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Meta Schlichting Berger

Photograph of Meta Schlichting Berger in 1911.
Meta Schlichting Berger won election to the Milwaukee school board in 1909, seven years after women could vote in such an election, and a decade before women earned the right to vote in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Berger remained on the school board for another 30 years. In this and other prominent public… Read More


Local officials have attempted to control prostitution throughout Milwaukee's history. In November 1915, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors passed this resolution to "suppress and restrain disorderly houses, and houses of ill-fame and prostitution."
Trading cash for sex, either with streetwalkers or at brothels, is a practice as old as Milwaukee itself and, despite law and crusades against it, survives to this day, primarily men buying sex from women. The earliest references to prostitution in Milwaukee date back to the early 1850s, as articles appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel… Read More

Second-Wave Feminism

Cheryl Keenan, Milwaukee's representative in the National Organization for Women holds a shirt that reads "A woman's place is in the House...and the Senate" at the city's first women's festival in 1984.
The Oxford Living Dictionaries: English defines “feminism” as the “advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” and dates the English usage of the term to the late nineteenth century. As the “woman movement” achieved its goal of suffrage for women in the early twentieth century, women’s activists began to… Read More


Published in 1889, The Sporting and Club House Guide to Milwaukee provided descriptions and locations of houses of prostitution throughout the city. See the next image for an example.
Sex is such a basic human activity that, like eating or sleeping or working, it is difficult to initially see what a general historical treatment of the subject might be, much less what a particular Milwaukee perspective might be. Relatedly, any analysis of sexual activity also quickly becomes enmeshed with a discussion of how other… Read More

Sexual Health

In 1916 Milwaukee Health Department inspectors posted this notice in factory toilets and public toilets to offer “advice” on treating or avoiding sexually transmitted diseases.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality” and emphasizes “it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” In the context of Milwaukee’s history, the main focus of policies and practices surrounding sexual health, however, concerns the prevention and… Read More

St. Catherine’s Residence

This postcard of St. Catherine's Residence for Young Women from between 1966 and 1980 illustrates both the building's exterior and its interior facilities.
St. Catherine’s Residence was established in 1894 to provide temporary housing to the large numbers of young women moving from rural areas to Milwaukee for jobs or schooling. The home, originally located at 1131 Sycamore Street (later West Michigan St.), was first known as St. Catherine’s Home for Working Girls. It was administered by the… Read More

Theodora Winton Youmans

Portrait of Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association president Theodora Youmans standing in front of a painted backdrop holding an "On Wisconsin" flag in 1915.
Theodora Winton Youmans (1863-1932) was the first Wisconsin-born leader and last president of the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association (WWSA), which she reorganized as the Wisconsin League of Women Voters. She led lobbying to win the state’s historic first ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. A prominent journalist, she joined the Waukesha Freeman in the 1880s and… Read More

Vel Phillips

Renowned for her civil rights activism and historical status as Milwaukee's first alderwoman and African American on the city's Common Council, a younger Vel Phillips sits behind her desk.
Vel Phillips (1924-2018), Milwaukee’s first alderwoman and the first African American on its Common Council, was born Velvalea Rodgers on the South Side of Milwaukee. While she was a child, her family moved to Bronzeville, where she later established her political career. She graduated from Howard University in 1946, returned to Wisconsin to attend law school… Read More

Woman Suffrage

Members of the Political Equality League are seated in an early model Ford car draped with a banner that reads "Votes for Women."
In the 1840s, when settlers from the East and overseas were pouring into Milwaukee and Wisconsin, women did not have political rights to vote, run for public office, serve on juries, or participate in the formal political system. Advocates, however, of what came to be called the “woman movement” were voicing the first calls to… Read More

Women’s Clubs

This postcard illustrates the Athenaeum Building, located at 813 E. Kilbourn Avenue. It was built in 1887 and paid for by the Woman's Club of Wisconsin, which still has its headquarters in the building today.
The “Woman’s Club Movement” dates from the mid-nineteenth century in the United States, as women expanded earlier more modest organizational efforts, such as reading clubs, sewing circles, and reform groups. Women’s clubs were more permanent organizations, run by women, for their own educational goals, civic improvement, and sociability. In 1890, club leaders from around the… Read More