Above: Belle Case La Follette. Photo Library of Congress.
Belle Case La Follette - Lawyer, Women's suffrage, peace, and civil rights activist, author; born Belle Case on April 21, 1859 in Summit, Wisconsin.
La Follette worked with the women's peace party during World War I. At the time of her death in 1931, the New York Times called her "probably the least known yet most influential of all American women who have had to do with public affairs in this country."
La Follette is best remembered as the wife and helpmate of Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette — a prominent Progressive Republican politician both in Wisconsin and on the national scene — and as co-editor with her husband of La Follette's Magazine (a weekly).
La Follette's parents were Unitarian of English and Scottish descent. She attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1875 to 1879 with the financial support of her farming parents. She excelled as a student, never missing a class or arriving late while at the university. La Follette's senior oration is perhaps her most memorable. "Learning to See" highlighted natural curiosity and the danger of forcing children to conform to convention. It won her the Lewis Prize for best essay or oration produced by the graduating class.
Belle Case met Bob La Follette at University of Wisconsin and developed an early friendship. While Belle excelled in her studies, Bob became notorious for poor grades but a clear, charismatic intelligence. While Bob helped Belle in her own speech-giving, Belle assisted Bob in his school work and other written projects (Bob would later only barely graduate, John Bascom himself having to provide the final say-so.) Their companionship eventually did blossom into an engagement.
Upon graduation from the university in 1879, La Follette became an assistant principal at Spring Green High School. La Follette later taught junior high school in Baraboo. One of La Follette's students in Baraboo was John Ringling, of whom she later wrote, "... when John read a long account -- interrupted with giggles from the school -- of the side shows he and other boys had been giving every night, I lectured him and drew the moral that if John would put his mind on his lessons as he did on side shows, he might yet become a scholar. Fortunately the scolding had no effect."
Belle married Bob on December 31, 1881. The ceremony was performed by a Unitarian minister and by mutual agreement, the word "obey" was omitted from the marriage vows.
Belle Case La Follette would later return to the University of Wisconsin Law School and became the school’s first female graduate in 1885.
La Follette lectured on women’s suffrage and other topics of the day. In 1909 she edited the "Home and Education" column in the magazine started by her husband, La Follette’s Weekly Magazine, which later became The Progressive. In 1911 and 1912 she wrote a syndicated column for the North American Press Syndicate. In 1914 Belle addressed the colored Young Men's Christian Association, raising an argument that segregation of colored people on street cars, public conveyances, and government departments was wrong.
When suffragists made appearances at more than 70 county fairs in 1912, La Follette visited seven of them in 10 days. In 1915 she helped found the Woman's Peace Party, which later became the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. After World War I, she was active in the Women's Committee for World Disarmament, and helped found the National Council for the Prevention of War in 1921.
La Follette was also a member of The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage whose members included Helen Keller and Maria Montessori, as well as her daughter, Fola.
For more information on Belle Case La Follette, visit Wikipedia.
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Belle Case La Follette
Lawyer, Women's suffrage, peace, and civil rights activist.
Above: In 1885, Belle Case was the first female graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School. Photo Library of Congress.
Above: Belle Case La Follette with horse at farm in Maple Bluff, Wisconsin. Photo Library of Congress.
Above: Belle Case La Follette with Robert La Follette at Roe Farm. Photo Library of Congress.
Above: Belle Case La Follette: Ballots & Bloomers. Wisconsin Public Television Education.