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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Ghost of Protests Past

Readers have begun to ask us to provide historical context for this week's demonstrations at the Capitol. It is not Odd Wisconsin's place to advocate or persuade, of course, but merely to educate and entertain. So here are a few odd moments from historic Wisconsin protests over the last century and a half.

1848: "We hope that the sky will be clear hereafter"

In 1848, Chief Oshkosh of the Menoninee used these words to conclude a speech in which he listed the grievances of his tribe against the federal government, which had not fulfilled its obligations to his nation under the Treaty of 1836. He was speaking to federal officials at Lake Poygan, near the site of the city that would later be named after him. "We know we are ignorant and poor, but we never forget a promise made to us. We have often been promised things which we have not received; we have been wronged about our payments and treaties. We now again repeat our complaint, and hope it will not again happen."

1854: "I picked up a six-inch beam and said to the crowd, 'Here's a good enough key!'"

In 1854, it was against the law to help a slave run away from his or her master. That didn't deter abolitionists in Milwaukee, however, when on March 11, 1854, a fugitive named Joshua Glover was locked up in the city jail. A laborer named James Angwine recalls in this article how he helped the mob smash down the door and send Glover on his way to Canada.

1862: "We stand by the flag -- but no draft!"

Support for the Union in the Civil War was not universal in Wisconsin. Many, especially German Catholics, did not like the Lincoln administration which, to them, represented abolitionism, nativism, and heresy. The draft authorized in 1862 was especially offensive, as many Germans had left Europe to escape compulsory military service. This article describes the rioting that occurred in Ozaukee County when local officials attempted to force local men to fight in the Civil War.

1886: "Processions of men marched from factory to factory..."

One of the most famous demonstrations in Wisconsin history ended with the Bay View Tragedy on May 5, 1886, when demonstrators advocating an 8-hour work day were shot down by the state militia and seven people died. In this six-page article, the mayor of Milwaukee, Emil Wallber, reviews those events and gives the government side of the story.

1898: "The women threw eggs with a great deal of accuracy."

In the summer of 1898, 1,500 Oshkosh woodworkers formed a union and launched a strike that lasted for 14 weeks. Events turned violent and deadly when the workers attacked the Morgan Mill and McMillan factory, as this article recounts. Many women participated in the strike as well, throwing eggs and bags of pepper at the deputies called to quell the disturbance.

1912: "A Menace to the Home, Men's Employment and All Business."

Strange as it seems a century later, there was a time when most people thought women should not be allowed to vote. Activists labored for decades, however, until in 1912, Ada James persuaded her father, a state senator, to get the legislature to authorize a statewide referendum on suffrage. This poster was printed by suffrage opponents in Watertown that fall. When the referendum was held, Wisconsin voters -- all men, by definition -- voted down women's suffrage by a margin of 63 to 37 percent.

:: Posted in Curiosities on February 17, 2011

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