Mid-winter Republican party in La Crosse

Caroline C. Morris

On February 19, 1940, Republicans from all over Wisconsin descended on the La Crosse Vocational School (now Western Technical College) for a mid-winter political convention. Approximately 1,700 Republican delegates representing each of the state’s 71 counties convened to adopt a new constitution for the state’s party and prepare for the upcoming national convention and presidential election. James E. Higbee, a former La Crosse City Attorney, wore this pin while serving as a delegate for La Crosse County.

After an invocation given by the pastor of Caledonia Street Methodist Church and a speech by the mayor of La Crosse, the convention started in earnest when Dr. F. Lynn Gullickson of West Salem opened the business proceedings. Gullickson, a dentist serving as chairman of the Wisconsin Republican party in 1940, set a tone of “unity” and “harmony” for the convention, according to newspapers accounts.

Other than the usual skirmishes between delegates from Milwaukee and delegates from everywhere else, the convention was notable for producing a significant change to the Wisconsin Republican party’s constitution. An amendment to the constitution mandated that a woman from each congressional district sit on the new state executive committee. The measure, which women in the party demanded, reflected women’s growing power in state politics.   

The main objective of the convention was to build steam for the upcoming presidential election. In 1940, the Republicans were the minority party in national politics, though the momentum was shifting. Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate for president, enjoyed his strongest support in the Midwest, but Wisconsin ultimately cast its electoral ballots for Roosevelt, helping to send him to an unprecedented third term.

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.