Belle Case La Follette

Belle Case La Follette
No voting. No working for yourself. No owning a house or land. No wearing pants (dresses only)! Thats what life was like for women in the 19th century. Does that seem fair to you? Luckily, Wisconsin had many brave women who fought to change the rules for the better. One of them was Belle Case La Follette.

Belle Case was born in 1859. Back then, women couldnt vote or own property. Women werent even allowed to dress the way they wanted. Belle set out to change that. When the world said, “No, you can’t,” Belle said “Yes, I can.”

Belle’s grandmother, Lucetta Case, helped take care of the children. Lucetta believed Belle deserved a good education. She made sure Belle understood she could do anything that she put her mind to. Belle was never late for school. She only missed class when she had the measles! While most children didn’t go to school past the age of 12, Belle started college when she was only 16 years old. Belle wanted to make her family proud.

Bob La Follette
Belle was a top student at UWMadison. Belle met her future husband, Bob La Follette, while they were both college students in Madison.

Belle and Bob were very different people. Bob loved speaking in public. Belle loved writing. But they believed in many of the same progressive ideas. Together they made a great team! Bob went into politics after they were married. Belle helped write many of Bob’s best speeches. Bob called her the “brainiest member of the family”!

Bob and Belle started La Follette’s Magazine in 1909. Belle wrote stories about modern life, women’s rights, exercise, and women’s clothing.

Belle dressed how she wanted to. She wanted other women to do the same. Belle believed women should decide for themselves what they wanted to wear.
Belle also loved to run! She wanted more people to exercise. Belle brought teachers from New York to talk about how good exercise was for everyone. And Belle was fast! An old story tells how Bob challenged her to a footrace! Who won? Who knows? Bob never told.

Many people thought that women should stay home and raise families. Belle believed women could have a career and raise a family, too. Belle had three children of her own and knew what she was talking about!

Belle Speaking to Farmers
Belle believed women should have the right to vote. She gave over 70 speeches on women’s suffrage. Belle’s greatest victory came in 1920 when women won the right to vote. That's when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

Belle also believed that African Americans deserved their civil rightsShe defended the rights of African Americans. And Belle believed world peace was a lot better than world war. So she gave speeches to end war. Belle fought hard for the things she believed in.

Belle Case La Follette died in 1931 after a lifetime of making life better for everyone.

Belle Case La Follette

Read more about Belle Case La Follette in the Badger Biographies book Belle and Bob La Follette: Partners in Politics, available now from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.