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Women are running for elected office in record numbers.

Twice as many women — nearly 500, as of last month — are running or likely to run for Congress this year, compared to the 2016 election cycle. That includes two women running in Wisconsin for a U.S. Senate seat. And 82 women are said to be running for governor across the country, including two women seeking the top job in Wisconsin.

March is Women’s History Month — an ideal time to remember that women couldn’t always hold public office.

In Wisconsin, the groundwork for today’s surge on the path to political leadership began less than 100 years ago, on the heels of suffrage and nearly 75 years after statehood. In 1921, the Wisconsin Legislature passed the nation’s first equal rights law. The bill granted women full equality with men under civil law, including the right to hold public office. This key event in history marked a profound change in women’s political voice that continues to reverberate today.

Wisconsin elected its first “lady mayor” — Lulu Shaw — in the Forest County community of Crandon in 1923. According to an article from the Crandon Public Library, Shaw’s mayoral election was so momentous for women it was mentioned as far away as the New York Evening Telegram and the Louisville Courier-Journal. Born in 1866 in Omro, Shaw was reported to be well educated in business and law. Characterized in the 1923 press as a “feminine revolt,” Shaw campaigned for lower taxes, less moonshine and fighting corruption.

“The women have only begun,” Shaw said at the time. “They make good campaigners — fully as good as men.”

The equal rights law of 1921 sent women off and running — and winning. In 1924, UW Extension’s Municipal Information Bureau reported nearly 200 women were serving in local elected and appointed office — not including more than 200 also serving on school and library boards, which had been open to women since the late 1800s.

A year later, Mildred Baker, Helen Brooks and Helen Thompson were elected to the Wisconsin Assembly, becoming the first women to hold state office.

More than 3,100 women now hold elected office in state and local government across Wisconsin.

One of my recent college interns now sits on a county board. Only a few years ago, my then-preteen daughter came home from school upset because her teacher said none of our nation’s presidents were girls. With hands on hips, she needed confirmation that was true.

My daughter and the college interns who pass through my office at the Wisconsin Women’s Council take it absolutely for granted that women can run, win and succeed in public office.

Today, these young women are ready to step onto this historic path and take their place in public office.

More than 3,100 women now hold elected office in state and local government across Wisconsin.

Lidbury, of Waunakee, is executive director of the Wisconsin Women’s Council: www.womenscouncil.wi.gov.

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