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The Two Worlds of Belle La Follette
  • Nancy Unger, Santa Clara University
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Wisconsin Historical Society
Case La Follette, it has been frequently noted, was deemed "my wisest and best counselor" by her husband, Wisconsin progressive great Roberi M. La Follette. She chose to fulfill that counselor's role in remarkable ways throughout their forty-three years of married life, perhaps most significantly by earning a law degree, yet never practicing law herself. This decision was one of many that allowed her to function as her husband's equal in the professional matters that affected him publicly, while reserving for herself a more private and personal role. Belle Case La FoUette's lifetime of decisions reflect her wish to fulfill the ideal and complex partnership that she and Bob La Follette carved out together, and she did so by skillfully utilizing the opportunities made available to her by the changing roles for women as the late nineteenth century passed into the twentieth. Throughout her life she found herself straddling the increasingly amorphous divide between conservative tradition and radical innovation as the boundaries of the prescribed "sphere" for women continuously expanded. And it was not just gender roles that were constantly changing—and frequently conflicting. Belle La Follette herself wanted to create public reform while at the same time she desired to bask in the private jews and comforts of family life. These more personal, rather than political, aspects are the focus of this inquiry into the life of one extraordinary Wisconsin woman.

Copyright © 1999 Wisconsin Historical Society. Reprinted with permission.

Citation Information
Unger, N. (1999-2000). The Two Worlds of Belle La Follette.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 83(2), 82-110.