Women’s History Month was established in 1987 to celebrate and encourage education about the history of women’s contributions to U.S. history, according to the Library of Congress.
Wisconsin Women Making History, a partnership between the University of Wisconsin Gender and Women’s Studies Department, the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Wisconsin Humanities Council and PBS Wisconsin, aims to educate Wisconsinites about important women in the state’s history.
Many women listed on the digital resource are alumni of UW who were influential leaders and activists in the state. Here are just 40 of UW’s influential women graduates.
Carol Bartz served as the CEO of Yahoo for two years after graduating from UW’s Department of Computer Science. According to UW, Bartz also served as the CEO of Autodesk, where she increased its worth from $285 million to almost $1 billion in 12 years. According to Women in Wisconsin, Bartz reinforced anti-discrimination policies at Yahoo.
Barbara Lawton earned a master’s degree in Spanish from UW. According to the Millennial Action Project, she was the first woman elected to the position of Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor. During her time as a member of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, she worked to drive forward an Energy Independence and Global Climate Change Resolution.
Ann D Gordon graduated from UW with a graduate degree in American history, according to Women in Wisconsin. She served as an editor for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B Anthony papers project and is well-known for her groundbreaking research on women’s history, according to Rutgers.
Gene Cohen Boyer graduated from UW in 1946, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. In 1966, Boyer was one of 28 women who founded the National Organization for Women. According to NOW, she was a large reason for the establishment of International Women’s Year. Throughout her life, Boyer was a feminist and activist, also founding the Jewish Women’s Coalition.
Clara Bewick Colby was part of the first class of women at UW to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. She was valedictorian and went on to work as a journalist and suffrage activist, according to UW. During her time as president of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association, Colby established The Woman’s Tribune, according to UW. The paper was the second-longest woman suffrage paper to run in the U.S.
Danae D Davis earned her bachelor’s and J.D. from UW, according to StriveTogether. After graduating, Davis served as the diversity affairs director at Miller Brewing Company, the director of diversity management and work/life programs at Kraft Foods and legal counsel for the Wisconsin governor. She has served on the UW System Board of Regents, University School of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Charter School Advocates.
Frances Hamerstrom earned her master’s from UW as the only woman to earn a graduate degree from Aldo Leopold. According to UW Housing, Hamerstrom was the second woman wildlife professional in the state and worked to highlight the needs of wildlife and population control.
Belle Case La Follette graduated from UW and was the first woman to graduate from the UW Law School in 1885. According to UW Housing, La Follette was a part-founder of The Progressive, where she wrote columns advocating for women’s suffrage.
Debora Gil Casado graduated from UW before becoming a teacher at Madison East High School. According to Women in Wisconsin, Gil Casado was a co-founder of Madison’s first Spanish-language immersion school after experiencing discrimination as an immigrant from Spain.
Carie Graves graduated from UW with a degree in English. According to the UW Athletics Hall of Fame, Graves was a three-time Olympian, winning a bronze and gold medal. She was the first woman inducted into the Wisconsin Women’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Gerda Lerner founded UW’s Ph.D. program in women’s history, according to UW Housing. Born in Austria, Lerner was jailed by Nazis before fleeing to the U.S. and becoming an activist for multiple political movements. Lerner was a founder of NOW and Women’s History Month.
Ada Deer was the first Menominee person to graduate from UW and earned her bachelor’s degree there. According to UW, Deer was the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Wisconsin. She directed the American Indian Studies Program at UW for seven years. She also served as a social worker in public schools across the country and worked with the Peace Corps.
Anne Nicol Gaylor graduated from UW with a bachelor’s in English. She founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation and fought for the separation of church and state, especially when considering legislation on abortion rights, according to the New York Times.
Maud Neprud Otjen attended UW, where she helped lead the Wisconsin Student Workers Union, according to Women in Wisconsin. She continued to run for superintendent in Vernon County and was the first woman in Wisconsin to hold such a position.
Angie Brooks graduated from the UW Law School before becoming the first African woman president of the United Nations General Assembly. According to UW, Brooks was the first woman to be a lawyer in Liberia, where she also served as Assistant Attorney General.
Peg Lautenschlager earned her degree in law from UW before serving as Wisconsin’s first woman attorney general. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Lautenschlager was the first commissioner of the Ethics Commission and called herself an “activist attorney general.”
Margaret H’Doubler received a bachelor’s degree from UW, according to Minds @ UW. She later returned to the university to create the Wisconsin Dance Idea and to teach UW’s first dance class. According to UW Libraries, H’Doubler worked to improve people’s understanding of their bodies by using a skeleton to demonstrate dances.
Kathryn Morrison attended UW to study business administration. According to Kenosha News, Morrison was the first woman to serve in the state Senate, where she passed a “no-fault” divorce law and fought for gender equality bills.
Marci Bowers graduated from UW before attending medical school, according to Women in Wisconsin. Dr. Bowers was the first woman with a transgender history as well as the first woman to perform gender-affirming genital surgeries. She established programs for transgender surgical education at six institutions across the country, according to the Duke Sexual and Gender Minority Health Program. According to Women in Wisconsin, Bowers was the first American to learn the process of clitoral restoration for survivors of female genital mutilation.
Estella Leopold graduated from UW with her master’s degree, according to Women in Wisconsin. According to the Leopold Foundation, Leopold earned the Cosmos Prize for her contributions to conservation and chairs Farming and the Environment in Washington state.
Lynne Cheney earned her Ph.D. in 19th century British Literature from UW. Cheney was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wrote many articles about women’s suffrage, according to the White House Archives. Before her time in the White House, Cheney authored or co-authored 12 books, discussing history, politics and the humanities.
Mildred Fish-Harnack graduated from UW with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She was the only American to be executed by Hitler’s direct order. According to UW News, Fish-Harnack was a spy for the U.S. and Soviet embassies during her time in Berlin.
Kathryn Clarenbach attended UW to earn degrees in political science before becoming a professor. According to UW, she worked for women’s rights for the entirety of her career. As the chair of the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, she helped improve legislation on sexual assault, pay equity and divorce, according to UW. Clarenbach was also the first president of the National Association of Commissions on the Status of Women, where she helped lobby for women’s rights and helped found NOW.
Katharine Lyall served as the first woman president of the University of Wisconsin System. According to the La Follette School of Public Affairs, Lyall increased funding through grants and donations and provided new opportunities for students in the form of internships and assistantships.
Mabel Watson Raimey attended UW to study English and is believed to be the first Black woman to graduate from UW. According to UW News, Watson Raimey was fired from her first job after three days when they found out she was Black. Watson Raimey went on to be the first Black woman to practice law in Wisconsin and fought for equality during her entire career.
Patricia Loew earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in communications from UW. According to Women in Wisconsin, Loew is a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe and works as a UW professor, authoring books and documentaries.
Laurel Clark received a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree from UW before pursuing a career as an astronaut. She died tragically in the Columbia disaster in 2003, according to UW. During her time in space, Clark studied the effects of gravity on humans as well as gene transfer in plants.
Bell Hooks, or Gloria Jean Watkins, attended UW for her master’s in English literature. According to UW Alumni, Watkins wrote “Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism” when she was 19 years old. The book explored the intersection of women’s rights and civil rights movements.
Ramona Villarreal was a student at UW, where she helped found La Raza Unida. According to Women in Wisconsin, Villarreal sued the Madison school district for discrimination in her hiring process. Her lawsuit paved the way for other Latinx teachers in the district.
Hannah Rosenthal graduated from UW with a degree in religion before serving as a U.S. special envoy against antisemitism under the Obama Administration. According to WiscNews, she is the CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and was the founding director of the Wisconsin Women’s Council.
Francesca Hong attended UW to study Spanish and journalism before leaving to become a chef, according to Women in Wisconsin. Hong’s time as a small business owner led her to her position as a representative in the Wisconsin State Assembly, where she fights for affordable healthcare and transportation, according to her website.
Dorothy Walker graduated from UW Law School as the only woman in her class. According to UW Law, Walker is believed to be the first district attorney in the country and was the first woman to earn a Distinguished Alumni Faculty Award.
Suzy Favor Hamilton graduated from UW and went on to be an Olympic athlete. According to UW Alumni, Hamilton is now a running coach and motivational speaker. According to the UW Athletics Hall of Fame, Hamilton made the U.S. Olympic track team for three consecutive competitions. Before her start as an Olympian, Hamilton earned nine NCAA individual track titles, won 53 of her 56 finals in college and was an All-American in cross country and track 14 times.
Lorraine Hansberry was a student at UW for nearly two years before becoming a writer and activist. According to UW News, she wrote “A Raisin in the Sun,” and was very involved with the progressive party during her time at UW. She faced great discrimination while in attendance.
Ruth Gruber earned a master’s degree in German from UW. She saved 1,000 Jewish refugees in WWII while also serving as a journalist and author, according to UW’s College of Letters and Science.
Shirley Abrahamson received her doctorate of law from the UW Law School and was the only woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976, serving as chief justice in 2015, according to the Wisconsin Court System. According to her website, Abrahamson helped write Madison’s first fair-housing ordinance. During her time as a justice, she visited all 72 counties multiple times to hear the concerns of citizens.
Vel Phillips was the first Black woman to graduate from UW Law School, as well as the first to sit on Milwaukee’’s City Council. She also was the first Black woman to become a judge and to become Wisconsin’s Secretary of State, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. She participated in protests for her Fair Housing Law, which was approved after six years of Phillips’ advocacy.
Ineva Reilly Baldwin earned her undergraduate and master’s educations from UW, serving as the Assistant Dean of Women and the Associate Dean of the College of Letters and Science. According to UW, Baldwin also enlisted in the Coast Guard during World War II, earning the highest rank of a woman as lieutenant commander. Along with her husband, Ira, Baldwin created the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment — one of UW’s largest endowments.
Tammy Baldwin attended the UW Law School before running for the U.S. House of Representatives. She was the first woman from Wisconsin to serve in the House and in the Senate, as well as the first openly gay Senator, according to her website. During her time in politics, Baldwin has worked to be a bipartisan force and has worked to pass legislation such as the Affordable Care Act and actions to address the opioid epidemic.
Zona Gale graduated from UW before becoming a journalist and fiction writer. According to the Women’s Civic League of Portage, Gale supported the La Follettes, was a member of the National Women’s Party and lobbied for the Wisconsin Equal Rights law.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to accurately reflect that Barbara Lawton was the first woman to be elected to the position of lieutenant governor in Wisconsin and was not the first woman to hold the position.