Reblog: Top Ten Wayward Women of Wisconsin

Canada’s Rosie the Riveter: Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl

I’ve hand-selected stories from Odd Wisconsin, the online archives written by Michael Edmonds, Head of Digital Collections and Web Services, at the Wisconsin Historical Society. After much digging, I found these stories from the collection about women in Wisconsin history that I believe are the best, most bizarre, and brutally fantastic! These adventurous women are bottle smashers, hunters, gun wielders, rattlesnake killers, and boldly thwart stereotypes.

1. In 1867, 37-year-old attorney Lavinia Goodell confronts lawmakers on the issue of gender discrimination after being rejected to represent her client in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. “Chief Justice Edward G. Ryan wrote, ‘Nature has tempered woman as little for the juridical conflicts of the court room, as for the physical conflicts of the battle field’.” Read the full story at Odd Wisconsin.

2. “We Can Do It!” Tough babe Rosie the Riveter romanticized the work of women on the home front during World War Two, but what was it really like? Take a look at these photos of women laborers from different locations including Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin:

3.  O-cha-own, a Chippewa woman born about 1710 near Green Bay was a great huntress who fearlessly attacked bears and made them her victims. “Her husband had died early, and she had no children; she lived all alone, save having half a dozen dogs of one kind, each of which she had taught to eat his food only in his own particular dish.

4. In 1906, middle-aged Sarah Hardwick inherited land along the Mississippi where she grew herbs and clubbed rattlesnakes and collected their bounties: “Waves of venomous snakes passed by her cabin at times, and she had even killed them inside it beside her bed.”

5. In 1862, radical Victorian, freethinker and feminist, Juliet Severance moved to Whitewater where she practiced medicine. She explored new alternatives to treating disease such as vegetarianism and psychic healing. Severance also worked to abolish the death penalty and the institution of marriage. “She was a good writer, orator, parliamentarian; a good mother, a good friend, and a good woman. There is nothing more to be said.”

6. Virginia woman Belle Boyd served as a spy for the rebels during the Civil War—she shot a union soldier dead at the young age of 17. After the war she took the stage and traveled the U.S. as a celebrity. Boyd died while performing in Wisconsin in 1900 and was buried in the Dells. “Her beauty and… non-verbal communication skills… allowed her to repeatedly gain the confidence of Union officers, whom she then successfully betrayed to the Confederates.”

7. During the Civil War, women weren’t allowed to join the military but that didn’t stop them from disguising themselves as men and joining. A young country girl, Belle Peterson, surprised her family and left home to enlist in a Wisconsin regiment reportedly in late 1862. No one ever suspected Boyd was a woman. “She served in the army for some time, possibly as a spy or a scout.”

8.  In the early 1900s after failed attempts to quell a scuffle with a bear, Jack Ryan called upon his wife Kitty for help. With completely ease, she handled the bear as if it was a little boy: “Out she came and looked the situation over. ‘Give me that poor bear,’ said she, ‘and get in the car’.”

9. On June 26, 1827, Wisconsin’s first doctor—a woman!—Mary Ann Menard of Prairie du Chien saved her granddaughter’s life after she was stabbed and scalped during an Indian attack. “Mary Ann covered the child’s exposed brain with a silver plate, the skin healed, and the little girl lived to be more than 80 and raise a family of her own.”

10. A group of women riot through the streets of Baraboo smashing bottles and barrels of whiskey until ever last drop of alcohol in town was gone. “The next day, about 40 of them set up with axes and other tools hidden under their shawls.”

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