Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

La Follette Casket Flag

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

La Follette Casket Flag | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeUnited States flag used to drape the caskets of both Robert M. Lafollette, Sr. and Jr.

United States flag used to drape the caskets of both Robert M. Lafollette, Sr. and Jr.

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1951.187

EnlargeFuneral of Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr.

Funeral of Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr., 1925

Funeral of Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin, June 22, 1925. Mourners include his wife, Belle Case La Follette, and sons Philip Fox La Follette and Robert M. La Follette, Jr. (in front of tree). View the original source document: WHI 32416

EnlargeRobert M. La Follette, Sr. in discussion with his son Robert M. La Follette, Jr.

Robert M. La Follette, Sr. in discussion with his son Robert M. La Follette, Jr., 1924

Robert M. La Follette, Sr. (right) in discussion with his son Robert M. La Follette, Jr. in 1924, the year before the elder La Follette died and his son won his vacant Senate seat.  View the original source document: WHI 28147

United States Flag used to drape the caskets of both Robert M. La Follette, Sr. and Jr.
(Museum object #1951.187)

Robert M. La Follette, Sr., an iconic figure in Wisconsin history, passed away on June 18, 1925 at the age of seventy from a combination of heart disease and pneumonia. During the following days, his body lay in state covered by this flag inside the Wisconsin Capitol's rotunda. On June 22 he was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison and the flag was presented to his widow, Belle Case La Follette. Almost ten years later La Follette's children donated the flag to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

La Follette is one of only a handful of Wisconsin figures to have had a long-lasting impact on both state and national politics. As governor (1901-1906), he spearheaded a progressive reform movement that earned Wisconsin a national reputation for honest government dedicated to the public good over special interests. During his administration, the Wisconsin legislature adopted the direct primary, introduced a civil service system, reorganized the tax structure, and increased the regulation of corporations. La Follette's political reforms paved the way for many profound economic and social changes that followed.

As United States senator (1906-1925), La Follette fought corrupt practices, championed government regulation of business and commerce, and promoted conservation. He opposed U.S. involvement in World War I and in 1924 ran unsuccessfully for president on the Progressive ticket. To this day, Wisconsinites praise La Follette's outstanding legacy of clean, efficient government.

La Follette's sons became influential political figures in their own right and followed closely in their father's footsteps. Philip Fox La Follette served three terms as governor during the 1930s while Wisconsin elected his older brother, Robert M. La Follette, Jr., to fill his father's vacated seat as a United States senator where he served for twenty-two years until Joe McCarthy unseated him in 1946. After Robert Jr.'s death on February 24, 1953 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the the La Follette family again used the flag to cover a family member's casket.

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Posted on June 09, 2005