Kathryn Morrison, First Woman In State Senate, Passes Away


Kathryn Morrison, the first woman to be elected to the Wisconsin State Senate, died on Sunday in Fitchburg. She was 71.

Although Morrison served only one term in the legislature, she helped pass several significant bills that increased the economic rights of women.

Morrison was elected as a Democrat to the 17th Senate District in 1975 when she was an economics professor at University of Wisconsin-Platteville. She took office as the first woman in the state’s upper chamber at a time when the Democrats were in power for the first time in 82 years.

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Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville was sworn in for his first term on the same day: “It was remarkable. It was just a joyful day. There were just the loudest cheers for Katy, and it was a wonderful introduction to the state Senate.”

During the next four years Morrison helped pass laws that reduced the inheritance tax on widows and widowers and established no-fault divorce in the state. Senator Cullen says she also fought hard to defeat a long list of amendments designed to weaken a comprehensive gender equality bill that passed in 1975.

“She pushed hard on the women’s issues she believed in, but she often looked at the economic side of a woman’s life and tried to make that more equal,” said Cullen.

After serving in the Senate, Morrison spent the rest of her career in health care – which included a stint in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Carter administration. More recently, she was the chief financial officer for the March of Dimes, where she worked until her retirement in 2004.

Kathryn Morrison was 71 and is survived by two brothers.

Kathryn Morrison’s age has been corrected in this online version of our story.