By Lizzie Redkey
Western Governors University
Suffragist, actress, labor activist, author
Flora Dodge (Fola) LaFollette was born in Wisconsin to a political family including her mother, Belle Case LaFollette, a lawyer, her father, Robert LaFollette, Senator and governor of Wisconsin, and brothers Robert Jr., Wisconsin representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Philip, governor of Wisconsin, and sister, Mary.
LaFollette graduated from the University of Wisconsin and became a stage actress in New York City in 1904, but her career and her politics were always closely linked. Her stage career really took off in 1910 when she appeared in the British woman suffrage play “How the Vote Was Won.” It was a one-act comedy which LaFollette took around the country giving a one-woman dramatic reading, performing in settings ranging from Vaudeville theaters to woman suffrage meetings. In 1911, she led the actors division of a woman suffrage parade in New York City. She was often lauded for helping fight the stereotype that all suffragists were dowdy, unattractive women, as she gained her popularity portraying young, stylish, attractive suffragists. In 1911 she also married playwright George Middleton, but kept her maiden name throughout her fifty-six year marriage, which brought her criticism, even from fellow suffrage activists.
In 1913, she was one of the founding members of Actors’ Equity, a labor union for stage actors, and labor rights became the other cause with which she was most commonly associated. She picketed for striking garment workers in 1913, where she was one of the women referred to as the “mink brigade,” wealthier women who showed up not only to protest, but to use their elevated social status to help protect the strikers from police violence and unfair treatment, and to bring attention to it when it did happen. LaFollette used her family’s political connections to help bring about a Congressional investigation of the treatment of striking women garment workers.
In 1916, LaFollette joined the National Advisory Council of the National Woman's Party, and she appeared in the pages of The Suffragist as both a subject and an author. In 1917, she was one of the featured speakers at the NWP mass meeting, held on the evening of President Wilson’s second inauguration, calling for a suffrage amendment to the constitution. She argued that if the enfranchisement of African Americans and Native Americans was not an infringement of states’ rights, neither was woman suffrage, and women should not be forced to “use this worn out, this antiquated method of getting suffrage” by working state by state.
Fola LaFollette was active in her father’s political campaigns, especially his 1924 presidential campaign. She also wrote for her family’s eponymous journal, LaFollette’s Weekly Magazine (later to become The Progressive), and upon her mother’s death in 1931, she took up the biography her mother had begun of Senator LaFollette, publishing it in 1953. She died in 1970 in Arlington, VA of pneumonia at the age of 87.
“Await Inaugural in Solemn Mood,” New York Times (March 4, 1917): 1.
Brown, Carrie. Rosie’s Mom: Forgotten Women Workers of the First World War. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002, 37.
Finnegan, Margaret Mary. Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture & Votes for Women. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, 88.
"Fola La Follette, Individualist to the End," Milwaukee Sentinel (February 18, 1970), 9.
"Fola La Follette, Suffrage Leader. Actress and Daughter of a Senator Dies at 87," New York Times (February 18, 1970): 47.
"Fola La Follette Will Give Dramatic Reading," Pittsburgh Press (September 25, 1910):1.
LaFollette, Belle C. and Fola La Follette. Robert M. La Follette 2 vols., New York: Macmillan, 1953.
LaFollette, Fola. “Speech at Mass Meeting of National Woman’s Party.” Suffragist (March 24, 1917): 5.
LaFollette, Fola. “‘Woman’s Part in Government’: a Review of William H. Allen’s Book,” La Follette’s Weekly, Volume 4, 10.
"La Follette To Aid Garment Steers. Promises to Introduce a Bill in the Senate for an Investigation After Daughter Appeals to Him," New York Times (January 31, 1913): 4.
“Men, Women and the Woman’s Party,” Suffragist (September 3, 1916): 5.
Shore, Amy. Suffrage and the Silver Screen. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2014, 76.
“Suffrage Army Out on Parade,” New York Times (May 5, 1912): 1.
Wadsworth, Mrs. James W. “The Case Against Suffrage,” New York Times (September 9, 1917): 55.