Book Reviews -- on Wisconsin Women: Working for Their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage by Genevieve G. McBride

Article excerpt

McBride, Genevieve G. On Wisconsin Women: Working for Their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. 352 pp. $43.

It is rare when the history of women's political culture is explicitly linked to the press and the emergence of public relations. Too often, historians treat the press and journalists as peripheral to the narrative of women's struggles for legislative, judicial and social equality, while journalism historians often neglect broader questions about gender and social structure. In her book On Wisconsin Women, Genevieve McBride has done an admirable job of bringing these important threads together in a readable and revealing text. McBride, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has worked for the state's top newspapers and in public relations.

The title On Wisconsin Women is somewhat misleading. The central focus of this book is the role of women in Wisconsin's reform press of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the ways women journalists marshaled the press in the fight for suffrage. Relying on a wealth of resources collected by the Historical Society of Wisconsin and local history organizations, she presents a detailed array of people, publications and events that provide a context for understanding the state's history as well as the story of the suffrage movement.

On Wisconsin Women begins in the late antebellum years, with the emergence of abolitionism, temperance and other reform movements. Wisconsin, which has a reputation for progressive reform politics, was a hotbed for these activities, and women were the foot soldiers of the movement. From the urban centers such as Milwaukee, to the vast prairies, women hosted meetings, did fundraising, wrote for reform papers and agitated for women's rights. In March 1852, a German immigrant, Mathilde Fransziska Anneke, founded the state's first women's newspaper, the Deutsche Frauen-Zeitung, "a radical, free-thinker's journal dedicated to the complete emancipation of women." While Anneke faced strong opposition in hiring and training women to work in the paper's composing room, she started a tradition of strong, woman-centered journalism that would persist in Wisconsin throughout the suffrage battle.

McBride demonstrates that while the state's women activists were working for sanitary commissions during the Civil War, for temperance, or other reform causes, they learned to gain access to, and use the press, to promote women's rights. …