Vel Phillips is sworn into office

Celebrate Women’s History Month on WPT! Part 2

There’s just so much to share this month about amazing women and the fascinating lives they’ve led. So we’ve broken our highlight post into two parts. (See Part 1 here for some TV highlights throughout the month).

In a vintage photo from the early 1900s, a woman holds an On Wisconsin flagThis round, we’re introducing some of the most inspiring women from Wisconsin – women whose efforts continue to make an impact around the world. Even if some of these names sound familiar, why not meet a few more?

Read on for even more – then, tell us which Wisconsin women, past and present, inspire YOU!


Over the years, WPT has had the privilege of sharing the life stories of many women who made an impact across Wisconsin and beyond. Check out some of our favorite original documentaries.

Mildred Fish-Harnack (1902-1943)

Mildred Fish-Harnack poses outdoors in winterA member of the Berlin resistance, Fish-Harnack became the only American woman to die by Adolf Hitler’s direct order for spying on Germany during World War II.

Watch Wisconsin’s Nazi Resistance: The Mildred Fish-Harnack Story.

Vel Phillips (1924-present)

A politician, judge and activist from Milwaukee, Phillips became the first woman and the first African-American person elected Wisconsin’s Secretary of State.

Watch Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams.

Here at WPT, we’re thrilled to have had an opportunity to share the life of Vel Phillips with thousands of kids and teachers across the state through our Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams resources (accessible to anyone who’s interested). But that’s just a start!

Emma Toft (1891-1982)

Painting of Emma ToftKnown as “Wisconsin’s First Lady of Conservation,” Toft, an environmental pioneer, worked to save an ancient forest in Door County from being destroyed by logging and commercial development.

Watch Emma Toft: One With Nature.

More historic Wisconsin women
Enjoy these stories from Wisconsin Women Making History, Wisconsin Biography and WPT Education.

REAL-LIFE HEROINES OF TODAYMaa Vue poses in a glamorous fringed outfit

  • Maa Vue, of Wausau, is a rising Hmong-language pop star.
  • Jamie Baertsch, of Wisconsin Dells, is Wisconsin’s first female brewmaster.
  • Winnie Karanja, of Madison, is working to make tech open to all.
  • Mee Moua, of Appleton, was the first Hmong American elected to a U.S. state legislature.
  • Tess Onwueme, of Eau Claire, is considered one of Africa’s leading playwrights.
  • Sheri Swokowski, of DeForest, is a retired U.S. Army colonel fighting to end employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • Since 1948, Alice in Dairyland – whoever holds the crown! – has served as an ambassador for Wisconsin agriculture.


Don’t forget that Women’s History Month is also a time to reflect on the everyday lives of women in our state – including our own.
Sister Mary David Walgenbach walks in a wooded area

On a final note… check out WPT’s Women Under Fire, a 1982 documentary showing the challenges some women faced in becoming firefighters. Lots of things have changed for women since 1982, but there’s still a long way to go.

No matter what the future brings, WPT is honored to shared these inspiring stories.

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