Marshfield, June 1915: Breaking barriers
The first women to join the Marshfield School Board
By Kris Leonhardt
Though the women and men of early America shared the same struggles, fears, and accomplishments, women were seen as belonging to the private arena while men were the major players of the public arena. While women were responsible for family and home, the men were the movers and shakers of the community.
Not seen as authority figures in the communities in which they lived, women fought hard to gain a place in the public domain.
Women were at the heart of their parent-teacher organizations, working to improve and provide for their local schools, long before they were admitted into the public sphere where they were allowed to make significant decisions on their welfare.
When Wisconsin passed a law in 1869 allowing women to run for school board, a door had been opened, but progress would be slow.
As Mrs. Victor A. Mason and Mrs. Fred R. Pollard announced their candidacy for the Marshfield School Board, the news was met among their women’s groups with much anticipation. The two had worked tirelessly with parent-teachers organizations and were active in the community.
The announcements, however, were not met without opposition. But with Hugo Wegener and John A. Hoffman vacating their positions and no other nominations coming forward, the two ladies would appear at the Tuesday night July board meeting in 1915 to accept their positions.
While the meeting and ensuing elections had all of the appearance of running smoothly, the recognition of Emil Kliner would suggest that the introduction of these two women to the board still did not sit well with those in the public arena.
As he held the room’s attention, Kliner made note of a state statute that provided for representation from each city ward with a seventh member at large. He noted that Marshfield currently elected members entirely at large and that it currently consisted of four members from the 3rd Ward and two from the 5th Ward.
While introducing the resolution to change that representation, which was dually moved and seconded, Kliner made the mistake of using the term “we,” which gave pause to fellow board members.
Sensing that there was more to his actions, fellow board members made note of their disapproval, and Mason pointed out that this action would void her election. She pleaded with the remaining board members to at least allow one woman on the board if the resolution was passed.
When the turmoil subsided, the resolution was put to vote and defeated. Mason and Pollard would take their place in the board room.