La Follette, Belle Case, 1859-1931

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Belle Case La Follette (April 21, 1859 – August 18, 1931) was a women's suffrage, peace, and Civil Rights activist in Wisconsin, United States. La Follette worked with the women's peace party during World War I. At the time of her death in 1931, The New York Times called her "probably the least known yet most influential of all American women who have had to do with public affairs in this country."

A native of Summit, Wisconsin, Belle Case attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison from 1875 to 1879. While there, she excelled at her studies, finding a particular passion for literature and befriending her future husband, Robert La Follette. After graduation, she taught junior and senior high school students. She married Robert La Follette in 1881.

After her husband became District Attorney, La Follette "clerked" for him, researching legal precedents and helping to write briefs. In 1882 she gave birth to their first child, Flora Dodge. Her interest in law sparked, La Follette enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Law School and became the first female graduate in 1885. Although she never practiced law independently, La Follette continued to do legal work throughout her life, even earning the praise of a Wisconsin Chief Justice for a brief she wrote for one of her husband's cases.

During her husband’s three terms in Congress (1885-1891), La Follette acted as his secretary and administrative assistant. When they returned to Wisconsin after his defeat, she taught physical education classes and lectured on a variety of issues including woman suffrage, coeducation and dress reform. Between 1895 and 1899, La Follette had three more children — Bob Jr., Phil and Mary — while still working on her husband's campaigns, continuing her advocacy work and running the household.

After serving as governor's wife for five years, La Follette returned to Washington in 1906 when her husband became a U.S. Senator. She never shied away from direct participation in governmental affairs, exerting a tremendous influence over her husband's efforts at reform legislation both in Wisconsin as well as nationally.

In 1909, the La Follettes founded "La Follette's Weekly Magazine", which later became "The Progressive" under her role as editor in 1929. From 1909 until her death in 1931, La Follette wrote weekly columns that often took up political or legal positions, advocated for legislation, or critiqued political policies and administrations. She also used every opportunity to make the case for woman suffrage, railing against state and federal laws that limited the position of women. From 1911 to 1912 La Follette also wrote a column for the North American Press Syndicate.

A staunch pacifist, La Follette helped found the Women's Peace Party in 1918, which later became the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. After World War I, she was active in the Women's Committee for World Disarmament, the National Council for the Prevention of War, and helped convene the Naval Arms Limitations Conference in 1922.

After her husband’s death in 1925, La Follette was urged to fill his seat in the Senate but she declined in no uncertain terms, saying, "at no time in my life would I ever have chosen a public career for myself." Instead, her son Robert Jr. was elected. La Follette began work on a biography of her husband but died before it was finished. Her daughter Fola completed it. La Follette died on August 18, 1931.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf La Follette family papers (primary record), 1781-1988 Library of Congress
referencedIn Crownhart family. Charles Henry Crownhart family papers, 1853-1943. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn National American Woman Suffrage Association. National American Woman Suffrage Association records, 1839-1961 (inclusive), 1890-1930 (bulk), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Carlson, Laurie E., 1908-. Oral history interview with Laurie E. Carlson [sound recording], 1979. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Stone, James A., 1856-1946. Papers, 1886-1945. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn National American Woman Suffrage Association Records, 1839-1961, (bulk 1890-1930) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Nelson, John Mandt, 1870-1955. John Mandt Nelson papers, 1897-1977. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn LaFollette Family Papers, 1781-1988, (bulk 1900-1953) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn National American Woman Suffrage Association. National American Woman Suffrage Association records, 1839-1961 bulk (1890-1930). Library of Congress
creatorOf Anne Henrietta Martin papers, 1892-1951. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Laidlaw, H. B. (Harriet Burton), b. 1874. Papers: Series V-VII, 1906-1947 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Stageberg, Susie Williamson, [ca.1877]-1961. Susie Stageberg papers, 1881-1961. Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn Ekern, Herman Lewis, 1872-1954. Herman Lewis Ekern papers, 1872-1954. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf La Follette, Belle Case, 1859-1931. La Follette family papers, 1781-1988 (bulk 1910-1953). Library of Congress
referencedIn La Follette, Philip Fox, 1897-1965. Papers, 1876-1973. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Roe, Gwyneth King, 1868-1968. Papers, 1880-1968. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Hoard, W. D. (William Dempster), 1836-1918. W.D. Hoard papers, 1880-1918. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn La Follette family photographs, undated. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Ada James Papers, 1816-1952 Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Derleth, August William, 1909-1971. August William Derleth papers, 1858, 1907-1978. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Belle Case La Follette 1931. Wisconsin Historical Society
referencedIn Theodore Roosevelt Collection: Books, pamphlets, periodicals, 18-- - <ongoing> Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Papers, 1851-1958 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Susie Stageberg papers., 1881-1961. Minnesota Historical Society.
referencedIn Papers of Elizabeth Glendower Evans, 1859 (1882-1944) Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn National American Woman Suffrage Association. National American Woman Suffrage Association records, 1839-1961 (inclusive), 1890-1930 (bulk), [microform]. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Hamilton Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Carlson, Laurie E., 1908- person
associatedWith Crownhart family. family
associatedWith Derleth, August William, 1909-1971. person
associatedWith Ekern, Herman Lewis, 1872-1954. person
associatedWith ELIZABETH GLENDOWER (GARDINER) EVANS, 1856-1937 person
associatedWith Harriet Wright (Burton) Laidlaw, 1873-1949 person
associatedWith Hoard, W. D. (William Dempster), 1836-1918. person
associatedWith James, Ada Lois, 1876-1952. person
associatedWith LaFollette family family
parentOf La Follette, Fola, 1882-1970 person
parentOf La Follette, Mary Josephine, 1899-1988 person
parentOf La Follette, Philip Fox, 1897-1965. person
spouseOf La Follette, Robert M. (Robert Marion), 1855-1925 person
parentOf La Follette, Robert M. (Robert Marion), 1895-1953 person
associatedWith Laidlaw, H. B. (Harriet Burton), b. 1874. person
associatedWith Martin, Anne, 1875-1951. person
associatedWith National American Woman Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith National Council for Prevention of War (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nelson, John Mandt, 1870-1955. person
associatedWith Roe, Gwyneth King, 1868-1968. person
associatedWith Stageberg, Susie Williamson, [ca.1877]-1961. person
associatedWith Stageberg, Susie Williamson, ca. 1877-1961 person
associatedWith Stone, James A., 1856-1946. person
employeeOf The Progressive magazine. corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf University of Wisconsin. Law School corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf University of Wisconsin--Madison corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Committee for World Disarmament. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's International League for Peace and Freedom corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Spring Green WI US
Town of Summit WI US
District of Columbia DC US
Baraboo WI US
Madison WI US
Subject
Occupation
Authors
Teachers
Activist
Suffragists
Law clerks
Newspaper editors
Function

Person

Birth 1859-04-21

Death 1931-08-18

Female

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6ff591d

Ark ID: w6ff591d

SNAC ID: 13809492