WHEELERweek – Women in the Legislature


As published by The Wheeler Report – Wednesday, June 12, 1992

Republican Rep. Alberta Darling of River Hills said she will run for election to the Senate from the 8th District. She will challenge Democrat Sen. Barbara Ulichny of Milwaukee, if Ulichny decides to seek re-election. Darling’s decision to run for the Senate removes several of the situations in which two incumbents live in the same Assembly District.

And Today …

In January 2015, the Legislative Reference Bureau published a historical list of women serving in the legislature. According to that document, 132 women have held seats in the Wisconsin Legislature, including the 33 who served in the 2015 Legislature. Kathryn Morrison was the first woman elected to the Wisconsin Senate (1975).  Marcia Coggs was the first African-American elected to the Assembly (1977). Alberta Darling is the longest serving female senator in Wisconsin history with 25 years. Rep. Annette Polly Williams is the longest serving woman in Wisconsin history with 15 sessions (30 years). Sen. Mary Lazich was the first female Senate President (1975), Sen. Kathryn Morrison was the first female to serve on the Joint Finance Committee (1976), Rep. Mary Lou Munts was the first Joint Finance co-chair (1983), Alberta Darling was the first Senate Finance Co-chair. Rep. Louise Tesmer was the first female elected deputy speaker (1981), Sen. Susan Engeleiter was the first female Senate minority leader, Sen. Mary Panzer was the first Senate majority leader (2003), Rep. Pat Strachota was the first Assembly Majority Leader (2014). Rep. Betty Jo Nelsen was the first female minority leader of the Assembly. Sen. Judy Robson was the first female to serve as both the Senate minority leader (2004) and Senate majority leader (2007).

The 2017 session has 31 women, 9 senators and 22 representatives. Rep. Cindi Duchow is serving her first full term; she was elected in a special election last session.

According to the Wisconsin Women’s Council Fact Sheet, 53% of the women serving in the 2017 Wisconsin State Legislature held local elected office prior to serving as legislators. Women serving in the Assembly are more likely than Senators to have held local elected office (59% vs. 38%). The County Board is the most common level of local elected office for all legislators, yet women are 3x more likely to have served on a School Board. Most of the women serving in the Wisconsin Senate first served in the Assembly (88%).

Wisconsin Women’s Council has published a visual timeline of Women in Wisconsin politics, and a Women in the Wisconsin Legislature, 2017.