When she announced her retirement from the State Legislature in May of 20010 after serving for more than 30 years, former State Representative Annette Polly Williams had earned the distinction of being the longest serving woman in the history of the State of Wisconsin.
Williams is the author of the nation’s first alternative education choice legislation. She has lectured widely on school choice, at such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Yale, Marquette, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins University. Her work on school choice has earned her multiple awards, including: UW-Milwaukee Lifetime Achievement Award, UW-Milwaukee Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus, National Black Caucus of State Legislators President’s Award for Distinguished Service, and she was named as one of the New York Times Thirteen Innovators Who Changed Education in the 20th Century.
Williams stood out in the 1990s as a black Democratic politician who cast her vote with white Republicans in the Legislature, pushing a newfangled education reform called “school choice.” This initiative allowed low-income students the same opportunities to attend private education institutions as more privileged students.
When Williams announced her retirement, she said that though she wanted to move on to the next phase of her life and spend more time with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, she would remain active in the community, particularly in areas related to education.
Williams is and has always been a David in a world of Goliaths, who was never afraid to stand up for her community and refused to be comprised by politics. She has fought the good fight and deserves not only some rest, but a spot on the wall of fame among other Milwaukee legends.