“The will of the people is the law of the land.” This statement from Bob LaFollette is painted on the ceiling of the governor’s conference room, and when I saw it recently, I was immediately reminded of the 19th Amendment. The women who championed the 19th recognized that our democracy cannot truly function without guaranteeing every citizen the right to freely participate in it.

On June 10, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin’s ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. We should be extremely proud that Wisconsin was the first state in the Union to open the doors to let women through to the polls. I am grateful to the women who came before me and fought for years so that the women of future generations could have a voice in the law-making process.

Following the 19th’s ratification in 1919, the first women were elected to the state Assembly in 1925. However, the first woman wasn’t elected to the state Senate until 1974, nearly 50 years later. Additionally, before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, outlawing racial discrimination, the 19th Amendment didn’t necessarily apply to all women. Rather, the will of only certain people was the law of the land.

I am one of 36 female lawmakers in the Legislature, only seven of whom are women of color. It is exciting to see a record number of women holding office in the Legislature, but there is no doubt there is still work to be accomplished to achieve true representation in our elections and among our elected officials. While we are entitled to voting rights by law, disparities in the ability to access these rights cannot be ignored. Additionally, we must continue to call for fair redistricting in our state to truly make every person’s voice equally heard.

On June 10, we celebrate 100 years of progress, but we also must continue the work of all those who came before us to fight for this basic right. I admire the women’s organizations that are expanding upon the work of the suffragettes to inclusively empower women of color and of all social classes. The right to vote is one of the most powerful freedoms we have in this country, and I am proud of the women who fought a century ago to achieve this freedom.

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State Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, represents the 44th Assembly District.

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