By Kris Leonhardt
William Jennings Bryan was born in Illinois but became a Nebraska congressman in 1890. Despite blowing his fellow party members away with a rousing speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention, Bryan would lose three successive bids for president.
After helping Woodrow Wilson obtain a presidential nomination in 1912, Bryan was assigned to President Wilson’s cabinet as his Secretary of State. Bryan’s differences with Wilson caused him to resign in 1914.
In Oct. 1914, Marshfield was getting ready for the Nov. 3 election. As usual, candidates were using every means to reach undecided voters.
Marshfield Democrats had something special in store. Along with six other Wisconsin cities, the group was preparing for the arrival of Bryan.
Coming from Minneapolis by special train, Bryan would stop first in Eau Claire before traveling into Marshfield on the Omaha line. From Marshfield he would head on to Wausau, Appleton, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, and West Bend.
A $100 fee reserved Bryan’s stop in the Hub City.
Without a large enough auditorium to hold an expected crowd of 5,000, local Democrats struggled over a venue in which to welcome the secretary of state.
It was finally determined to host the politician in front of the Marshfield City Hall, in the area that is now Second Street between Maple and Central. If the weather was bad, then Bryan would be set up inside J.P. Adler’s New Adler Opera House.
When Bryan arrived in Marshfield, he was ushered from the Omaha depot to the New Adler, where he addressed 1,200 people who filled not only the seats but the aisles as well.
Bryan declared his support for the local and state politicians that were now accompanying him.
Thousands remained outside unable to gain access to the politician and hear his words of favor for his fellow Democratic candidates.
Seeing the potential for disgruntled voters, Bryan was asked to speak to the unhappy throng of people that stood outside. He complied and would address the mass of over 2,000 people from the city hall’s front steps.
After an hour in the city, Bryan returned to the Omaha depot and boarded his private train for Wausau.
Bryan was noted as the “Great Commoner” during his time in the political arena. He even established a newspaper called The Commoner in Lincoln, Nebraska, as a means to convey his ideas with the public.