The La Follettes of Wisconsin: Love and Politics in Progressive America

Overview

Dynastic political families have been an American tradition since the birth of the Republic. Indeed, a good part of our entire political history could be written simply by setting out the family histories of the Adamses, Roosevelts, Longs, and Kennedys. To that illustrious list must be added the La Follettes of Wisconsin, and they are brought vividly to life as never before in this collective biography by veteran journalist Bernard Weisberger. Magnetic, theatrical, intensely loved and passionately denounced, ...
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The La Follettes of Wisconsin: Love and Politics in Progressive America

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Overview

Dynastic political families have been an American tradition since the birth of the Republic. Indeed, a good part of our entire political history could be written simply by setting out the family histories of the Adamses, Roosevelts, Longs, and Kennedys. To that illustrious list must be added the La Follettes of Wisconsin, and they are brought vividly to life as never before in this collective biography by veteran journalist Bernard Weisberger. Magnetic, theatrical, intensely loved and passionately denounced, Robert Marion "Fighting Bob" La Follette was the rebel knight of the Progressive vanguard and a family patriarch in the larger-than-life tradition of Joe Kennedy. As governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906) and U.S. Senator (1906-1925) he battled uncompromisingly for his vision of democracy - an idealistic mixture of informed citizenry and enlightened public servants combining to produce a utopian egalitarianism. By contrast, the private man, often isolated and defeated by social forces beyond his understanding or control, suffered from intense periods of depression and relied heavily on his family for survival. With his beloved wife, Belle Case La Follette, a Progressive journalist in her own right, "old Bob" raised their brood to perceive a unique personal and family responsibility for challenging (and curing) society's ills. His first child, Fola, left her stage career to campaign for suffrage; Robert Jr. followed his father to the Senate in 1925, when he was only thirty; and, in 1930, youngest son Phil became the old man's heir as Governor of Wisconsin and as the state's leading Progressive figure. Not unlike the twentieth century's other political "first family," however, the La Follette saga ends in largely unrealized promise and tragedy. Fola, Phil, and Bob all ultimately abandoned public life, the latter two after bitter defeat and disillusionment. Finally, in February of 1953, "young Bob" took his own life. An intimate portrait of the Progressive movement
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Weisberger ( From Sea to Shining Sea: A History of the United States ) here presents a carefully researched biography of the La Follettes, leaders in the Midwest Progressive movement that flourished in the late 1800s. Charismatic Robert (1855-1925) and his wife Bell (1859-1931) shared a commitment to democratic government and dedicated themselves to fighting corporate monopolies and corrupt politicians. As governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906) and a U.S. Senator (1906-1925), Robert sponsored many civic reforms. Opposed to WW I, he was denounced publicly by President Wilson. The La Follettes' three children, raised in an atmosphere of political idealism, were also activists. Their son Robert, who committed suicide in 1953, succeeded his father to the Senate; Phil, too, followed his father's path by becoming governor of Wisconsin; Fola, an actress, worked for women's suffrage. Weisberger's study is most successful as a family portrait; it is less compelling as a chronicle of the Progressive movement. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Margaret Flanagan
Weisberger's collective biography of the La Follette family is both an intimate portrait of a close-knit clan and a fascinating political history of the progressive movement that flourished around the turn of the century. Considered one of the architects of progressivism, Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette instituted a variety of governmental reforms during his brief stint as governor of Wisconsin 1901-06 and his more lengthy tenure as a U.S. senator 1906-25. Under Bob La Follette's dedicated leadership, Wisconsin enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as one of the most modern and dynamic states in the country. While raising their four children in the tradition of public duty and service to the community, Bob and his wife, Belle, a freethinking journalist, suffragette, and law school graduate, maintained an extraordinarily loving and supportive relationship and remained ardently committed to a wide range of liberal social programs. Following the example of their remarkable parents, the next generation of La Follettes entered the political arena and endured both public triumph and personal tragedy. A compelling chronicle of the rise and fall of a significant American political dynasty. Recommended for larger American political history collections and where regional interest warrants acquisition.
Booknews
An intimate portrait of one of America's dynastic political families. The La Follettes were steeped in a commitment to challenge (and cure) society's ills, led by family patriarch "Fighting Bob" who was governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906) and US Senator (1906-1925). Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher

"Focusing on the intense personal relationships that bound the state's first family together in the pursuit of the public good, Weisberger's account breaks fresh ground in its analysis of the origins and development of Wisconsin Progressivism and enhances our understanding of Midwestern insurgency."—James J. Lorence, Journal of American History

“Highly readable, judicious in tone, aware of the La Follettes’ limitations while insistent upon their manifest accomplishments, committed in its admiration of reform values and goals, and long overdue. Its attention to love and affection within the [La Follette] family demonstrates how important these values and relationships can be to any family, including political ones.”—John E. Miller, Reviews in American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299141301
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1994
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Bernard A. Weisberger is a contributing editor for American Heritage. In his distinguished career, he has published seventeen books and countless articles on Americana. His television and film credentials include collaborations with Bill Moyers and Ken Burns.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Belle and Bob 1879-1905 3
2 Bob: On the Road and on the Rise 1906-1911 44
3 Belle: A "New Woman" and Her Family 1891-1911 77
4 Fola: From Art to Activism 1904-1911 102
5 Transition Time: The Family Completed 1912-1916 132
6 The Catastrophe: Alone and at Bay 1917-1919 179
7 In Another Country: Old Bob's Last Campaigns 1919-1925 225
8 The Succession That Wasn't 1925-1941 277
Epilogue: The War and After 311
Notes 321
Bibliography 343
Index 348
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