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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 and the revealing, poignant story of a prominent American family, The La Follettes of Wisconsin will charm, fascinate, and entertain its readers.