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Turning Points Features

The radical women of Richland Center form a secret club

Meeting secretly in the home of Laura B. James (mother of future suffrage leader Ada James) on a June afternoon in 1882, a group of Richland Center women formed Wisconsin's first woman suffrage club. As the wives of prominent businessmen and professionals, these women felt that their husbands might not approve of their activities, so they operated publicly as a social, philanthropic, and intellectual club-- neglecting to mention the exact intellectual topic that brought them together.

Woman suffrage had little popular support in 19th century Wisconsin. Bills to grant women full suffrage were introduced in 1855 and 1867 but both failed. Many women's suffrage activists were also leaders in the temperance movement which generated hostility toward both causes from Wisconsin's powerful brewing industry and from German Americans. By the 1890s, a new generation of suffrage activists led by, among others, Ada James of Richland Center began relying heavily on women's clubs (like this secret one) to promote suffrage as one part of a broader platform of reforms.

Posted August 18, 2005
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