In honor of Women's History Month, I wanted to showcase how important women are to the UW-Madison campus' history. Women from all walks of life have been improving our campus in every field of study since the 1800s. From Lorraine Hansberry, whose play "A Raisin In The Sun" took Broadway (and the world) by storm, to Frances Hamerstrom, a dedicated life-long conservationist who helped to save decimated bird populations all over Wisconsin. These are snapshots of just a few of the amazing women who have made UW the academic powerhouse it is today.
"A woman's place is wherever she wants it to be. And it is most certainly at UW." - Käri Knutson
1. Vel Phillips
Vel Phillips was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She served as the first female alderman elected to the Milwaukee City Council and fought against housing discrimination. She was appointed as the first woman and the first African American judge in Milwaukee County. She was also the first female African American secretary of state of Wisconsin. She was an active member of the League of Women Voters and a leader in the civil rights movement.
2. Ramona Villarreal
Ramona is a Mexican American activist who has made huge strides in fighting for justice and equality for those of Mexican and Latinx heritage in the state of Wisconsin. Ramona was a student at UW-Madison in the 1970s where she started a student activist organization that got the university to create a program of Chicana and Latina studies. After graduating she became a teacher in River Valley for over 20 years.
3. Frances Hamerstrom
Frances studied conservation at UW-Madison and became the first woman to earn a master's degree in the field of wildlife management. She was a key player in stabilizing Wisconsin's prairie chicken population after its habitat was all but destroyed. Throughout her 60+ year career, she published many scientific works and several books. She received many awards such as National Wildlife Federation's Special Achievement Award in 1970 and was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1996. She worked for the WDNR and was the director of the Raptor Research Foundation.
4. Mabel Watson Raimey
Mabel Watson Raimey was the first African American woman to graduate with a bachelor's degree from UW-Madison. She was also the first African American woman to practice law in the state of Wisconsin starting in 1927, and the next African American woman to follow in her footsteps (Vel Phillips) would not achieve this until 1951! Mabel set a precedent for women - especially women of color - in Wisconsin law practice that many of us wouldn't be able to succeed without.
5. Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry started college at UW-Madison in 1948, and she was the first African American woman to live in Langdon Manor, a house for artistic female students. After school, Lorraine moved to New York where she finished her first play A Raisin In The Sun, which premiered on Broadway in 1959. She was the first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway. A Raisin In The Sun won The New York Drama Critics award for best play of 1959, making Lorraine the youngest and first Black playwright to ever win the award.