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Wisconsins first female state senator dies
Former UWP prof second Democrat to represent 17th Senate District
Kathryn Morrison
Kathryn Morrison - photo by Photo courtesy Wisconsin Public Radio

Kathryn Morrison, 71, a UW–Platteville professor who became Wisconsin’s first female state senator, died in Fitchburg June 30.

Morrison was a UWP economics professor when she defeated Sen. Gordon Roseleip (R–Darlington) in the 1974 17th Senate District race.

According to the book What Two Can Do: Sam and Mandy Stellman’s Crusade for Social Justice by Chris Roerden, Morrison decided to run for the Senate after her experience at a Senate committee hearing, chaired by Roseleip, on a bill to make state statutes gender-neutral.

What Two Can Do chronicled a late-night discussion among those who had testified at the hearing:

The chauvinism of Senator Roseleip had gotten to them all, and they were angry.

“The nerve of him saying he’s always felt that women should be treated with respect and dignity,” said one. “What about equality? That would be respect.”

“We’ve got to get rid of him,” said another.

They looked around the table, and all eyes fell on Kathryn Morrison, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville.

“Katie, don’t you live in Roseleip’s district?”

“Katie, you’ve got to run against him!”

No woman had ever before been elected to the Wisconsin State Senate, but Morrison ran against Roseleip, and she won.

Morrison became the first non-Republican to represent the 17th Senate District since S.J. Todd in 1867. Morrison is only the second Democratic senator in the history of the 17th Senate District; the first was Philo White, who served in the first year of Wisconsin’s statehood, 1848.

Before the 1974 election, Morrison was instrumental in the successful effort to modernize Wisconsin’s sexual assault law.

Morrison lost the 1978 Senate election to Republican Richard Kreul of Fennimore.

Morrison later was a deputy commissioner of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Department on Aging; was the administrator of the state Division of Health; was the chief financial officer of the New York City Health and Hospital Corp., which runs the City of New York hospitals; and was senior vice president for finance and administration at the March of Dimes.

Morrison is survived by two brothers. Burial reportedly was in Dunn County.