It was the spring of 1969 when the first woman was elected to the DeForest Village Board.
Thirty-six-year-old Millie Anderson, a mother of three young children, was irked over plans to build a road through the grounds of the DeForest Elementary School.
“There was a developer that wanted a road put through ... on Cleveland to go to the east, because (the developer) wanted to develop something in that area and have a road there,” Anderson said. “It had been a farm, so it was a big lawn, a good playground for the kids in elementary school.”
Anderson said she had been discussing the situation with friends and was urged to vie for a seat on the board. She initiated a campaign, putting up posters and handing out flyers around town. Anderson’s motto, she said, was, “A Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Along with being a reference to her first name, it was also a popular film and musical of that time.
Vote day arrived, and according to that week’s DeForest Times-Tribune, 60 percent of the village’s voters turned out to cast ballots. Anderson recorded 188 votes to earn a victory.
She was joined by two other board newcomers, Anderson said, and they all had the same goal – to disrupt the status quo. They wanted to dismantle the good-old-boys culture which they perceived in DeForest, she said.
“We wanted to shake up the village board because they’d run things the same way forever,” Anderson said.
At her first meeting, Anderson said she raised her concerns over the road. But it was too little too late, she said, and the roadwork started the very next day. Whether or not a vote was taken to approve the work, Anderson can’t remember.
Yet she said she suspects there was no vote.
“And that’s the way so much of this stuff was being done,” Anderson said.
Being elected onto the village board wasn’t Anderson’s first countering of gender norms. She worked in medical technology and had spent her collegiate and professional career in a workplace surrounded by men.
Anderson credits her paternal grandmother and aunt, saying they nurtured a love of learning within her. In college, a professor recognized Anderson’s potential and encouraged her to study mathematics. She followed her professor’s advice.
By the spring of 1969, the infamous “Summer of Love” was nearly at hand. Anderson said there were early signs of society beginning to alter its course.
“Other women were going out into fields of what men typically had, but not many of them then,” Anderson said. “It was a time of women venturing out.”
Ultimately, Anderson said she retired from the board after one term. Her husband, Paul R. Anderson, often travelled for sales and she wanted to raise her family full-time. What made the decision easier, she said, were some of the men who presided on the board with her.
“I don’t know what some of them thought, but this was really odd dealing with a woman and obviously it was awkward for them at meetings,” Anderson said. “It must’ve been by the way they talked, trying to avoid me. A lot of their business was done without me because they’d just meet together on the street. It wasn’t supposed to be done that way, but it was common.”
Still, Anderson said her family was excited at her elected role of leadership, and the experience provided teaching moments that were especially poignant for her young daughter.
“She thought it was pretty great at the time and she always looked up to me, that I would say things and do things that were for the good, to promote good things,” Anderson said.
For example: When the road went in, trees in the school’s lawn were cut down. Her daughter missed those trees, so Anderson suggested bringing it up to the board.
“My daughter … urged them to put up some more trees,” Anderson said. “And they were put up because of her request.”
Today, Anderson said she sometimes thinks about the evolution of women’s rights. She acknowledged recent movements of equality, saying men need to be held at greater degrees of accountability for their actions towards women than in the past. She also expressed dismay at President Donald Trump and the types of allegations levelled against him.
The best way to instill equality, Anderson said, is for younger generations to speak their minds and act on the issues they face every day.
“Try to be brave,” Anderson said. “Try to be brave enough to go out and do what people don’t expect you to do. Do what is important to you.”
Anderson said she is now 86 and lives in DeForest.