The Women’s History Milwaukee initiative will highlight seven iconic local figures in history—one each day over the course of a week. During this informational campaign, photos and facts about the women of Milwaukee’s history will be featured on this page, and these same informational vignettes will also run regularly during City Channel programming.
Born in Milwaukee in 1885, Elsa Ulbricht was a noted artist who also taught at the Milwaukee State Teachers’ College (the forerunner of UW-Milwaukee). In 1935, in the depths of the Depression, Ulbricht was approached by the WPA to help develop a program geared mainly toward women who had not worked outside the home. Her idea, the Milwaukee Handicrafts Project, became a model for similar WPA programs around the country, employing thousands of people.
In 2002 Julia Taylor became the first woman to serve as president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, retiring from that position in December 2021. She is known for her collaborative approach to leadership, and during her tenure the GMC began to focus its efforts on economic development, equity, and neighborhood investment. Prior to working for the GMC, she served as president of the local YWCA.
Thelma Sias retired in January 2017 after 32 years of employment at WEC Energy, where her title was vice president of local affairs. She has been recognized numerous times for her executive leadership and commitment to bettering the Milwaukee community. Some of the organizations with which she has been involved are the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Foundation, the Sojourner Family Peace Center, Cardinal Stritch University, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation board of directors.
Betty Quadracci was a co-founder of printing company Quad/Graphics and founder of Quad/Creative. She was a longtime president and publisher of Milwaukee Magazine, which won numerous awards during her tenure. She was further recognized for her mentorship to women in business and for her and husband Harry’s gift to the Milwaukee Art Museum for its Calatrava-designed addition.
Kathleen O’Leary was the first female CEO of the Wisconsin State Fair, serving from 2016 to 2021. During her tenure, she oversaw several large infrastructure projects at the fairgrounds, and achieved an 11-day attendance record for the State Fair in 2019. She has been recognized by the Milwaukee Business Journal as a Woman of Influence (2017), Power Broker (2018-2021) and Executive to Watch (2021).
Judge Brennan was first elected to the Wisconsin Circuit Court in 1994, and in 2005 was appointed Chief Judge of the 1st Circuit. Chief Judge is the highest post at the Milwaukee County courthouse, and she was the first woman to serve in it.
Pioneering mathematician and a longtime Milwaukee resident, educator and community leader. Ms. Gilmer was the first African American to teach high school math at MPS, the first African American to be on the math faculty at MATC, the first African American math lecturer at UWM, and the first African American to earn a doctorate from Marquette University’s School of Education. She spent her later years working in the field of ethnomathematics both nationally and internationally, and started the educational research and development company Math Tech Inc. in Milwaukee.
World record-holding speed skater, a six-time Olympic medalist and the most decorated American woman in Winter Olympic history.