoved some cash in his hands and they say 'Go!,'" Kleefisch added. "He hops in a car, gets on a train, and gets in another car once he gets to Washington, D.C., and delivers Wisconsin's papers to the Secretary of State of the United States of America. It was the first stamped, signed, sealed, delivered ratification. Then James leaves for a minute and sees the Illinois messenger rushing in and declaring in a loud voice, 'I am here to present the papers to prove that Illinois is the first to ratify!' But they were late. Wisconsin had beaten them by about an hour and a half."
Kleefisch said the Wisconsin delegation erupted in howls of laughter.
"It was an awesome story made even more awesome by the fact that this preceded the first Packers-Bears game by two years. This was the original Wisconsin-Illinois rivalry!"