La Crosse Heads to the Polls
(written by Cate Putirskis, Archives Staff)
In just over a week, on April 2nd, the people of La Crosse will go to the polls to elect a new mayor.
100 years ago, on April 1st, 1913, they did the same thing.
When we think about the past, it is easy to dwell on all the ways things are different, how we’ve improved, how we’ve progressed and changed since then. It is not always as easy to look back and think of the ways in which things are much the same.
An article from March 12, 1913 in the La Crosse Tribune (pictured just below) expounds on some very familiar-sounding issues regarding voting and local elections.
According to the article, 4,490 people had registered to vote during the early registration period.
The size of the new register list was a great surprise to city officials who anticipated a heavy loss in voters because of the requirements of the citizenship law which went into effect for the first time this year, making it necessary for foreign born residents to be in possession of their second papers to qualify as a voter.
The article goes on to state that while there was a 25% reduction in the number of registered voters from the last election, the hotly contested 1913 mayoral race kept losses to a minimum.
Sound familiar? In recent years we’ve heard a lot about the need for new voting laws and how they might affect our elections by reducing the number of eligible voters. The idea that some citizens must provide extra documentation to avoid voter fraud is an old one, then.
But it is nice to see that, even 100 years ago, the citizens of La Crosse cared enough about who was elected to run their city that they were willing to register in large numbers even with the new restrictions in place.
Now, 100 years is long time, so of course not everything has stayed the same. For instance 4,490 people doesn’t sound like a large number of registered voters nowadays, but keep in mind that, while today the population of the city of La Crosse is over 50,000, back in 1913 the entire county of La Crosse had fewer than 45,000 people! Not to mention that, as the article states, of all the people who registered, only 300 of them were women.
In 1913, women were only given partial suffrage in Wisconsin, allowing them to vote in anything related to schools. Women who registered for this election would not be allowed to vote in the mayoral race, but were able to vote and run for school board positions. Shown below is a plea from the Equal Suffrage Association, backed by the Tribune, asking for women to register.
“We are asking for the general suffrage; let us avail ourselves of the limited suffrage we now enjoy.”
This article appeared in the La Crosse Tribune on March 11, 1913, urging more women to register:
It would be a few years before Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment which allowed women full suffrage and greatly increased the number of eligible voters.
But in light of this and the many other changes that have occurred between then and now, you can still cast your ballot on April 2nd knowing that one thing has remained the same for 100 years. That the people of La Crosse care about the future of their city, and will go to the polls to make sure that future is a bright one.
[Blog article by Taylor Goodine, La Crosse Public Library Archives Aide]