Women's History PDF Print E-mail

This essay on women's history and Chicago is reprinted, with permission, from Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by womens building chicago coverRima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast (2001). The introduction by Dr. Schultz pulls together essential themes and topics that emerged from the 423 biographies of Chicago women that appear in this book – History Fair students will find inspiration for research projects and a wealth of information about both known and unknown women who made a difference to our city, and often the nation.

Browse through the introductory essay or read about specific topics of interest below. To read the individual biographies of these women, students will need to see the book which is available at every branch of the Chicago Public Library (HQ1439.C47W66 2001). Those entries conclude with a list of recommended primary and secondary sources which will help students on the next phase of their research journey.

The Women Building Chicago Index is another helpful tool in locating History Fair topics related to women.

Interested in the Progressive Era?  44 full  biographies of Progressive Era women are posted online at the Urban Experience in Chicago database. Go to the website's Search page, type the phrase "Women Building Chicago"  in the first box, then the entries of all 44 women will appear.



From these 423 biographies of Chicago women emerges a synthesis of Chicago history that provides the beginnings of a new narrative. Many volumes have been devoted to documenting Chicago's history as the quintessentially American saga of entrepreneurial development that catalyzed commercialization, industrialization, and urbanization on a vast scale. The biographies of Chicago women in this volume provide the reader with a new context for understanding the growth and development of this midwest city. The depth and scope of the contributions to Chicago of the majority of the women included here will be new to the reader and should provoke questions leading to a more inclusive and complex explanation of the factors involved in the transformation of American society and the rise of the modern city.

The historical survey that follows attempts to sketch for the reader the major themes that have emerged from a collective reading of the biographies and to provide an understanding of some of the larger themes in American history and in the growing scholarship on the history of women in the United States. As for the biographies themselves, taken individually, they inform the reader of the personal ambitions, struggles, and achievements of women from a wide variety of backgrounds in different periods of history.Taken topically, they provide the reader with histories of women's progress in various fields, including art, education, literature and the theater, politics, law, and medicine. They provide a history of the suffrage movement in the Chicago area and of women in politics and in social movements. Read collectively and interconnectedly, the biographical narratives provide an appropriate, congruent context for understanding the meaning of the individual lives and, beyond this, a new interpretation of Chicago and American history.


Chicago emerged as a boomtown during a period in which the canon of domesticity contrasted the home and the world, defining the former as a sanctuary, an oasis, a place where character-building takes place and where women as wives and mothers work selflessly for the good of family and society out of religious conviction as well as republican ideology; and depicting the latter as a place of pecuniary self-interest and competition. In the heady excitement of land speculation during the transition from an economy of fur-trading to one of commercial investment and speculation, Chicago personified the masculine spirit of capitalism. In the early days, men outnumbered women inhabitants. In 1837, of the 3,989 white persons residing in the city, more than forty-five per cent were males twenty-one years of age or over, and there were less than half as many women as men" (Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago: The Beginning of a City 1673-1848, [1937], I, 172).

Yet gender issues are strikingly present even in the precommercial period prior to the incorporation of the town in 1833 when, with the end of the Black Hawk War and the signing of a treaty, the Potawatomi tribe was resettled. When the French and Indians began to trade in the 1600s, American Indian women were often critical to the success of such enterprises. Women such as Archange Chevallier Ouilmette acted as intermediaries between tribal groups and Europeans. They knew the languages and the social mores of the tribes; they had important skills for the fur trade itself, and alliances were made between European men and Indian or métis women that, as in the case of Archange Chevallier Ouilmette, lasted a lifetime. In 1796 or 1797, Chevallier, a métis born to a French fur trader and his Potawatomi wife, married Antoine Ouilmette, a French Canadian fur trader who came to Chicago in 1790.

A consideration of the woman's sphere in pre-Civil War Chicago indicates that home and church-traditional places for female activity were hardly insignificant in the construction of cultural authority and influence for society as a whole. These venues in a small and new place, which Chicago was in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, were significant arenas for political and social interchanges and the planning of cultural and charitable enterprises. In a world where local government was minimal and public space was not yet defined by museums, lecture halls, and other cultural institutions, the private residence retained an important, quasi-public role. Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie, perhaps the best example of this feature of life in early Chicago, was a social leader influential in the politics at St. James Episcopal Church – established in 1834 largely through her efforts – including the hiring and firing of clergy. Without her approval it was difficult to carry on a charity event or plan a church expansion. As the wife and daughter-in-law of early settlers, Kinzie had a position as a leading citizen that came naturally but was enhanced by her education and talents – including piano playing and fluency in French – and her literary skills as the popular historian of early Chicago history.

From another perspective, private domestic space was enmeshed in the entrepreneurial development of the city in immediate and focused ways. City improvements, for example, were paid for by a special tax assessed according to the direct value a bridge, sidewalk, or sewer added to private property. If a person's property gained more value than a neighbor's down the block, the person's assessment was higher. In most Protestant denominations, church membership was determined by the purchase or rental of pews. Class exclusion as well as gender exclusion typified the privatized nature of the pursuit of culture. The first libraries and reading rooms run by the leading men in Chicago were not open to the public but based on subscription and membership dues, and privileged and educated families had private collections of books and art that made up for the embryonic cultural establishments. Refined people had performances of music and readings of poetry and plays in their own homes since public entertainment was limited to public taverns and music halls.

Matters of politics and public policy did, however, intrude into domestic space. Mary Jane Richardson Jones played a major role in the tiny community of free African Americans; she and her husband, John Jones, the first Black to be elected to a political office in Illinois, were part of an interracial abolitionist network in Chicago. Their home was one of only two Underground Railroad terminals operated by African Americans in the city. Frederick Douglass and John Brown were guests in the Joneses' home, and Mary Jane Richardson. Jones maintained contacts with them and other national leaders in the abolitionist movement through her letter writing. In a parallel way, Mary Ann Mills Hubbard, wife of meat packer and Chicago civic leader Gurdon S. Hubbard, a former antebellum mayor, held court in her own home and became known for her intelligence and knowledge of public affairs and politics. Guests in her household in the 1850s included Abraham Lincoln and Orville H. Browning, who came to visit when Gurdon Hubbard, a leader in the recently formed Republican Party in Illinois, brought his colleagues home to strategize. Memorialized by a member of the Chicago History Museum, Mary Ann Hubbard was remembered for her remarkable and "almost masculine understanding and grasp of affairs generally" (Chicago History Museum, Annual Report, 219).

While it is true that women did not participate in government or business, early Chicago women made an essential contribution to the creation of a commercial society as leaders in the expansion of literacy in the West. Many economic and social factors were involved in the settlement of the American continent; yet the process of community-building, the development of commerce and trade, and the organization of industrial and manufacturing enterprises required an infrastructure of workers with basic communication skills. For those who would be the managers of the burgeoning market system, a basic education was a requirement, not a luxury. In the context of postrevolutionary America, the development of responsible and harmonious civic life required an educated citizenry. The moral imperative to develop a virtuous citizenry required a level of literacy sufficient to sustain Bible reading.

Early Chicago developed because of the confluence of an agricultural and commercial revolution and an educational revolution for women in the United States and in parts of Europe, for example, in Ireland. Commercial development was also aided by the Second Great Awakening (1800-30) in the United States, a religious movement in which thousands of women and men committed or recommitted their lives to an acceptance of Jesus Christ as their savior. For many women, the conversion experience led to careers in moral reform and in teaching others to read so that the Gospel message would be available to them. The conversion experiences of Frances Langdon Willard in 1820 in New England and Eliza Emily Chappell Porter in Rochester, New York, in 1828, link the Second Great Awakening to Chicago's early development, since both women became convinced that their role in life was to spread the Gospel through their calling as schoolteachers in new settlements in the West. Before her marriage to Presbyterian minister and missionary Jeremiah Porter, Eliza Chappell started the first public school in Chicago in 1833, partially funded by money from the school fund. Willard was well-versed in the work of such educational pioneers as Sarah Pierce, Mary Lyons, Emma Willard, and Catharine Beecher. Both Willard and Chappell came to the West as single women and traveled without family or colleagues for support. Both women were advocates of education and education training; they organized and founded new schools, and they mentored other women in their school teaching roles. As a missionary's wife and mother of nine children (three died in infancy), Chappell Porter established schools where her husband planted Presbyterian churches in Illinois and Wisconsin in the 1830s through the 1850s, resettling in Chicago in 1858. During their stay in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Porter home was the last stop on the Underground Railroad before slaves crossed by boat into Canada. After the Civil War, Eliza Chappell Porter began schools for freedmen in Tennessee and Texas and, when Jeremiah Porter received a commission as an army chaplain, the Porters spent twelve years in a succession of western army camps. Wherever she went she established schools, taught in them, and trained others to teach.

Frances Willard opened a Female School in Chicago in 1836, and during a career that lasted three decades, she established schools in seven states and twenty-three towns and provided opportunities for advanced training to at least twelve hundred girls and women. Seventy-four of these young women became teachers. Willard's indefatigable efforts were commendable; her vision of what young women should learn in school, however, set the stage for the development of a female consciousness that would rebel against the constraints imposed by contemporary social mores. She taught natural philosophy, chemistry, bookkeeping, logic, and moral philosophy in addition to the frequently prescribed subjects for a girl's training. Classes in botany and calisthenics in the 1830s were unusual. Such courses, however, were increasingly popular among the new middle class of commercial settlers and their families, whose experiences with female academies in the East had whetted their appetite for a more rigorous curriculum for young girls.


Chappell Porter's and Willard's biographies illustrate the ways in which single and married women participated in the opening up of the commercial frontier and took paths that were distinct from those of women and men who cultivated midwest farmland. From the earliest period of commercial settlement, the entrepreneurial frontier was a force in dislodging women from the so-called domestic sphere. Female school teachers were in great demand, since conventional mores allowed them to be paid half what their male counterparts received. Female school teachers quickly became the norm. School teaching also became an avenue for women's further professionalization. The first and second generation of women college students often taught school prior to finishing either college or advanced degrees as a way of financing further education. Since requirements for teaching school were minimal, even at normal schools, which initially had two-year programs at best, it was not unusual for a young woman to teach for a few years before going on to study law or medicine, or even before entering a doctoral program. The biographies of Sarah Ann Hackett Stevenson, Catharine Van Valkenburg Waite, and Myra Colby Bradwell, a physician and two lawyers, respectively, suggest the pattern.

No group of women illustrates this pattern of social and occupational mobility more than Roman Catholic women religious. It is a paradox that the hierarchical and patriarchal system to which they owed absolute obedience (in theory) provided independence and a degree of autonomy for immigrant and working-class women. Mother Mary Agatha O'Brien, born Margaret O'Brien in 1822 in Graigue, County Carlow, Ireland, was only twenty-four years old when she arrived in Chicago in 1846 after three years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the first foundation of Mercy Sisters in the United States. She entered the Carlow Sisters of Mercy as a lay sister (a nun without a dowry) and worked in the kitchen until she and six others emigrated to Pittsburgh. Had she remained in Ireland, her lot in life would most likely have remained unchanged, since European religious orders retained class and status distinctions. But Margaret O'Brien had benefited from the recently developed Irish national school system. In the United States, her literacy and her natural abilities marked her as a leader, and, with no restrictions to overcome, she rose to a position of authority. O'Brien found that half the population of the booster lake port were Irish and German immigrants, the majority Catholic and working class.

Under O'Brien's leadership, three schools were opened almost immediately: St. Mary's (for girls) and St. Joseph's (for boys) were free and provided education for the children of immigrant Catholics; St. Francis Xavier Academy charged tuition and enrolled well-to-do young women from Protestant and Catholic families a decade before Chicago erected its first public high school. As with the Protestant women who taught school, the Catholic teaching sisters continued to open new schools, teach students, and create systems of teacher training and supervision. Biographies of Mother Mary Francis De Sales Monholland, a Mercy Sister and Irish immigrant; Sister Mary Agatha Hurley, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, another order predominantly of Irish immigrants and Irish American women; and Sister Walburga Gehring, Daughters of Charity, an order of German immigrant women, document the early activities of women religious in Chicago during the antebellum and Civil War period. These women, like Protestant women schoolteachers, experienced opportunities for career advancement and personal freedom through acts of moral benevolence that society had defined as woman's work. Their biographies describe the acquisition of land, successful efforts at fund-raising and financial planning, capable supervision of construction projects, and intelligent administration and counseling of staff and personnel in the running of educational programs, hospitals, orphanages, and rescue missions.

Women's roles as educators did not challenge the cultural authority of the leading men in the city, who retained their monopoly on politics and economic affairs and who were also the trustees of the school fund and in charge of public education. Teaching enabled women to rise above humble beginnings and, in some cases, to overcome a bad start in life. Such was the experience of Kate Newell Doggett. In 1853, after she buried her infant daughter and divorced her adulterous husband, Kate Newell Horton dropped her married name and at age twenty-six taught school in Cleveland, Ohio, then resettled in Chicago. In a short time "Mrs. Kate E. Newell," whom Chicagoans met as a young, well-educated, and cultivated "widow," opened her own school and soon married the wealthy, civic-minded William E. Doggett, a boot and shoe manufacturer.

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Women's work of moral benevolence in antebellum Chicago became a training ground for the assumption of civic leadership by females during the Civil War. Among the charitable and benevolent institutions founded in Chicago in the decade of the 1850s were Mercy Hospital and Orphan Asylum (1852), the Magdalene Asylum (1858), the Providence for Working Girls (1859), St. James Hospital (1854), and the Home for the Friendless (1858). The first three were the work of Catholic Mercy Sisters; the last two were established by the efforts of Episcopalians and an interdenominational group of Protestant women, respectively. Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, Jane Currie Blaikie Hoge, and other prominent Chicagoans who founded the Home for the Friendless represented the various organized Protestant churches in the city; the home assisted friendless women and children in finding suitable employment and permanent housing, admitting them without regard to creed, color, or nationality. Women board members were responsible for fund-raising and ran the day-to-day operations, which included rescuing women and children from the streets and bringing them to the home. These efforts to provide for the health and well-being of Chicagoans were critical, since Chicago's death rate exceeded that of New Orleans, Louisiana – which was known for its epidemics – as a result of yearly epidemics of typhoid, smallpox, and cholera; tuberculosis in the city was also serious. City and county public institutions were inadequate for a municipality whose population reached 109,620 in 1860, 50 percent of it foreign born. Efforts by the mayor and fire department in 1857 to clean out an area on the North Side of the city along the lakefront known as "The Sands," which was notorious for its saloons, gambling dens, and bordellos, were inadequate; the city counted more than one hundred houses of prostitution in 1858. Both the Chicago Relief and Aid Society and the Chicago United Charities were established in 1857, when a national economic panic and depression that began that year had serious consequences in the city. As business failures dampened the booster mentality of Chicagoans, businessmen flocked to revivals where such evangelical ministers and popular preachers as Dwight L. Moody attempted to restore confidence and offer a religious interpretation of secular events.


Soon after the first battles of the Civil War awakened women's and men's sensibilities to the lack of organizations to aid Union soldiers and care for the wounded and sick, the United States Sanitary Commission was formed to assist the Medical Department of the Army with disease prevention and relief. The Chicago (later Northwestern) Branch of the United States Sanitary Commission was established in 1861; soon after, in 1862, Mary Livermore and Jane Hoge were named associate managers of the Northwestern Sanitary Commission and lent their considerable experience and leadership to the cause. As associate managers, women learned how to run mass organizations and to raise funds on a scale exceeding local ladies' auxiliary efforts. Ultimately, about three thousand aid societies came under the supervision of Livermore and Hoge, who had organized many of them personally. Other war workers in Chicago included Myra Bradwell, Kate Newell Doggett, and Eliza Chappell Porter, who provided nursing assistance on the battlefield. Helen Culver also responded to a call for nurses from the Sanitary Commission after the Battle of Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and took charge of a forty-bed hospital. Catholic women religious made a significant contribution in the field of nursing. Sisters of Mercy from Chicago were one of the twelve orders of Catholic nuns who ministered to the wounded and sick soldiers in the North and the South. Sisters of Mercy, who had learned their nursing skills under Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, were valued; and Mother Francis De Sales Monholland sent Mercy sisters and a group of thirty lay women assistants to Lexington, Missouri. Back in Chicago in 1863, Mother Monholland directed her sisters in nursing typhoid and smallpox patients at Mercy Hospital; Monholland and her sisters also ministered to Confederate prisoners incarcerated in Camp Douglas, Chicago. Daughter of Charity Sister Walburga Gehring worked in the ambulance corps during the war; her order tended both Union and Confederate wounded on the battlefields.


In the midst of relief efforts, women in Chicago were beginning to come together in a movement for women's rights, including suffrage; an end to sexual discrimination in occupations; improvement of educational and economic opportunities; and the right to work and wages. They were doing so in a highly polarized political environment in which leaders in the northern Democratic Party and Republican Party were debating citizenship issues and the political settlement of the war. In Chicago women and men who had supported Lincoln and the Union army – many of whom had been Free Soilers or abolitionists in the 1850s – saw the opportunity to bring state and federal constitutions into alignment with more inclusive notions of citizenship. For women, however, issues of social justice had a particular meaning, and questions of wages and the right to work – poverty and dependency – resonated among female war relief workers brought up in the context of gender-specific relationships to property and citizenship. Even before the end of the war, Chicago women had expanded their initial goals of raising money and supplies for soldiers to include the relief of women on the home front. Sanitary Commission workers observed the hardship and need of women and children that resulted from the dislocations occasioned by war as well as the economic problems that befell many widows. Mary Livermore and others began to question whether or not women were actually protected by the patriarchal arrangements of society and the laws that kept married women from owning property, entering into contracts, or keeping their own wages. In the short term, the Chicago branch hired women in its offices and sewing rooms and provided them with wages. The idea that women needed training and experience outside the domestic sphere to insure the stability of family life gained adherents. Mary Livermore was radicalized by the contradictions in her legal status as a married woman unable to sign a business contract and head of a relief agency worth millions. Her abolitionist background had led to her immersion in war relief work, but before the Civil War she had opposed woman suffrage. In 1867 Livermore wrote to Susan B. Anthony, explaining that she had once believed the ballot would come to women after the right to work and wages but that she had recently decided women had to vote first and that the other goals would follow women's full realization of citizenship.

Myra Bradwell's involvement in the battle for legal equality of women began in part because of her own unsuccessful efforts to be admitted to the Illinois bar. She had read law with her husband, James Bradwell, who, in 1861, was elected judge in Cook County; in 1868 she founded Chicago Legal News, a legal newspaper that soon became one of the most important legal publications in the Midwest. The following year she passed the bar exam but was rejected for admission to the Illinois bar on the grounds that as a married woman she was unable to enter into contracts and, therefore, could not practice law. Her case was argued unsuccessfully before the U.S. Supreme Court in December 1872. That year Illinois women's rights activists, including Alta May Hulett, and Myra and James Bradwell, lobbied successfully for passage by the state legislature of an anti-sex discrimination act. Hulett became the first woman admitted to the Illinois bar on June 6, 1873, two days after her nineteenth birthday. In the early efforts by women lawyers to become licensed, arguments were made that combined talk about rights and citizenship with discussions about the importance of economic independence for women. By 1868, ferment among women regarding these issues as well as the debate about the proper method for achieving advancement and equality had, in the minds of a core group of activists, solidified around the belief that women had to obtain the right to vote first. This right, they argued, was central to women's struggle for political equality, and it alone made women the legal equals of men. Without the vote, women were robbed of their natural rights.

In 1855, Catharine Van Valkenburg Waite, an Oberlin graduate who taught school, and was married to Charles Waite, a lawyer and freethinker, founded Illinois' first suffrage organization in Earlville, a small town west of Chicago. Her plea for political rights for women, the first to be written in the state, was published in the Earlville Transcript that year. The following year both Waites lectured on equal rights throughout the state. In 1859 the Illinois legislature passed a law permitting women to reclaim their maiden names after divorce. It was almost ten years before the next step was taken toward the organization of women to obtain their rights. In June 1868, a woman's association, Chicago Sorosis – after the New York Sorosis formed a few months earlier – was formed; it specifically avoided calling itself a "suffragist' society. Catharine Waite, Cynthia Leonard, and Mary Livermore attended the founding meeting and, from the beginning, women's rights issues dominated. Internal conflict split Chicago Sorosis into two competing groups, one following the leadership of Mary Livermore and the other that of Cynthia Leonard; the two groups hosted simultaneous but separate suffrage conventions in the city on February 11 and 12, 1869, at Liberty Hall (Mary Livermore) and at Crosby Hall (Cynthia Leonard). Guest speakers included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone, who participated in both conventions. Stanton introduced a resolution that prefigured the controversial resolution presented in New York at the Equal Rights Association (ERA) meeting in May 1869. At the New York meeting, the ERA split, with Stanton and Anthony forming the National Woman Suffrage Association. In Chicago, Stanton and Anthony argued that black and female enfranchisement had to be treated as inseparable; since the Republicans in Congress had determined in the Fourteenth Amendment to enfranchise black men but not women, Stanton and Anthony called for resolutions withdrawing support from the Republican Party. Their position was not supported in Liberty Hall, where judges James Bradwell and Charles Waite – husbands of Myra Bradwell and Catharine Waite – spoke out against the Stanton-Anthony position. The Crosby Hall group, which brought together Spiritualists, Fourierites, freethinkers, and suffragists, passed resolutions that were more consonant with the Stanton-Anthony position. At the conclusion of the meetings, two Illinois suffrage groups emerged: the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association with Mary Livermore as president, and the Universal Suffrage Association. The former led the movement for women's rights in Illinois in association with Stanton and Anthony's national group; the latter lasted only several months.

The revolution in women's lives brought about by the opportunities for education coincided with a new understanding of the fragility of domestic relations. Women in Chicago, as elsewhere in the nation, had lived through two major economic depressions – in 1837 and 1857 – prior to the upheavals of the Civil War. Great risk was associated with entrepreneurial capitalism in nineteenth-century America. In 1861, married women in Illinois obtained the right to ownership of separate property brought to a marriage and could control, transfer, and contract upon this property as they saw fit. This right was, in part, a response to the insecurities married women faced when husbands failed in business. The ability to retain inherited property gave a woman security in a volatile, unpredictable economy. A year later, lobbying efforts to secure joint guardianship of children and easier access for widows to deceased husbands' property failed to secure passage by the legislature.

With the impetus from the conventions and the creation of the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association (IWSA), women immediately turned to the state legislature in session in Springfield. The major figures from Chicago – Livermore, the Bradwells, and the Waites – lobbied successfully for the passage of legislation that would entitle a married woman to receive, use, and possess her own earnings and sue for the same in her own name, protected from the interference of her husband or his creditors. The act, passed in March 1869, made clear that it was not to be construed as giving to a wife any compensation for any labor she performed in the care of her children or husband.

Kate Doggett returned from her experience as a delegate to the September 1869 Women's Industrial Congress in Berlin, Germany, opposed to the creation of separate institutions for employment of women and critical of the idea of a separate woman's sphere.


In the 1870s Doggett remained frustrated at the contradiction between women's engagement in cultural affairs in certain quarters and exclusion from membership in many of the standard societies of learning – the dilemma of the female intellectual and new professional. For example, she and other Chicago women participated in the Philosophical Society of Chicago when it was formed in 1873 by leading men, and women intellectuals, including Unitarian minister Celia P. Woolley, medical doctors Julia Holmes Smith and Sarah Hackett Stevenson, liberal Protestant ministers Robert Collyer and David Swing, Liberal-Reform Rabbi Bernard Felsenthal, and prosuffragist and freethinker Judge Charles B. Waite. The group presented papers to one another on a range of topics, including the position of women in society, evolution, sacred books and mythologies, and geology. Many members of the Philosophical Society were also women's rights activists in the late 1860s and 1870s. Generally they were middle-class women (Kate Doggett was probably the wealthiest in the group) whose husbands were professionals – clergy or lawyers – and who shared the ideology of the radical Republicans, whose zeal for citizenship rights for Blacks had carried in Congress. They were liberal in their religious views and interested in the new ideas of science and social science. Also involved were the new professional women – ministers, doctors, lawyers. The Philosophical Society remained the exception to a cultural and business milieu in which Victorian mores dictated that women be excluded from membership in the newly established institutions of culture, including the Chicago History Museum and the Chicago Academy of Sciences. Kate Doggett was elected to the Chicago Academy of Sciences only five years after its founding in 1864, even though she had curated the academy's valuable collection of plant specimens.

Doggett's achievements serve to underline the lack of inclusion of women intellectuals; caught in this paradox, she began the Fortnightly of Chicago in 1873. Originally attended by women and men, it soon became a literary society of largely self-educated women who presented serious papers on philosophy, literature, art, and women's history. Three years later the Chicago Women's Club (renamed Chicago Woman's Club in 1895) launched an ambitious agenda of education and social action that drew on six committees – reform, philanthropy, education, housekeeping, art and literature, science and philosophy. The Chicago Woman's Club (CWC) was basically the domain of privileged white women; admission of its only black member, Fannie Barrier Williams, had been controversial, and she remained the only African American in the club for the next thirty years. The CWC became a network of influential women whose overlapping memberships in other clubs and associations further strengthened the women's movement in the city. The club movement in Chicago, as elsewhere, was related to the larger movement of women, nationally and internationally, who were working to advance themselves and their gender toward full participation in the mainstream of economic, political, and social life.

Closely associated with the growth of sophisticated cultural institutions in the rising metropolis of Chicago was the interest shown by the city's elites in acquiring art, both for themselves and for public museums. Women had roles as both artists and art patrons. One exceptional woman became a major art dealer for many of the elite of Chicago. Women artists such as Cornelia Adele Fassett were accepted. She exhibited her watercolor of Abraham Lincoln, painted from life in 1860, at the Ladies' Northwestern Fair for war relief held in 1863. An accomplished portraitist, Fassett and her husband had a studio in Chicago; there he was active in the new field of photography and she painted the portraits of prominent Illinois and Chicago men. Annie Cornelia Shaw began studying at the Chicago Academy of Art and in 1873 exhibited her painting View on the Des Plaines at the second annual Chicago Inter-State Industrial Exposition. One year later, she opened her first studio; by 1875 both Shaw and Fassett had been elected to associate membership in the Chicago Academy of Design, and four years later the academy elected Shaw to full status as an academician.

Other late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century women artists in Chicago included painters Mary Hackney Wicker and Enella Benedict; sculptors Bessie Onahotema Potter, Julia Bracken Wendt, and Nellie Verne Walker; and etcher Bertha Evelyn Clauson Jaques. Three years before the Art Institute of Chicago was incorporated by leading men cultural philanthropists, women established the Chicago Society of Decorative Art (later the Antiquarian Society of Chicago), and Sara Tyson Hallowell began her career as the leading art agent for wealthy Chicagoans, including Bertha Honore Palmer. Alice DeWolf Kellogg and a friend, Marie Koupal, along with a handful of others, all of them female students at the new School of the Art Institute of Chicago, established the Bohemian Art Club (later the Palette Club), one of the first art associations for women in Chicago. Rose Fay Thomas and three other women launched the all-female Amateur Musical Club in the 1870s and began playing piano quartets together. The organization grew into a society of female pianists and singers with professional ambitions but few opportunities. Most of them taught music, since it was not until the 1950s that women began to appear with any frequency as orchestral performers. The careers of these women were typical: while there were gains made by individuals, women generally found it necessary to create separate female-only professional groups to support their careers.

Women remained marginalized in institutions of cultural philanthropy while men served as trustees, museum directors, and curators. Sara Hallowell's influence with the major art collectors in Chicago – the core founding fathers of the Art Institute of Chicago – was informal. She was denied directorship of the art exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 in spite of the strong endorsement of Bertha Honore Palmer, a cultural and civic leader whose position as head of the Board of Lady Managers for the exposition gave her significant power. Palmer's French impressionist collection, key to the reputation of the Art Institute of Chicago, derived from Hallowell's advice and the connection this female art dealer made between Bertha Palmer and artist Mary Cassatt. Hallowell, who had been the art agent for the Inter-State Industrial Exposition from the 1870s and had traveled between European art capitals and Chicago to arrange annual exhibitions, held her final exhibition in 1890, when she showed works by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissaro to midwest art collectors. Museum trustees, including Bertha Palmer's husband, disregarded her innovative and bold art patronage, and Hallowell's institutional role at the museum came from her membership in the female-only Antiquarian Society. The same is true of other women art patrons whose collections were formative for the museum – Kate Sturges Buckingham, Annie Shaw Coburn, and Margaret Day Blake. Antiquarian Society member Frances MacBeth Glessner, who patronized arts and crafts artists and did silversmithing in her home studio, endorsed the museum's innovative decorative arts acquisitions. The Antiquarian Society created the groundwork for the museum's acknowledgment of the importance of decorative arts and for the appointment in 1914 of Bessie Bennett as Curator of Decorative Arts, the first woman to become curator at the Art Institute of Chicago.


The exclusion of women from governing boards of cultural institutions, in spite of new educational opportunities and career initiatives that were propelling women beyond the home, is evident in relief efforts after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that ignored women leaders of the Sanitary Commission. The Chicago Relief and Aid Society, a private charitable organization run by the city's business elite since the late 1850s, was authorized by Mayor Roswell B. Mason to become the official relief effort of the municipality and to distribute goods and supplies. Mason distrusted the elected alderman, whose narrow political interests he thought would get in the way of a scientific and prudent handling of the substantial relief fund of more than four million dollars. Instead, Mason and other supporters of the Relief and Aid Society argued that the wealthiest and most influential men of the city had no pecuniary interest and would be wise and economical in the distribution of relief. This approach also reflected the theories of scientific charity that dominated private relief agencies, whose fear of creating dependency among the able-bodied poor led to stringent rules regarding worthy and unworthy applicants for relief. In addition, the Relief and Aid executive committee privileged those individuals who had previously owned a home by providing small, prefabricated shanties; renters were sent to barracks. While the Employment Bureau of the society outfitted tradesmen who had lost their tools, jobless laborers had to take whatever jobs were available. In short, the Relief and Aid Society ran its programs so that the victims of the fire were assisted, but help was not extended to those whose economic plight was deemed unrelated to the conflagration. At the end of eighteen months of relief distribution, the Relief and Aid Society discontinued relief to eight hundred families deemed the "chronic poor," and the Relief and Aid Society used the six hundred thousand dollars left in its coffers to create a comfortable operating fund that allowed the organization to suspend all of its own fund-raising for the next decade.

The Chicago Relief and Aid Society's outreach was limited. Others, especially groups run by women, ignored or rejected the scientific charity approach and provided relief more inclusively. Sister Mary Francis De Sales Monholland and her nursing staff at Mercy Hospital assisted victims of the Chicago Fire. Sister Walburga Gehring and the Daughters of Charity took charge of the Barracks Hospital that had been set up as an emergency hospital for the fire victims.

While the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 continues to dominate the narrative of the city's history as a commercial and industrial metropolis, fire stories figure less frequently in the narratives of Chicago women. Martha Joanna Reade Nash Lamb's novel Spicy, published in 1872, describes women's benevolent work in Civil War Chicago, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the Great Chicago Fire. Lamb's female characters are strong and heroic in the novel and are based on the leading figures who supervised the work of the Northwestern Sanitary Commission during the war. Biographers of Cyrus H. McCormick agree that his wife, Nettie Fowler McCormick, who was twenty-six years his junior, provided the energy and will power to rebuild the McCormick Reaper plant after the fire destroyed the works. She wrote in her journal: "I constantly urge Mr. McC. to miss no opportunity to go forward with the new factory THIS YEAR" (Stella Virginia Roderick, Nettie Fowler McCormick [1956], 100). Emma Dryer, who was close to Nettie McCormick, recalled in her memoirs that the couple had prayed together on the subject and that McCormick left the decision to his wife since she would outlive him and had the children's future to consider. Nettie McCormick's decision-making in the business increased after her husband's death in 1884, when she became the chief stockholder and began writing to lawyers, financial agents, and advisers, including J. Pierpont Morgan, Cyrus Bentley, and Charles Deering. She was one of the few women in Chicago whose participation in industrial growth after the fire approximated that of male capitalists.


By the late 1870s the newly organized clubwomen in Chicago were working on two agendas: the advancement of white, middle-class women into the economic mainstream, and a reform agenda that had as a major goal the protection and assistance of working-class women and children. Efforts to protect working women came out of a shared gender experience that crossed class lines. For middle-class and working-class women, women's dependency was not an abstract concept but one that touched their lives directly. The wives and daughters of middle-class husbands and fathers were not defined by their class position in the same way that males were. Women could not be equal if they remained dependent on husbands and fathers. The movement for women's equality first had to battle for women's right to work, for married women's right to their own wages, and for acceptance in professions that initially excluded women. Women learned from experience that economic fluctuations in the market affected the security of middle-class families, as did the death of husbands.

During the post Civil War era, American society experienced profound social, economic, and political changes. Transportation systems linked mechanized farms with urban centers in a national economy. Within a generation after the war, the United States was transformed from a predominantly agricultural to a manufacturing nation. The demographic and physical changes in urban areas shocked a generation whose childhood had been spent in pre-industrial, antebellum America. Chicago's population rose from 298,977 in 1870 to 503,185 ten years later to 1,099,850 in 1890. The annexation of surrounding towns in 1889 accounted in part for the growth. Chicago was the leading meat packer and the leading grain and lumber market in the United States. In 1860 Chicago became the center of the world's largest rail network, and by 1871 twenty-one mainline railroad tracks entered the city. The Union Stockyards opened in 1865. Thousands of Chicago workers, like their counterparts in other American cities, were employed in factories, sweatshops, and industrial plants, where they earned low wages for long hours and received no unemployment insurance or compensation for industrial accidents. Women and children worked many hours for pennies an hour in factories and sweatshops that were foul, unsanitary, and dangerous. Trade unionism was in its infancy, and there was a rise of industrial violence between organized labor, which was seeking recognition, and capital, which rejected collective bargaining. There were no child labor laws, no rules regulating the industrial workplace, and no safety nets for working-class or, for that matter, for middle-class employees.

In demanding changes in working conditions for women, middle-class clubwomen rejected the prevailing economic and social theory – the doctrine of laissez-faire, which dictated that the natural laws of supply and demand controlled prices and wages. The development of an alternative vision of how social and economic relations should be arranged in society was the major contribution of the post-Civil War women suffragists and reformers. Well before Progressive Era politics, middle-class women began advocating the same measures that militant trade unionists and socialists in workingmen's parties championed. Legislation to put an end to sweatshops became a rallying point for organized women across class, religion, and ethnic divisions. Women bucked the conventional thinking of the majority of Protestant clergy and benevolent workers in nineteenth-century America, whose ideas about the proper response to cases of poverty in were based on laissez-faire theory that reinforced theological ideas of personal sin and conversion. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was translated by conservative economists and social theorists into a Social Darwinism that supported the laissez-faire concept. Progress demanded that a government assume only minimal responsibility for the welfare of the citizenry; workers' demands for minimum wages, the eight-hour day, or even child labor restrictions and other kinds of protective legislation for women and children had to be rejected because such legislation interfered with the natural laws of the market system. Unscientific kinds of charity were especially suspect since indiscriminate, sentimental almsgiving created dependency and interfered with the laws of supply and demand. Attempts by workers' unions to bargain collectively for better wages and hours were also rejected. Middle-class and wealthy women who were engaged in reformist activities in the Chicago Woman's Club redefined their class position substantially enough to advance a critique of unregulated capitalism and to offer counterproposals for the way in which decisions about compensation for a person's labor should be made. These views did not mean, however, that middle-class and wealthy women who allied with working-class women agreed completely with the latter's positions and tactics. Nor did it mean that cross-class alliances among women were without tensions and conflicts. Yet many privileged women responded affirmatively to the call for a shorter work day, for regulation of factories, for minimum wages, and for an end to child labor – even though businessmen of their own class fought these reforms.

It is easy to understand why working-class women and men in trade unions and workingmen's parties rejected the rhetoric of the ruling elite. Clashes between labor and capital increased during the 1870s and 1880s, as did the incidence of state-supported violence against striking and demonstrating workers. In 1877 radical women workers participated in street activities in Chicago during the Railroad Workers' Strike that had spread across the United States and that reached Chicago in July. The following year, Alzina Parsons Stevens, Elizabeth Flynn Rodgers, Elizabeth Morgan, Lizzie Swank Holmes, and Lucy E. Parsons joined Chicago's first labor organization for working women, Working Women's Union No. 1 (WWU), with Stevens as the first president. The WWU was conceived by leaders of the Chicago Council of Trades and Labor Unions and the Socialist Labor Party, who thought it was time to organize yet unorganized women workers. Membership included workers from the Scandinavian, German, and English-speaking women's sections of the Socialist Labor Party. Many of the first generation of women trade union leaders in the city came out of the WWU. Elizabeth Flynn Rodgers, for example, served as a delegate to the Knights of Labor State Trades' Assembly of Illinois in 1880, and the following year she led one of the Knights of Labor's first all-women assemblies. Lucy Parsons, whose experiences with trade unionism and electoral politics in the Workingmen's Party (later the Socialistic Labor Party of North America) transformed her into a revolutionary socialist and one of the leaders of the new International Working People's Association (IWPA), wrote for the Alarm, which was edited by her husband, Albert Parsons. Her "To Tramps," published on the front page of the first issue, reflected her intense anger at social injustice as the unemployed and homeless died of hunger and exposure during the severe winter of 1883-84. She had come to believe that wage slavery would be defeated in the same way chattel slavery had been ended, and she adopted the ideology of propaganda by the deed in response to the state-sanctioned violence used against workers organizing for better wages and the eight-hour day.

For anarchist women such as Parsons and Lizzie Swank Holmes, the suffrage convention held in Chicago in 1884 had little meaning. Holmes, writing in the Alarm in 1885, debated whether or not socialist women should engage in the struggle for woman suffrage. She argued that the ballot was not the cure for women's problems, agreeing with Lucy Parsons and others who believed that the revolutionary workers' movement took priority and was, ultimately, the only way to improve conditions of women and men. Holmes and Parsons became involved with the nationwide eight-hour-day campaign, and on May Day 1886, hundreds of working women participated in the Chicago parade of eighty thousand workers. Two days later a clash between strikers and police took place at the McCormick Reaper Works. In response to the incident at the McCormick plant, protesters called a meeting at Haymarket Square for May 4. The peaceful crowd was about to conclude its speeches and disperse when a contingent of 180 police arrived. Moments later a bomb exploded, sparking a police riot. Eight policemen died as a result of the bombing and the crossfire among police. In the disorder, an undetermined number of demonstrators lost their lives. The identity of the bomb thrower remained unknown, but eight anarchists, including Lucy Parsons's husband, Albert, were tried and convicted of conspiracy to murder a policeman. Four of them, including Parsons, were sentenced to death; a fifth condemned anarchist killed himself in jail; and three others stayed in jail until released in 1893 by Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld, whose pardon message contained a bold indictment of the trial.

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During the 1870s and 1880s, activist middle-class women also tried to make sense of the industrial city and found themselves repelled by the disorder, immorality, corruption, and violence. While women suffragists in the 1860s had been interested in protecting dependent women and children (Susan B. Anthony organized her radical Working Woman's Association in 1866), the leaders of the suffrage movement began to articulate a reform agenda in the late 1870s that became more fully developed in the Progressive Era. One of the first groups to assert the new agenda was the Illinois Social Science Association founded in 1877 by Elizabeth Boynton Harbert. An affiliate of the American Social Science Association, the Illinois group under Harbert argued that social progress would occur when women's moral influence was combined with up-to-date knowledge of the new industrial conditions in urban America. They also thought that traditional charity and moral reform directed at individual salvation were inadequate to solve the problems of modern society and that scientific charity organizations were limited responses to social concerns. Harbert had no confidence in the political system's ability to solve urban problems. She expressed her repulsion of men's abuse of power in ways that resembled the rhetoric of local temperance crusaders, whose protest against public drunkenness and political corruption had gathered support in small towns throughout the Midwest and in 1874 had led to the formation of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In 1878 Mary E. McDowell heard Frances E. Willard address a group of young women in Chicago; impressed,. the young McDowell joined in the temperance work and by 1887 was the national director for the WCTU's Young Woman's branches in Illinois and other states. With Willard's assumption of the presidency in 1879, the WCTU began advocating many of the same reforms that Harbert called for in her column, "Woman's Kingdom," which first appeared in 1879-80 in the Chicago Inter-Ocean, a daily newspaper. The column reported news about suffrage campaigns, reform movements, temperance, education, and health and offered a critique of existing societal institutions.

As secular clubwomen moved toward a new definition of their role in public affairs (and in turn redefined an expanded role for the state in an industrial democracy), women in traditional fields of benevolent work also redefined their roles and explored new avenues of service (and in turn redefined and expanded the sphere of woman's work and woman's ministry in religion). The Woman's Presbyterian Board of Missions of the North-West was organized in December 1870; under the leadership of Jane Hoge, it expanded from 70 auxiliaries in eight states to more than 1,430 auxiliaries in eleven states by 1885. The focus of the work was on the Christianization of heathen women and the support of female missionaries. Also in 1870, the Reverend Augusta Jane Chapin, the second woman to be ordained in the Universalist denomination, served on the Universalist General Convention, the denomination's governing body; and the following year she formed, with other activist Universalist women, the Woman's Centenary Association of the Universalist Church, the forerunner of the Association of Universalist Women. Emma Dryer came to Chicago in 1870 to take up benevolent work for women and children and became a leader in the Ladies' Christian Union; after the Chicago Fire of 1871, this organization engaged in relief work and changed its name to the Women's Aid Association. By 1873 it had reorganized as the Women's Christian Association after having affiliated with the Young Men's Christian Association. One of the outcomes of Dryer's leadership was the establishment of a home for "self-dependent girls." In 1871 Mary Jane Richardson Jones and three other women organized the Workers for the King, a religious group that offered aid to the growing African American poor population in the city. Rumah Avilla Crouse became the founding president of the Women's Baptist Home Missionary Society in 1877; run by women, its purpose was to develop missions within the United States rather than in foreign countries. Considered a controversial departure, it was a direct response to the pleas of women missionaries in the field who faced poverty, racism, and social problems from rapid urbanization and immigration. Women from a conservative religious tradition tended to identify differently with the problem of the unmarried working girl in the city, the so-called "woman adrift," than did secular social reformers, although from the 1880s through 1900s the common ground that united all middle-class and privileged women was a deepening anxiety over women who lived alone in the city and worked in factories, department stores, or sweatshops. There was growing alarm about the loss of innocence of young immigrant women and migrants from small towns and, worse, a fear that such women would become victims of the sex trade. The range of responses to the problems of youth in the city and the potential for corruption and exploitation of young women and men included those of Matilda Carse, a WCTU leader who, in 1882, helped open the Rehoboth, a refuge and alcohol recovery home, at a mission in an African American neighborhood on Chicago's South Side; Sister M. Theresa Dudzik, a Polish immigrant and founder of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, who opened a rescue mission in the 1880s; urban evangelist Mary Everhart, who opened the Olive Branch Mission in 1893, which continued a longstanding tradition of ministering to the homeless; and women such as Louise de Koven Bowen, whose interest in protecting youth in the cities was directed to legislation to close dance halls. Providing an increasing number of independent women workers with appropriate housing and recreation also had moral overtones, even when such projects were undertaken by social reformers who advocated the emancipation of women. Ina Law Robertson established Eleanor Clubs, low-cost boarding houses for single working women that provided safe homes and a Christian atmosphere. In the African American community, clubwomen Elizabeth Lindsay Davis and Fannie Emanuel, a medical practitioner, provided black single working women with housing in the Phyllis Wheatley Club, which opened in 1896.


Characteristic of the emerging woman's culture of the 1880s was the way in which the first generation of women in the fields of law, journalism, medicine, religion, and in the academy maintained connections with women's organizations not related to professional advancement per se as well as with the suffrage movement. Women physicians, lawyers, and university professors played prominent roles in the Chicago Woman's Club. Conversely, such organizations as the Illinois Woman's Press Association, founded in 1885, or the Cordon Club, founded in 1915, while focused on the advancement of women's careers in journalism and art, respectively, had a broad membership of women from the larger woman's movement. Another way of looking at the cross membership of women is the way in which middle-class women supported women's trade union organizations, for example, the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), founded in 1903. Trade union women such as Agnes Nestor played important roles in the suffrage movement in Illinois and in the League of Women Voters of Illinois after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. There were serious divisions and class conflicts, however, that made such alliances precarious and often short-lived. An examination of the way in which the first generation of women physicians participated in the social and political ferment of the woman's movement helps define the nature of the first wave of feminism in the United States.

Women doctors' intellectual achievements and consummate professional work ethic could not compensate for the conventional attitudes of both women and men to female practitioners. They constructed careers as physicians out of the women's movement in which they were activists. Clubwomen offered them support, both financial and in terms of acceptance and status; they in turn provided professional expertise and were able to guide women's political culture toward women's and children's health care agendas. Women's culture campaigned for public health programs, and clubwomen (career volunteers) raised funds to establish nursing schools and hospitals where women doctors could practice. Women physicians such as Sara Hackett Stevenson, Julia Holmes Smith, Frances Dickinson, and Lucy Waite, and women lawyers, artists, and social activists established the Queen Isabella Association in 1889. Stevenson, Dickinson, Smith, and Waite were leaders in the Chicago Woman's Club. Stevenson became president of the medical staff of the Frances E. Willard National Temperance Hospital when it opened in 1886. She had joined the WCTU in 1881 and served as the first superintendent of its department of hygiene, responsible for publicizing the negative effects of alcohol on health. Julia Holmes Smith was president of the Chicago Woman's Club, presided over the biennial meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Women in Chicago, and served on Julia Ward Howe's Woman's Committee at the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans in 1884-85. She became director in 1886 of the Illinois Training School for Nurses, founded in 1880 by a group of clubwomen led by Lucy Coues Flower to train working women for a profession and to supply trained nurses to the poor.

In the field of medicine the career pattern for women differed substantially from that of men. Mary Harris Thompson graduated from New England Female Medical College, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1863 and selected Chicago as a place of opportunity where an ambitious new doctor could overcome the disabilities of her sex; Thompson promoted the education of women doctors. Not only were women denied access to most male schools of medicine, but those who were able to graduate from the minority of schools in the United States that took both women and men or who had the opportunity to study abroad where there were opportunities for women, were refused hospital privileges. Women graduating from female colleges of medicine often sought another M.D. degree from either a European school of medicine or a coeducational school in the United States perceived to be more "reputable." The first and second generations of women doctors were activists in establishing hospitals and schools of medicine for women, in creating separate societies for women physicians, and in pushing for removal of the.limitations that kept them on the margins of male-dominated institutions. They were also activists who participated in the new woman's movement, taking leadership roles in clubs and reform societies and volunteering their expertise and time in clinics and agencies to protect and care for women and children. They wrote textbooks, delivered scientific papers, and published their findings on medical issues and public health. Mary Harris Thompson's initial involvement in Chicago was with the Sanitary Commission, where she became convinced that the city needed a hospital for women and children. Through her efforts the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children (in 1895 renamed the Mary Thompson Hospital of Chicago for Women and Children) was opened May 8, 1865.

Following the pattern of many women in medicine, Thompson sought advanced training at Rush Medical College, but like Catharine Van Valkenburg Waite, who had been rejected by Rush in 1866, Thompson was turned away. Rush's rival, Chicago Medical College, was willing to accept Thompson as a result of the efforts of a liberal faculty member, Dr. William H. Byford. He encouraged Thompson to establish a women's medical college in connection with the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children and, in 1870, under Byford's direction, the Woman's Hospital Medical College opened (it was renamed Chicago Woman's Medical College in 1879). Thompson taught hygiene and obstetrics and gynecology. Marie Josepha Mergler also graduated from the Woman's Medical College; but although she finished first in the exam for appointment as intern at the Cook County Insane Asylum at Dunning, she did not receive the appointment. She went to Switzerland for postgraduate work in clinical medicine and pathology at Zurich. Frances Dickinson interned at Women's and Children's Hospital under Mary Harris Thompson and studied at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, then at the Royal Ophthalmic Hospital, London, where women had just been admitted in 1883. She then worked with Dr. Adolph Weber, an internationally known ophthalmologist in Darmstadt, Germany.

In a world where the professionalization of medicine was itself in flux, women could make strides in alternative medicine. Julia Holmes Smith completed her medical education at the Chicago Homeopathic College and practiced homeopathic medicine for the next forty years. Homeopathy was a more hospitable field for women and in the late nineteenth century was considered by many to be a legitimate alternative to allopathic medicine. Alice Stockham also graduated from the Chicago Homeopathic College. Smith and Stockham were critical of standard medicine, especially the treatment of women's diseases. Stockham's book, Tokology: A Book for Every Woman (1883), was a manual on women's health and pregnancy that sold 160,000 copies by 1891 and, six years later, was in its forty-fifth edition.

Sarah Hackett Stevenson's career, on the other hand, was equal to that of many men in the medical field. Initially benefiting from Thompson's pioneering efforts, Stevenson graduated with highest honors from Woman's Hospital Medical College in 1874. The next year she traveled extensively in Europe for postgraduate study, visiting several hospitals in Dublin and London; while in the latter city, she studied under scientists Thomas Huxley and Charles Darwin. Back in Chicago in 1875, she was appointed to the physiology chair at the Woman's Hospital Medical College and elected to membership in the Illinois State Medical Society. Illinois Governor John Beveridge sent her as a delegate to the First Sanitary Conference in Vienna. In 1876 she attended the convention of the American Medical Association (AMA) in Philadelphia as an alternate delegate and, when the delegate was unable to attend, took his place and became the first woman member. An exception was made for Stevenson, and she remained the only woman in the AMA until it formally accepted women members in 1915. Stevenson was the first woman appointed to the staff of Cook County Hospital in 1881.


The biographies of two of the first generation of new black women professionals demonstrate that race rather than class or education predetermined the outcomes for African Americans in this country. In 1894 Ida Platt became the first African American woman to earn her Illinois law license. African American men were allowed to enter the legal profession four years before white women were, yet the number of black men admitted to practice law in Illinois increased slowly. Platt remained the sole African American woman lawyer in the state until 1920, when Violette Anderson graduated from Chicago Law School (later Kent College of Law). In 1887 Harriet Rice was the first African American woman to graduate from Wellesley College. She earned her medical degree at the Women's Medical College of New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1891 and, after postgraduate work in New York and Philadelphia, resettled in 1893 in Chicago, where she took up residence at Hull-House. Both Platt and Rice had experienced little race prejudice as children and young adolescents; they came from black families with long traditions of freedom and professionalism in communities where they were part of a small minority. Rice and Platt had little reason to doubt that they would be judged by their individual achievement and were not prepared for the realities of race discrimination and prejudice that they experienced as professional women. They were not, however, willing to become "race women," as the generation of black clubwomen saw themselves. Rice and Platt both resisted working in all-black institutions or for black clients.


By the 1880s and 1890s, women's professional organizations, clubs, benevolent missions, trade unions, and political equality organizations were an indication of the scope of women's participation in public affairs and the mainstream economy. Much remained to be accomplished, however. The Seneca Falls declaration had been conceived in the world of agrarian America at the dawn of urban, industrial society. The rights discussions in which women engaged in the 1880s reflected the changed context; in addition to their continued interest in legal or political rights for themselves, the vast majority of women had begun to think about the ways in which women and children were disproportionately damaged by industrial and urban conditions. An agenda of protection emerged in the 1880s: Frances E. Willard introduced an entire platform of demands under the heading "Home Protection"; Ellen Henrotin and Sarah Hackett Stevenson of the Chicago Woman's Club created the Protective Agency for Women and Children in 1886, and by 1889 it had become an independent institution functioning as a legal aid bureau successfully filing court claims in cases of wife abuse, desertion, and divorce. By 1896, with the help of women lawyers, the agency had collected $1,249,000 in fraud, injustice, and divorce cases from 7,197 complaints.

Concern for the well-being of working women reached a peak in the summer of 1888 when a series of exposes on the city's sweatshops appeared in the Chicago Times. Responding to a call from two socialist women, Elizabeth Morgan and Corinne Stubbs Brown, leaders of the Ladies' Federal Labor Union No. 2703, members of the Chicago Woman's Club, and around thirty other women's organizations had formed the Illinois Woman's Alliance (IWA), a cross-class coalition, by November. The IWA put forward counterproposals that questioned laissez-faire capitalism and called for the state to take responsibility for minimal standards of public welfare. The groups represented in the IWA reveal how the movement for women's rights and professional opportunities had now expanded to include in its agenda a strong social justice component. The first coordinating committee included Corinne Brown as chair, representing the Ladies' Federal Labor Union (LFLU). The daughter of a skilled worker, Brown was a former teacher and principal in the Chicago public school system who had married a prominent banker; her involvement in the LFLU was part of a pattern of support and participation by middle-class women in the early organization of women's trade unions in Chicago. Caroline Alden Huling, of the Cook County Suffrage Association, was a new career woman who arrived in Chicago in 1884 to attend a national suffrage convention and remained to make her way as a self-supporting journalist. Her father had owned a newspaper and publishing firm in upstate New York, and the family's political connections to then-governor Grover Cleveland made possible Caroline Huling's appointment as notary public. She was one of the first women to hold the position in the state. Huling had just attended the International Council of Women conference held in Washington, D.C., in March 1888 and was a link between Chicago and the women's movement internationally. Fannie Barrier Williams, a leader in the black clubwoman movement in Chicago, also participated in the IWA; between 1891 and 1894, she held almost every office including vice-president and secretary. In 1894 she was head of the Alliance's Committee on State Schools for Children. Her participation in the IWA is noteworthy since her proposed membership in 1894 in the Chicago Woman's Club took fifteen months to confirm because of bitter debates among the all-white membership.

The IWA's practical agenda endorsed a variety of legislative initiatives and city programs that, taken together, aimed to eliminate the sweatshop system. The women understood that factory inspection alone could not end some of the worst aspects of the system. It was necessary to remove children from the workplace and put them in schools, and demands were made for new schools, compulsory education laws, and the prohibition of child labor. The IWA also addressed the issue of police victimization of prostitutes and demanded an end to the double standard under which women were convicted of prostitution while the men who engaged in sex for money remained anonymous and went unpunished.

In 1892 the Alliance broadened to include Hull-House residents Alzina Parsons Stevens and Florence Kelley; the former had returned to Chicago where earlier she had organized the Working Women's Union; the latter, the daughter of a prominent Pennsylvania industrialist and politician, had become a socialist while in graduate school in Zurich, Switzerland, and had recently moved to the city from New York. The Chicago Trades and Labor Assembly, Hull-House residents, the IWA, and well-known radicals such as Henry Demarest Lloyd successfully pressured the state legislature to pass the Illinois Factory and Inspection Act (also known as the Sweatshop Act) in 1893; the act set sanitary standards for the workplace, prohibited the employment of children under age fourteen in any manufacturing enterprises, limited the daily working hours of females to eight, and increased the enforcement powers of factory inspectors. Governor John P. Altgeld appointed Kelley chief inspector and Stevens assistant inspector. Although the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the eight-hour clause of the 1893 Sweatshop Act in 1895, the legislation was a significant victory for organized women workers and social reformers. In 1894 the IWA dissolved over internal tensions between working-class and middle-class segments of the organization. There would be other attempts at alliances between working-class women and middle-class allies, notably in the Women's Trade Union League; but issues of class presented serious challenges to the, vision of a united womanhood. Male-dominated trade unionism showed ambivalence if not outright distrust of efforts to organize women, especially those engaged in unskilled jobs. First-wave social feminists such as Mary E. McDowell, Margaret Dreier Robins, and Florence Kelley argued that their support was crucial in the early years of women's trade union organizing.

While the IWA did not last, it was, for women in Illinois, one of the first expressions of a political and social philosophy that would be most extensively implemented during the Progressive Era. The IWA's three fundamental principles – written in 1891– summarize the philosophy of the social feminists who became the leaders of organized women in Chicago from 1890 to 1920: first, "the actual status of the poorest and most unfortunate woman in society determines the possible status of every woman" (Meredith Tax, The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917 [1980], 71). This concept of reciprocal social responsibility and an awareness of interdependence between labor and capital, rich and poor, immigrant and American-born was further elucidated and implemented through the leadership of Jane Addams. With Ellen Gates Starr, Addams had founded the Hull-House Settlement in 1889. The second concept was the belief that "the civilization of the future depends upon the present condition of the children" (p. 71). As a consequence of this view, different branches of organized womanhood sought to accomplish their goals through the education of the child in the broadest sense, an education that included the construction of appropriate moral and physical environments in which children and adolescents would thrive. The third principle held that "public money and public officials must serve public ends" (p. 71). Rejecting the idea of a limited role for government, women's organizations demanded that public monies be spent appropriately and efficiently for the common good. Women had to involve themselves in the political process; woman suffrage had become a vehicle for achieving reform of society rather than an end in itself.


Women looked to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 as an opportunity to demonstrate their intellectual and cultural accomplishments. The exposition was also an opportunity to forge connections nationally and internationally with like-minded women.

How and in what context women would participate in the World's Columbian Exposition became a divisive issue for different groups, and it reflected many of the tensions and growing pains of the women's movement itself. Did married, white, privileged clubwomen such as Bertha Honore Palmer and Ellen Martin Henrotin speak for all women? Were black clubwomen to be included on boards and committees? Should Jewish women participate on a religious basis or as another "branch" of women's clubs? Should women have their own separate building at the fair or participate in all of the exhibits alongside men? Women had begun to plan for their participation in the exposition as early as 1889, when the Queen Isabella Association was established. Drs. Julia Holmes Smith, Sarah Hackett Stevenson, and Frances Dickinson, lawyer Catharine Van Valkenburg Waite, and poet and Catholic art expert Eliza Allen Starr were active Isabellas and argued that women's representation at the exposition should be integrated into all the exhibition halls and displays along with the works of men, not separated into a building solely for woman's work. Starr's Isabella of Castile was published in 1889 and made the case for the significance of the female ruler of Spain in the exploration and discovery of the New World. As the Isabellas worked toward their goal of inclusion and integration, Bertha Palmer had the inside track on control of women's representation. She and her husband, well-known business leader Potter Palmer, had been busily engaged with other influential Chicagoans in making certain that their city was the site chosen for the Columbian Exposition. Bertha Palmer steered a moderate course in her role as head of the Board of Lady Managers. The women had been appointed by the Fair Commission in 1890 and had as their major task approval of applications for exhibition space in the women's pavilion.

Palmer resolutely held fast to the concept of a separate woman's building where exhibits by women would be displayed without a political context or any discussion of suffrage or the women's rights movement. Unable to persuade Palmer and the managers to integrate women's work into men's exhibits, the Isabellas, through their Physicians Publishing Company, financed the construction of their own building, the Isabella Hotel and Club House. In the mid, the lawyers and physicians who were Isabellas and had fought for full and equal inclusion of women were as removed from the major exhibits as was the Woman's Building. Dr. Julia Holmes Smith, when the Isabellas lost their argument, organized a model hospital and emergency clinic for women and children at the exposition. This exhibit had a building of its own with a model hospital, up-to-date operating room, diet kitchen, office and reception room, a section of a children's ward and women's ward, and a private room for patients. Julia Smith, Dr. Sarah Stevenson, and others recruited volunteer women homeopathic, allopathic, and eclectic doctors, as well as nurses from the Illinois Training School for Nurses to staff the clinic, which treated more than three thousand patients during the exposition. Every attempt to penetrate male-dominated organizations forced women into the creation of separate associations. Julia Smith was the only woman on the committee that was organizing the Homeopathic Physicians and Surgeons Congress and eventually became the head of the Woman's Committee of the same congress. Women lawyers experienced a similar fate. Attorney Ellen Martin, a vice-president of the board of directors and chair of the legal department of the Isabellas, organized a meeting of women lawyers in August 1893; fourteen prominent women attorneys spoke on a variety of topics. Martin, whose private practice in downtown Chicago was a model of achievement even by male professional standards, felt it necessary to cofound the National League of Women Lawyers to promote the interests of women in the practical work of the legal profession and also to found the Chicago Political Equality League with Catharine McCulloch and other Chicago Woman's Club activists.

The organizational politics and representational dilemmas of women in 1893 clarified for many equal rights activists and professionals the need to battle for advancement in every arena. The case of women artists makes this clear. By 1893, membership in the all-women Palette Club included more than seventy women, one-third of whom had studied abroad. The World's Columbian Exposition served as a vehicle for success for individual members as well as for the club as a whole. The all-male jury, established to select work to be exhibited in the Palace of Fine Arts, chose 520 painters and sculptors, 104 of whom were women. Of these women, eight were members of the Palette Club.


Other divisions among women also surfaced. There were no African American board members, and no provisions were made for the inclusion of exhibits from black women. An ad hoc group of black women requested that an office be established to collect exhibits from "colored" women in the United States. Instead of creating the proposed office, the Fair Commission appointed a black woman, Chicagoan Fannie Barrier Williams, to assist in supervising the installation of exhibits in the Woman's Building. Williams also served as secretary of the art department of the women's branch of the congress auxiliaries held in conjunction with the World's Columbian Exposition. While Ida B. Wells expressed outright criticism of the exclusion of black Americans from the exposition – at the exposition Wells distributed her pamphlet The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition – Williams's connections with white clubwomen and more conciliatory approach were evident in the two addresses she delivered at the exposition, the first at the World's Congress of Representative Women, the second at the World's Parliament of Religions, where she was one of five African American women to speak.


Since 1848, when one of the resolutions at Seneca Falls called for overthrowing the monopoly of the religious pulpit by men, women had continued to exercise marginal leadership at the ministerial level in religious institutions dominated by men. Events in 1893 may have provided a falsely optimistic picture of progress in women's long struggle for equality in the polity and ministry of the different Protestant denominations and in the liberal movement in Judaism because so many women engaged in the World's Parliament of Religions and related congresses. They included Universalist ministers Augusta J. Chapin and Olympia Brown and Universalist lay leader Julia Ward Howe; ordained Unitarian women Celia Parker Woolley, Ida Hultin, and Marion Murdock; lay Methodist leader and Woman's Christian Temperance Union president Frances E. Willard. Clubwoman Fannie Barrier Williams spoke on "Religion's Duty to the Negro." Two Jewish women, Josephine Lazarus and Henrietta Szold, addressed the parliament, and the Congress of Jewish Women, organized by Hannah Solomon and Sadie American, was held in conjunction with the parliament. Solomon and American favored the ordination of women as rabbis and both had delivered lectures from the pulpit at Chicago Congregation Sinai, a leading temple in the liberal Reform movement in Judaism. On the recommendation of Chapin, as chair of the Woman's Committee of the World's Congress Auxiliary, women members of the Theosophical Society spoke at the Theosophical Congress held at the World's Parliament of Religions. Emma Curtis Hopkins's students in the Hopkins Metaphysical Association formed the Columbian Congress of Christian Scientists (New Thought) to interact with the women's organizations affiliated with the Queen Isabella Association.


The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition accelerated trends already emerging in the multifaceted infrastructure of women's organizations. The General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), with a membership of 185 clubs located in twenty-nine different states, had its first biennial convention in Chicago in 1892. The exposition became a vehicle for the implementation of nationalizing trends in women's separate organizations: Sadie American presented a speech, "Organization," on the final day of the Congress of Jewish Women, in which she elaborated a plan for an organization called the National Council of Jewish Women; the first official meeting of the International Kindergarten Union was held during the exposition; the National Convention of Women's Amateur Musical Clubs met (Rose Fay Thomas was head of the Committee on Representation of Women's Amateur Musical Clubs); Ellen Henrotin, whose belief in the power of women's associations was strong, helped to found several organizations at the 1893 women's congresses, including the National Household Economic Association, the National League of Roman Catholic Women, the International League of Lutheran Women, and the League of Superintendents of Manual Training Schools. Under the aegis of the Woman's Branch of the Congress Auxiliary of the Columbian Exposition, 210 congresses were scheduled; Bertha Palmer was president of the body of congresses, but Ellen Henrotin served as vice-president and chief executive. The women's congresses, like the women's clubs, were divided into departments, with Mary Wilmarth running education, Lucy Flower heading moral and social reform, Jane Addams coordinating social settlements, and Ellen Henrotin managing the labor congress.

WOMEN AND WORK Back to top

One of the messages that ran through many of the congresses and meetings of women was that women were in the labor market to stay – as factory workers, professionals, and even as financial investors and owners of property – with the potential to influence the relationship of labor and capital. Ellen Henrotin, who became president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1894 and during her presidency supported uniform state labor legislation, improvement of the state educational systems, the eight-hour working day for women, and women's business clubs committed to cooperation and self-support, called for financial independence for women. In a speech, "The Financial Independence of Women," Henrotin elaborated on a theme she had introduced earlier: wealthy women had responsibilities in society and should use their privilege to effect moral and social reform. She explained that women were emerging from the domestic sphere and entering the business and labor market, earning money, and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in building and loan associations and real estate. Instead of depicting women as victims of discrimination or as selfless benevolent workers, Henrotin argued that women had power that they had not yet marshaled and used. Women needed to vote their own stock, to become corporate directors, and to learn to manage their own financial affairs. Even Bertha Palmer, still sitting on the fence regarding support of woman suffrage in 1893, took the opportunity of her opening remarks at the dedication of the World's Columbian Exposition, October 21, 1892, to promote women's material interests and women's industrial equality and to call for equitable compensation for services rendered. Such statements reflected the growing reality that women were, in fact, a presence in the labor force.

Historian Joanne Meyerowitz has estimated that 3,800 wage-earning women lived independently in Chicago in 1880 and that the entire female labor force in the city that year was 35,600. By 1910 the number of wage-earning women living independently in Chicago had grown to approximately 31,500, and the percentage of women heading households had increased from 5 percent in 1880 to 13 percent in 1910. The steady increase in women entering the work force continued. From 1880 to 1930, the female labor force in Chicago increased more than 1,000 percent; this rate of increase was three times as great as the rate of increase of the female labor force for the nation as a whole.

In addition, between 1900 and 1910 more than six million immigrants arrived in the United States, adding to the millions of immigrants who had settled in America between 1860 and 1900. No more than one-third of the immigrants went into farming or related activities after 1900; instead, they went to the already congested cities. In cities like Chicago, immigrants and their children were the overwhelming majority of residents. Citizenship questions were immediately apparent to women activists, whose engagement in suffrage and women's legal rights advocacy made them sensitive to the ways in which immigration law affected women and children differently from men. Social control issues in urban areas seemed more complicated and threatening to so-called American values because of high rates of immigration. From this viewpoint, urban America did not resemble the New England village or the midwest town.


For many women the way to deal with industrial America was to educate young women and mothers in scientific methods of child development, household economy, and sanitation, and to obtain legislation to build healthy environments in the city. Not only did women see themselves as entering the mainstream of economic life, they defined their contributions to society in the broadest sense as a belief in progress. Women demonstrated not only receptivity to modernization but leadership in forging an industrial society in which technology and innovation would be used not only to build private fortunes but to create the good society. The sources for women's interest in modernizing the American city were diverse. The tradition of Christian moral benevolence, reshaped to include trained deaconesses and churchworkers, led to the institutional expansion of modern health care in the United States and abroad. New women professionals created training schools and modern institutions to deal with urban industrial problems. And, as noted, the merging of social science and social reform in the approaches of the varied organizations that made up the women's political movement in the Progressive Era advanced the trends of modernization a thousandfold in the cities of the United States.

Women on the political Left contributed to the modernization of industrial society. Mary Walden Kerr's monthly column of advice, "The Home," published in Charles H. Kerr's New Times, emphasized the need for rational action in the life of each and every home. A socialist, Mary Kerr's approach was reminiscent of the writings of such other women reformers as Mary Livermore, whose article "Cooperative Womanhood in the State," in the North American Review (1891), postulated a new period of progress and harmony in which women and men would adopt more nurturing, harmonious, and rational or scientific solutions in both the public and private spheres. So extensive was the acceptance of the need for social planning among leaders in the progressive women's political culture that the major antisuffrage leader in the Midwest, Caroline Fairfield Corbin, was initially sympathetic to the woman suffrage movement. Her first book, Rebecca, or A Woman's Secret, published in 1867, supported women's rights. In 1888 she had a change of heart and wrote two pamphlets addressed to Frances E. Willard, whose leadership of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union had merged temperance reform with advocacy of woman suffrage and, in her agenda to reform society, introduced socialism to otherwise conservative, middle-class white married women. Willard's Christian socialism, an expression of the Social Gospel, was widely held by many women who found Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888) the expression of a possible new cooperative order for society. According to Bellamy, private enterprise, shown as a wasteful system fostering inequality and poverty, would give way to the collective organization of the state in an evolutionary, nonviolent, rational process in which women were equal and involved in the leadership of society. Nationalist Clubs – advocating the transformation of American society along the lines of Bellamy's vision of a cooperative order – flourished in the 1890s with significant women's membership and leadership. In post-Haymarket Chicago, Corbin, however, associated socialism with the anarchists and Marxists whose views, she believed, were potentially violent and lured women from the home. Corbin, who founded the Illinois Association Opposed to the Extension of Suffrage to Women in 1897, was a Social Darwinist who believed that the progress of society depended on the differentiated roles of men and women within the family.


Chicago and other American cities engaged in a modernization process of great breadth and scope. Women's clubs and political organizations and coalitions forged alliances that promoted modernization.

In the area of education, women activists engaged in political activity to advance women's involvement in the administration of public schools and in support of child labor laws; women were leaders in curricular innovation that included kindergartens, household arts, vocational education for girls as well as boys, physical education, parenting education, sex education, special education for handicapped children, occupational therapy, "Americanization" classes for immigrants, vacation schools, and school gardens. Agnes Nestor was named to the federal Commission on Vocational Education that shaped the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917; the act provided the first federal aid to vocational education. Structural innovations in the field of education included visiting nurses, visiting teachers, school physicians, vocational guidance, employment bureaus, development of schools as community centers, and school libraries. And there were efforts to address physical concerns: better school buildings, sanitation in schools, and better design, decoration, furnishing as a means to aesthetic development.

In the category of public health, women's political activity included support for the federal Children's Bureau; regulation of milk supplies; pure food and drug legislation; slaughterhouse monitoring; regulation of perceived health hazards, including cigarettes; and support for housing legislation and studies of occupational health hazards. In 1892 Ada Celeste Sweet founded the Municipal Order League of Chicago and served as its first president. Sweet was dedicated to cleaning up the city and successfully lobbied for a department of street cleaning, instead of private contractors, and for municipal incineration of garbage. In 1911 Ethel Sturges Dummer financed a trip to European cities by Mary E. McDowell, who studied those cities' waste disposal procedures. Upon McDowell's return, she put together a coalition of supporters drawn from the male City Club and Citizens' Association, the University of Chicago faculty, the Chicago Woman's Club, and the new Woman's City Club. They demanded that Chicago improve its method of collecting trash and garbage and build either incinerators or reduction plants to dispose of waste. After Chicago women secured municipal suffrage in 1913, Mayor Carter Harrison appointed a City Waste Commission that included McDowell and promised money to hire sanitary engineers to devise a solution to Chicago's garbage disposal problem. The commission's recommendations were followed and open dumps were finally phased out.

Women also founded hospitals, premature infant stations, dental clinics, free dispensaries, well-baby clinics, ambulance services, tuberculosis sanitariums, open-air schools, district nurses, baby-saving conferences and expositions, school lunch programs, public baths, and public laundries.

Related to the issue of public health was the campaign against infectious diseases and the "social evils" of prostitution and venereal disease. Women supported the work of the Chicago Vice Commission (on which Ellen Henrotin served), the scientific study of prostitution and venereal disease, laws to raise the age of consent, and laws to close houses of prostitution. Sadie American represented the National Council of Jewish Women at the International Anti-White Slavery Conference. Rejecting the sexual double standard, women monitored judicial decisions relating to prostitutes and threatened the recall of judges whom they took to be prejudiced against women. Institutions that dealt with issues of prostitution included the Immigrants' Protective League, the Juvenile Protective League, detention homes for delinquent girls, and committees on sex hygiene.

Women offered positive approaches to the prevention of juvenile delinquency and fought for legislation to regulate dance halls and motion pictures and to support public financing of recreation. They advocated the building of playgrounds, formed working girls' clubs and societies, and recreation centers for working women. They developed drama and pageant as alternative forms of recreation. Women worked in corrections and prevention as probation officers, police matrons, and policewomen. They advocated the creation of juvenile courts and reformatory institutions, and they conducted investigations of prisons and advocated prison reform.

Women social reformers also took up the issue of race relations in American society. They studied foreign cultures, surveyed the industrial and educational problems of immigrant communities, studied the conditions of African Americans in cities, and held conferences on Americanization. Institutions such as settlement houses, the Immigrants' Protective League, and – in Chicago – the Frederick Douglass Center, the Abraham Lincoln Center (where Thyra Edwards was active), the Urban League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People developed programs for assimilation and the improvement of race relations.

Women reformers pioneered in the expansion of social services. Organized women were the political force behind support for mothers' pensions. Women developed the National Consumers' League, state and national conferences for social service, Associated or United Charities, Jewish communal services, public health exhibits, and schools of social work.

Women were active in city planning. They demanded city parks and public beaches, creation of municipal art commissions, preservation of natural areas, and creation of city planning boards and metropolitan planning districts. In 1905 Helen Culver made a major donation to the City Club of Chicago to pay for the Merriam investigation of municipal government in Chicago. Civic Federation participants included Bertha Palmer, Jane Addams, and Ellen Henrotin.

HULL-HOUSE Back to top

The institution in Chicago that took a central role in linking all of the different elements of the progressive women's agenda was Hull-House. When Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr began to think about founding a settlement in a Chicago immigrant neighborhood, they presented their plans to leaders of the Chicago Woman's Club (CWC) in meetings at the homes of CWC leaders Mary J. Hawes Wilmarth and Lydia Coonley-Ward, where they received enthusiastic support for their proposal. Jane Addams and the Hull-House women were the "daughters," literally or figuratively, of the first generation of organized womanhood that included Mary Wilmarth and Lucy Flower. While some, like Addams, personally fought the "family claim," the women of her generation who sought careers and a different, more expanded relationship with public affairs were not necessarily in opposition to their mother's generation. Addams and her generation, however, wanted to express their commitment to social justice and religious values in new ways, and this required carving out new institutions in which women could legitimate their interests and lifestyles outside traditional family arrangements. Addams and Starr wanted to have an impact on the industrial and political problems of their society; in the context of Victorian society, they had to overcome conventional boundaries and leave the traditional sphere of women's activities. Historians, including Kathryn Kish Sklar, Helen Horowitz, and Robyn Muncy, have shown how Hull-House became, among other things, a new space for women.

Within a short time, Hull-House became a central link between the larger movement for women's advancement in society and the new social science disciplines (political science, sociology, psychology, and anthropology). One result of this interaction was the development of new practical schools for training in social work, public health, occupational and recreational therapy, and pedagogy. Hull-House women had a significant role in creating these institutions. Addams and Starr were soon joined by Julia C. Lathrop and Florence Kelley. After 1900, Edith Abbott, Alice Hamilton, Sophonisba Breckinridge, and Grace Abbott became residents. Lathrop and Kelley were, like Addams and Starr, educated women without professional jobs or affiliations. Kelley had graduated from Cornell University but had to go to Europe to pursue graduate studies; Lathrop graduated from Vassar College, then returned home and read law informally in her father's office. At Hull-House they functioned the way social policy specialists interested in gender and class issues might operate out of a university-affiliated institute, a government agency, or perhaps, a foundation or not-for-profit interest group. Hull-House provided the collective authority for innovation. Abbott, Hamilton, and Breckinridge later brought the Hull-House point of view back to the university and, as a result of the historical conditions present there, were reasonably successful in creating "institutional space" for the production of research and scholarly books noteworthy for their focus on women's issues. But they were forced to do so in separate women's departments such as household economy (home economics) rather than in the economics and political science departments where they had been awarded doctorates. Still, much of what we know about women in the labor market and women's legal disabilities as immigrants comes from the work of Abbott and Breckinridge. Hamilton developed the field of occupational medicine and industrial toxicology and was the first woman on the faculty of Harvard University. One could make the case, however, that it was Hull-House and its climate of research combined with social activism rather than the medical school community that was most influential in Hamilton's understanding of the relationship of the environment to disease. While conducting research on antibodies and on scarlet fever and other diseases, she concentrated at Hull-House on public health efforts that allied her with progressive medical and lay circles. In 1909 she studied sixteen hundred working-class families and found that high infant mortality rates correlated with high birth rates. Hamilton worked in the initial phase of the Chicago birth control movement, led by gynecologist Rachelle Yarros. These experiences provided the context for Hamilton's growing awareness of the environmental causes of disease.

Breckinridge and Abbott received their advanced degrees at the University of Chicago; the former received a Ph.D. in political science in 1901 and a J.D. degree in 1904; the latter completed her dissertation, "The Wages of Unskilled Labor in the United States, 1850-1900," and received a Ph.D. with honors in 1905. Despite Breckinridge's graduation summa cum laude in both political science and law, no academic position was offered to her, while male students went to positions on college or university faculties. Her opportunity for research and teaching came first through Hull-House, where the new Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy (CSCP), an early social work school (later the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago), was housed. In 1908 it moved to larger quarters adjoining the Immigrants' Protective League office, another Hull-House spin-off. This arrangement facilitated interaction as well as collaborative research between the two agencies. In 1907 Julia Lathrop, temporarily the director of research at CSCP, asked Breckinridge to take that position. Edith Abbott accepted their offer to be assistant director of research at CSCP.

Universities did not have a monopoly on social science research in the 1890s or the first two decades of the twentieth century. Hull-House, for example, was able to produce an extraordinarily successful work of scholarship in 1895 with the publication of the historic Hull-House Maps and Papers. Kathryn Kish Sklar has called the book a work of "female social science," since it was the product of the Hull-House women and reflected the new women's agenda. In it the social feminist women of Hull-House began to define an agenda for social science as well as a plan of social activism that overlapped with the Chicago Woman's Club's agenda; but they were doing something new. They were staking out a new realm for the production of knowledge in society; twenty years later, the existence of this alternative place for the development of social policy initiatives would influence the shaping of academic departments and professional schools at the University of Chicago. These women also implicitly established the value, indeed the necessity, of a relationship between the realms of knowledge and of politics and practical activity. Five of the ten articles in the Hull-House book focused on. what might be called female-specific issues: sweatshop labor; Cook-County charities; child labor; labor organizations for working women; a description of the work of Hull-House residents. The maps themselves were based on data collected by agents employed by the U.S. Department of Labor under the direction of Florence Kelley.

The fact that this work emanated from Hull-House gave it independence from the male-dominated departments at the University of Chicago and allowed for a focus on women and children. Residents of the Hull-House settlement believed that research was done to serve those in need and to heal social problems. The opposite, pure research removed from any social content, would not have been valorized by Addams and the other residents, who commented negatively on those who did not have "the settlement spirit" and worked individualistically or for personal gain.

Hull-House was a place for women who remained marginalized in the university environment. But the settlement was not the full extent of the connection university women maintained with organized womanhood and the woman's movement. Women were better educated by the late nineteenth century, but they remained underemployed. The discrimination against women physicians, lawyers, and Ph.D. holders and their virtual exclusion from employment in male-controlled institutions meant that college graduates and professionals continued to participate in the agencies of organized womanhood, such as the Chicago Woman's Club, and to be involved in the politics of the woman's movement. Activist members of the Chicago Woman's Club's ranged from birth control advocate and physician Rachelle Yarros to the first woman elected judge in Cook County, Mary Bartelme. She became president of the Chicago Suffrage Club in 1907, nine years after her appointment as public guardian of Cook County. Julia Lathrop retained her membership in separate woman's organizations before and after she was appointed the first director of the U.S. Children's Bureau in 1912, and she was one of the founders of the League of Women Voters. Jane Addams and other prominent settlement leaders were active, and university-attached women such as Sophonisba Breckinridge and Edith Abbott retained memberships in the separate woman's movement organizations long after they became professors at the University of Chicago.

Hull-House continued to support the research its women residents undertook; it also grew institutionally as an outcome of the implementation of social policy derived from the research. The Immigrants' Protective League and the Juvenile Protective Association were special interest agencies designed to deliver services. They were also part of the system of investigation, policy formation, and advocacy that characterized Hull-House enterprises. National legislation on immigration policy (the Cable Act) was influenced by the Immigrants' Protective League, and the Juvenile Protective Association spoke authoritatively on juvenile delinquency and its prevention.

Hull-House's encouragement of research into new areas led to the growth of the physical campus. The first building in the early years was adequate for readings in literature and the establishment of clubs; but soon the opening of a kindergarten and interest in art, theater, and music all required new space. The original Hull mansion was joined by a series of buildings that made up a complex of educational and philanthropic enterprises. When Addams and Starr moved in, they occupied only the second floor of the old building and had the use of the drawing room on the first floor. By spring they were able to lease the entire house. In 1891, they erected the Butler Art Gallery on adjacent property to the south. The building was a two-story structure that housed a branch of the public library and the art gallery and had space for clubs and classes. In 1892, the donation of dilapidated buildings – owned by businessman turned progressive reformer William Kent – in the immediate vicinity of Hull-House, made it possible to demolish the structures and construct the first public playground in Chicago, which was opened on May 1, 1892. In 1893 a second building was constructed with a coffee house below and a gymnasium above. A third story was added to the Butler Art Gallery building in 1896 to provide rooms for men in residence; in 1898 a special building was erected for the Jane Club, a cooperative residence for working girls. A new coffeehouse, with a theater above it, was built in 1899, while the old coffeehouse and gymnasium were moved and remodeled. The next year the Hull-House Labor Museum was established. In 1908 the last of thirteen Hull-House buildings opened. Included in this complex were the offices of the Immigrants' Protective League and the Juvenile Protective Association; these "institutions" reflected the degree to which Hull-House initiated new areas of social enterprise.

Hull-House also made a lasting contribution to the University of Chicago: in 1920, Breckinridge and Abbott, who were convinced that a university was the proper place for a professional social work school, negotiated to move their school to the University of Chicago. In 1924, the new School of Social Service Administration (SSA) became a permanent entity of the University of Chicago and Edith Abbott was appointed dean. In 1927, Abbott and Breckinridge initiated the social work profession's first scholarly journal, Social Service Review, which published articles on social policy, social work research, and advances in social programs.

Between 1890 and 1920, social feminists in Chicago brought about a significant number of reforms that benefited women and children, including the establishment of the juvenile court system, minimal protection for women in industrial jobs, and the introduction of recreational and occupational therapy for inmates of institutions. They also produced some of the first works of research on gender topics. They had a permanent influence in the academy through their insistence on the necessity of a research component for the study of social work. They did not, however, bring the study of gender and women into the core social science departments of the university or rearrange the humanities curriculum; this assault on male-dominated disciplines of higher learning was left to Second Wave Feminists.

Considerable space has been given to Hull-House because so many activist women were either directly participating in the daily life of this settlement or had important connections to it. Additionally, many nationally prominent reformers, labor leaders, university and governmental policymakers, innovators in public health, and contributors to the arts were, in part, a product of the Hull-House experiment. Here, too, was a place where woman's culture interfaced with the male worlds of politics and labor. Here women reformers talked on equal terms with the leaders of male trade unions; with the male leaders of the Democratic, Republican, and Bull Moose (Progressive) Parties; with male philosophers and sociologists from the University of Chicago; and with distinguished male visitors from abroad. When women entered government at the city, state, or federal levels, they were often women whose associations with Hull-House were formative and lasting.


There were yet other arenas where women developed woman's culture. At the Guardian Angel Mission, which became the Madonna Center, the wealthy, Catholic, Amberg family attempted to be "good neighbors" to Catholic immigrants in the same geographic area in which Hull-House was located. Mary Amberg became resident director in 1914 and remained its head until her death in 1962. She flourished as a capable administrator and developed a model of independent social service outside the convent for Catholic single women. When Mary Amberg attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart run by the Mesdames of the Sacred Heart, a French order of nuns, she was taught about Catholic stewardship along lines that paralleled the stewardship and Christian womanhood model inculcated in Protestant women attending such institutions as the Rockford Female Seminary, which Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr attended.

After a soul-searching experience at age thirty-eight, when she confronted what she perceived as her lack of involvement in useful, productive work, Amberg struggled with values of womanhood, marriage, and career. She renounced marriage but did not seek a religious vocation. Instead she announced plans to join her friend Catherine Jordan and share an apartment in rooms above the classrooms of St. Francis School near Guardian Angel Mission. Amberg maintained friendly relations with Jane Addams but saw the institution's secular worldview as a challenge. The ultimate goal of Amberg's mission was to promote Catholic religious values; she broadened the center with funding from Chicago Catholics, including Frederick Siedenburg, dean of the Loyola University School of Sociology. Guardian Angel/Madonna Center accepted people of all faiths into its programs, but Catholic values permeated. It taught so-called "middle-class" habits of cleanliness, nutrition, and child care, but its clubs were religious and the classes began with prayer. Amberg attempted to Americanize Catholics and to reinforce traditional Catholic faith and allegiance to parish institutions at the same time. Amberg's ideas on women's issues were conservative. She condemned birth control; yet, as one of the first lay-women to spend her life doing social work, she pioneered this career for Catholic women. Madonna Center became a training center for Catholic students in social work, medicine, and domestic science.


At Gads Hill Center, southwest of Hull-House, Ruth Inez Austin was head resident from 1914 to 1947. She wrote a textbook for teaching English to immigrants that showed enormous compassion for the immigrant woman's situation, and she used poetry written by women for women.

Gads Hill established some interesting group work with neighborhood "gangs" and children in the community, somewhat different from what Hull-House was doing. Austin instituted a myriad of social clubs for neighborhood children, young adults, and adults. Believing in the benefits of self-governance for the clubs as a preparation for citizenship, Austin established a governing board, the House Cabinet, and every social club elected three representatives to attend its monthly meetings. Gads Hill clubs worked out their annual budgets for recreational activities and other programs, set and collected dues; and took responsibility for themselves.


In Chicago's Polish community in the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, and in the German Catholic and Lithuanian ethnic neighborhoods, Catholic women religious were involved in the development of a religious culture that included both a belief system and a cultural heritage. They were also preparing their students for success in the American economy and were obliged to teach the ways of American citizenship. Little is known about the way in which parochial schools dealt with dual cultures, Americanization, and the preservation of ethnic culture and religion. Discussion of the diversity of ethnicity among Catholics has tended to center around the Irish American hierarchy's attempt to dismantle national/ethnic parishes and the reaction among different ethnic groups to this forced homogenization of practice and language. Many high-powered women religious (for example, Sister M. Cecilia Himebaugh, Mother Maria Kaupas, Sister Mary Innocenta Montay, Mother Imelda Fischer, and Sister Dolores Schorsch), whose work was largely in teacher training, curriculum development, and school administration, were engaged in fashioning programs that attempted to preserve cultural identity and to accommodate their students' needs to modern American society.

Nuns developed bilingual education and worked in a variety of media to encourage the education of immigrant children in two cultures, thereby bridging the worlds of Europe and America. The educational work done in parish schools and academies influenced the worldview of thousands of students and families; the involvement in teacher training also gave these nuns enormous opportunity to influence future generations of parochial school teachers and to model educational curricula along ideological and philosophical lines that they had considerable power to delineate.

In the case of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, a Polish order led by Sister M. Theresa Dudzik, the congregation of nuns (most of whom were immigrants themselves) focused on the training of new members and on their own charitable institutions; but the dramatic increase of Polish immigrants in Chicago and other urban centers brought the early Polish Catholic sisterhoods a new challenge – the education of children. Leaders of the growing Polish Catholic parishes wanted teaching sisters to educate students in the Catholic faith and in Polish history and language as well. Public school teachers were called in to prepare Franciscan sisters for placement in the expanding parochial elementary school programs. The sisters were also instructed by Polish scholars in the Polish language, literature, and culture. It was a strenuous program, and many of the young sisters were not much older than the students they taught.


By the time of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Catholic Chicago's progress in establishing a system of parish schools was substantial. The archdiocese's displays at the exposition included a Catholic educational exhibit to which different parochial schools contributed examples of students' work. A chartered train took more than one thousand students enrolled in the Holy Family schools on Chicago's West Side to the fairgrounds to celebrate Catholic Education Day, September 2, 1893. After the exposition, Holy Family parish, one of the largest parishes in the world, was one of the popular Chicago sights that Catholic dignitaries visited.

Two Approaches to Secondary Education for Young Women: St. Mary High School and Lucy Flower Technical High School

In 1899 the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) were pioneers in developing secondary education for Catholic girls in Chicago and in the United States. The sisters' initial decisions about the goals of St. Mary High School had outcomes that were significant for the social mobility of an emerging American Catholic middle class and for American Catholicism.

St. Mary High School was inaugurated at the height of the debate over urban education and the role of the schools in the preparation of immigrants for the workplace and for their involvement as citizens. Institutions of secondary education were inadequate at the beginning of the twentieth century in both the public and the Catholic systems. In 1885 only 7 percent of American fourteen-to-seventeen-year-olds attended high school. At the turn of the century, secondary education remained an option for only a small segment of the population, whether American-born or immigrant. By 1904 Catholic educators had begun to focus on secondary education needs. If the Catholic school system was to meet the challenge of preparing future generations to compete in the increasingly interdependent and technologically changing national economy, a whole new system of secondary education had to be inaugurated. Otherwise Catholics would send their children to the rapidly expanding public high school system. St. Mary High School remained, however, the single central Catholic girls' secondary institution in Chicago, and by 1912 only fifteen central Catholic high schools existed in the United States.

The public high schools in the United States grew more than 1,000 percent from 1900 to 1930. Civic and business leaders in the early twentieth century debated what shape the new schools would take, who would attend, and what mission or function they would serve. While Lucy Flower Technical High School, which opened in 1911, was not the only institution Chicago's young women students could attend, it was inaugurated as an answer to the specific educational needs of the city's females from working-class and middle-class homes, from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, a population similar to the one St. Mary's was designed to serve. Flower Technical High School principal Dora Wells taught history and civics at Medill High School on Chicago's West Side, where most of her students came from the surrounding immigrant neighborhood and many of the male students went on to successful careers. Wells worked with Chicago's first woman superintendent of public schools, Ella Flagg Young, in developing Lucy Flower Technical High School for Girls as an equivalent education to that provided for Chicago boys in the city's two large technical high schools – Richard T. Crane and Albert G. Lane.

Wells and Young came up with two different curricula for Lucy Flower. For the minority of girls who would become teachers or whose families could afford to keep them at home until they married, there was a four-year home economics course that included college preparatory work. The majority of girls enrolled in the two-year vocational course, which prepared them for jobs in sewing, dressmaking, and millinery – occupations close to traditional female household skills. Both the academic and the technical programs assumed a lifetime of marriage and childrearing for the vast majority of women.

In contrast, St. Mary High School immediately identified college and careers in education as the major goal for its students, many of whom were the daughters of Irish immigrant women who had worked as laundresses, seamstresses, and domestics. When commercial courses were introduced in 1902, they realistically prepared St. Mary's students for the sector of the economy in which jobs for women were expanding rapidly: the commercial office. Courses in bookkeeping, typing, business arithmetic, and soon stenography, set the tone, with the goal for many graduates of attending business college. The number of female clerical jobs increased 1,400 percent between 1900 and 1930, with stenography and typing moving from the eighth largest occupational category for women in 1910 to the third largest in 1930. At Lucy Flower, stenography and typing were not included in the early years. The curriculum at Lucy Flower, perhaps the result of American-born social reformers' concerns about assimilation and acculturation of immigrant women, focused on domestic science education and disseminated technical information about running a home. Although St. Mary's instituted home economics in the 1920s, it did not occupy the central position of such courses at Lucy Flower.

By the mid-1920s, there were 550 students at Lucy Flower, the vast majority attending for only one or two years, and only about a tenth completing the four-year course. In contrast, St. Mary High School students with enrollment reaching around 900 in the mid-1920s, were completing four-year programs and many were going on to college or commercial schools.


Irish Women

Irish American girls had a variety of female role models to contemplate. Their mothers, immigrant women, often became the primary breadwinners for their families as domestics, laundresses, and needle workers. At the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, young Catholic women visiting the fair could view the statue of Queen Isabella, paid for by Catholic and protestant women of the Isabella Society. A leading member, Eliza Allen Starr, a Protestant convert to Catholicism and Chicago's foremost authority on Catholic religious art, wrote for the Catholic weekly newspaper New World, conducted an art studio and salon in her home located near Holy Name Cathedral, and lectured on Catholic art at St. Mary High School. There were the BVMs and the Mercy sisters, who taught in parish elementary schools, convent schools, academies, and now were principals and teachers in newly established secondary institutions. For the significant percentage of Irish American Catholic girls who attended public schools, an increasing number of their teachers were also Irish Catholics. The handful of Catholic high schools were producing disproportionate numbers of successfiul female graduates able to pass the entrance exam to the Normal School. Irish Americans Margaret Haley and Catharine Goggin were Chicago public school teachers who organized the Chicago Teachers' Federation in 1897, the first union of elementary school teachers. Helen Maley Hefferan, clubwoman, educator, and Chicago school board member for eighteen years, was president of the Illinois Catholic Women's Association and a trustee of Rosary College. In 1900 she helped establish the Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers (later renamed the Illinois Parent Teacher Association).

Czech and Bohemian Women

The varied experiences of Czech women immigrants in Chicago reflect the complexity of ethnic settlement in that city. For example, in 1894 fifty Bohemian women in the Pilsen area began operating the Bohemian Women's Publishing Company. They published Zenske Listy, or Women's Record: The Only Czech Weekly in America Devoted to the Interests of Women, edited by Josefa Humpal-Zeman. Educated in both Prague and the United States, Humpal-Zeman rejected the freethinking tradition of her father and converted to Protestantism through exposure to the Czech-speaking chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Jane Addams supported Humpal-Zeman's efforts and encouraged her writing about the Bohemians in Chicago. Her strong ties to feminists in Prague gave Humpal-Zeman an international viewpoint. This approach was not uncommon for educated immigrants of different nationalities who lived in Chicago or other American cities but retained interest and even involvement in the country of their birth. Humpal-Zeman's work was published in Hull-House Maps and Papers (1895). Her advocacy of progressive reform, women's rights, and Americanization as a way for Czech and Bohemian women to gain autonomy and advancement placed her at odds with different political groups among people from her home country in Chicago.

Not far from the Bohemian Publishing Company, Czech immigrant Bozena Salava and her family became members of the Bethlehem Settlement, a mission to Bohemian immigrants run by the Congregational Church. A talented young woman, Salava soon became a teacher of Bohemian children and was sent by the Congregational Church to the Bethlehem Missionary Training School in Cleveland, Ohio, where she prepared for a lifelong mission among the Bohemian people in Chicago. At its high point there were more than a thousand children in the Bethlehem Sunday school. From time to time, when there was no minister to attend to the church, Salava gave the sermons and conducted the services. Although encouraged to prepare for the ministry by fellow church workers, Salava remained a lay church worker. However, as a result of her missionary zeal, Bethlehem became one of the largest institutional churches maintained by the Congregational denomination in Chicago.

By 1918 there was a rich institutional ethnic subculture for Czechs, with ninety-one benevolent societies, 125 building and loan associations with fifteen million dollars in assets and thirty thousand members, fifteen fraternal orders, many gymnastic societies (sokols), and four daily newspapers.

Another aspect of the Czech community that was shared by most other ethnic communities was the important role that homeland conditions and politics continued to play in the communal lives of immigrants. Vlasta Vráz, member of a prominent Chicago Czech family, became a journalist and wrote articles on the Czech independence movement. Vráz and her family returned to Czechoslovakia when the first Czechoslovak republic was established in 1921. She was a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Czech paper Svornost. Vráz returned to Chicago from Czechoslovakia after the invasion by Hitler and the country's occupation by the Nazis. She became an editor and copublisher of Svornost and aided the Czech government in exile. In 1940, she organized two thousand Czech American women into Czechoslovak units of the American Red Cross.

Polish Women

At the same time that middle-class and upper-class American-born, Protestant women were joining clubs, promoting social reform, contributing to community organization, entering the professions, and establishing new institutional structures and occupations for themselves, women in many of the ethnic communities in Chicago were active in similar ways. In the Polish community, for example, Lidia Pucińska was a mediator between the culture of the ethnic enclave and the culture of the metropolitan area. She contributed to the kind of cosmopolitanism that defined Chicago. Pucińska was an actress and journalist who had her own Polish American radio hour; she was involved in a vast array of community activities, promoting Polish culture, Polish theater, and contributing to the cause of Polish freedom fighting/war relief in Europe. As a radio star, she helped other Polish-American women define their identities.

Stefania Chmielińska was one of the leading activists in Chicago Polonia. She was a founding member of the Polish Women's Alliance (PWA), and in 1899 she became the organization's first president. Her presence was instrumental in shaping the PWA's goals and activities for the next twenty years, during which she founded local branches and established a library and the PWA newspaper, Glos Polek, in publication to this day. Chmielińska was also the first women's instructor in the Polish Falcons, and she fought for women's equal membership in that organization. In addition, she was a successful businesswoman.

Stefania Laudyn's social activism and feminism began in Europe. She studied in Moscow and took part in the women's pan-Slavic movement before emigrating to the United States around 1909. In 1910 Laudyn became editor of Glos Polek, turning it from a monthly into a widely circulated weekly. She first held this influential post until 1912, when she resigned under a cloud of controversy, then again from 1914 to 1921. Her views on subjects such as women's rights, the international women's movement, the education of immigrant children, and the role of Polish immigrant women in America, found voice in the editorials she wrote and the news items she reprinted.

Swedish Women

Swedish-born Othelia Myhrman, who came to Chicago in 1875 and was employed as a domestic for several years, became active in the Swedish National Association of Chicago; it had been formed in 1894 primarily for the purpose of procuring the conviction of two members of the Chicago Police Department who had murdered a Swedish American citizen. The organization opened a free employment bureau with Myhrman in charge in 1894; she remained in charge until 1912. During that period nearly one hundred thousand men and women were given employment through this agency. She also served as president of the Swedish Woman's Club of Chicago for twenty years. After leaving the Swedish National Association of Chicago's employment bureau, she began her own business, the Swedish National Employment Bureau, in Chicago.

Dutch, Norwegian, Italian, and Greek Women

Physician and social reformer Cornelia De Bey was born in Holland and emigrated to the United States with her family. Her father was a minister and a leader in the Dutch community in Chicago, and De Bey's civic and professional leadership went beyond the boundaries of her ethnic community. Active with the Women's Trade Union League, she served on the Chicago Board of Education in 1905. Petra Dahl was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, became a medical doctor, and worked for public health reforms in Chicago. A leader in medical women's groups, Dahl organized the Medical Woman's Club of Illinois, established a free woman's clinic, and unsuccessfully ran for local political office. Dahl was active in the Norwegian Woman's Club. Rosamund Libonati Mirabella was a clubwoman and civic leader who bridged the gap between Italian American organizations and the mainstream women's clubs, including the Chicago Woman's Club and the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Presbytera Stella Petrakis was a community leader and philanthropist who organized volunteer war relief and many other charitable activities. She was involved in providing aid and relief to fleeing Greek refugees from Asia Minor who were being uprooted from their ancestral homeland by the Turks; her activity extended over many years, even after she came to America. In Chicago she founded such organizations as the St. Helen Philoptochos Society, the Koraes School Mothers Club, the Young Ladies' Hellenic Society, Asia Paraskeve, and the St. Constantine Red Cross Unit.

German and Eastern European Jewish Women

German Jewish women participated in local and communal institutions that they ran primarily to aid working-class and poor fellow coreligionists who had come from Eastern Europe during the period of mass immigration from the 1880s through the 1910s. These women also participated in the mainstream club movement and reform political culture of the Progressive Era. Hannah Greenebaum Solomon was welcomed by the Chicago Woman's Club. Rose Haas Alschuler, Stella Levinkind Counselbaum, Jennie Franklin Purvin, and Esther Loeb Kohn identified both with Jewish affairs and the larger issues that made up the municipal housekeeping agenda of progressive women reformers. Esther Weinshenker Natkin was a community organizer, clubwoman, and advocate for Chicago's Eastern European Jewish immigrant community; she was also founding director of the Chicago Hebrew Institute. Natkin had been born in Moghilev, Russia, and she came to Chicago with her family in 1886. She was one of the first women in Chicago to promote Zionist causes at a time when assimilated German Jews in the Reform movement of Judaism tended not to embrace the cause. She wrote about the tensions that existed between German and Eastern European Jews that derived from class and cultural differences. Many of the former were upper-class and middle-class professional and business people whose appearance and religious practices reflected their successful assimilation to the dominant culture in the United States. The latter spoke Yiddish and generally were workers; many observed Orthodox religious practices. Sadie American and Minnie F. Low forged careers in social work and developed relationships with both Jewish communal professional organizations and with mainstream groups.

Working-class Jewish women had major roles in the trade union movement and in radical social movements. In the 1910s young Bessie Abramowitz led her comrades out of the garment factories and sweatshops in Chicago to forge a labor movement that culminated in the founding of the Amalgamated Garment Workers' Union. In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Lillian Herstein and Mollie Levitas were labor activists in the Chicago Federation of Labor as well as in the Women's Trade Union League. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Myrna Siegendorf Boredelon Kassel developed worker education programs. Annie Livshis settled in Chicago after an unsuccessful experiment at socialistic farming in the Lasker Colony, Kansas; in Chicago in the 1900s, her home became a center for anarchists and a place of refuge from time to time for Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, and Lucy Parsons. Raya Dunayevskaya, a philosopher and activist who had witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1917 in her native land, immigrated to Chicago with her family in 1922. She joined the communist youth organization but later became critical of events in the Soviet Union and of the Communist Party. By the 1940s she had begun to develop Marxist-Humanism, and in 1955, she formed News and Letters Committees, Tobey S. Prinz had roots in the secular Jewish community and in the labor movement in which she led the drive to strengthen and consolidate the different teachers' organizations into the Chicago Federation of Teachers in 1937.

Diversity of Immigrant Women

The biographies of immigrant women provide an understanding of the ways in which immigrant communities formed stratified, complex, social and cultural entities. The biographies defy easy generalization and, in the case of the interpretation of gender roles, it is important to consider the context of both Old World circumstances and New World opportunities. It has been noted that working-class Irish and Polish women were able, in the context of congregations of women religious in America, to achieve social mobility and educational and career advancement. In judging the gender roles, then, it is possible to see women in male-dominated, authoritarian systems achieve advancement nonetheless and have a sense of autonomy and even a perception that as women they had achieved progress. This progress also existed for women's cultural self-expression. For example, there were Polish, Lithuanian, and Czechoslovakian women and men whose nationalistic aspirations were unmet in Europe. In Chicago immigrants could express their cultural, religious, and national identities more fully and freely than they had been allowed to in their homelands, where they had suffered political, religious, and cultural oppression. This is why Maria Kaupas and four other Casimirite sisters resisted attempts by the Irish American dominated hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church to assimilate Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago. Taking over the administration of the Lithuanian parochial schools and the training of teachers, Mother Kaupas developed curriculum to teach Lithuanian language, literature, history, folklore, and culture to the children of the immigrants. Many were able to learn from material not available to them in Europe.

The biographies of the immigrant women included in this volume bear close reading; in the details of the immigrant experiences it is possible to see patterns of cultural formation that identify the agency of immigrants and recognize the interplay of assimilative forces versus self-determining countermeasures. They offer perspectives on career development, identity, and gender issues.


Women's political influence and activity in the larger political sphere in Chicago grew steadily from the 1890s. In 1891 the Illinois legislature passed a school suffrage bill allowing women to vote in school elections. It was a small victory, but it established the precedent that the state could act affirmatively on women's suffrage demands. That year Lucy Flower was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education, on which women had been allowed to serve since 1873. As a Republican and a woman, Flower was not reappointed in 1894 when Democratic mayor John Hopkins was elected.

Having acquired the right to vote in school elections, women then set their sights on winning seats as trustees of the University of Illinois. Both Republican and Democratic women began to organize, and both parties slated female candidates from Chicago – Julia Holmes Smith for the Democrats, Lucy Flower for the Republicans. Hopkins's decision not to reappoint Flower to the Chicago Board of Education aided in the organization of women voters, and Flower won the election. She was the first woman elected to a statewide office in Illinois. (Smith was appointed to fill the vacancy left by another trustee of the University of Illinois just prior to Flower's inauguration.)

Women's organizations in all communities in Chicago had provided practical schools of civics and politics even among ethnic groups, where talk of suffrage and women's rights was still controversial. By developing moral benevolence societies, church auxiliaries, and ethnic clubs women had planted themselves firmly in the politics of their communities well before women achieved the vote. Demands for inclusion in ethnic, religious, and professional organizations had not been successful for women, and in most cases they had formed separate associations. For the cause of suffrage to succeed, however, the core suffragist leadership had to convince uncommitted women to join the movement and to organize a broad coalition that would demand legislative action by the male-controlled political system of the United States. The suffrage movement in Chicago and Illinois worked in a number of arenas as efforts were made to increase women's political influence and activity and to garner support from women's groups not yet part of the coalition.

The Chicago Woman's Club (CWC), for example, did not initially embrace the suffrage cause outright; Susan B. Anthony's reception by the club in 1888 was noted by its historian as the first formal recognition extended to the leading voice for suffrage by a woman's club. Suffrage activists within the CWC, including Catharine McCulloch and Ellen Henrotin, formed the Chicago Political Equality League in 1894 as a separate organization but ruled that in its first year of existence, all officers of the league had to be members of the CWC. The Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs, organized in 1894, included seventy-seven women's clubs in its first year; by 1904 it represented 246 clubs with a total membership of twenty-four thousand women. It attracted fairly conservative middle-class women but supported child-related issues, the domestic science movement, and the professionalization of teacher training. Only after 1900 did the federation gradually become involved in more controversial issues; it began to mention suffrage in its proceedings after 1902 and by 1910 was a major segment of the new alliance seeking the vote. The Woman's City Club of Chicago, formed in 1910 by such upper-class women as Louise deKoven Bowen, Lydia Coonley Ward, Hannah Solomon, Mary J. Hawes Wilmarth, and Ruth Hanna McCormick, and such social reformers as Mary E. McDowell and Rachelle Yarros, immediately focused on attaining suffrage.

Black Clubwomen and Suffrage

The suffrage movement had been almost exclusively white. Yet in Chicago there was, from the 1890s, a substantial black clubwoman movement. As in its white counterpart, the membership was made up of middle-class, well-educated married women whose husbands were leading businessmen and professionals. The first generation of black clubwomen included Mary Fitzbutler Waring, a physician married to Frank Waring, an educator. Mary Waring was a leader in the National Association of Colored Women, founded in 1896, where she worked on health issues in the black community. Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, a journalist and one of the cofounders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, married Ferdinand Barnett, a lawyer and journalist. Known best for her antilynching campaign, Wells-Barnett organized the Negro Fellowship League in Chicago, a social settlement for young black men. Fannie Barrier Williams and her husband, S. Laing Williams, an attorney with a thriving practice in Chicago, launched the Prudence Crandall Study Club, an elite literary society that attracted some of the city's most socially prominent African Americans. Williams supported Provident Hospital and Training School, the only nursing school in Chicago that admitted black women. She played an active role in the founding of the National League of Colored Women in 1893 and was involved in the establishment of its successor, the National Association of Colored Women. Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, the daughter of well-to-do African-American settlers in Peoria, Illinois, was married to William H. Davis, a chiropodist who was active in community affairs. Elizabeth Davis became the secretary of the Ida B. Wells (Wells-Barnett) Club organized in Chicago in 1893 with Wells as president. Davis and other women organized the Phyllis Wheatley Club in 1896, envisioning it as a neighborhood betterment organization. Davis was a leader of the Illinois State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs that were affiliated with the National Association of Colored Women. Except for Fannie Barrier Williams, there were no cross-race memberships for black women in the infrastructure of the white club system.

The segregation in the clubwoman movement was not unlike that found in the settlement movement and in such organizations as the Young Woman's Christian Association, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and professional organizations that women formed. The exception that proved the rule was the Frederick Douglass Center, which was founded by a white woman, Celia Parker Woolley, as a place where middle-class Whites and Blacks could interact and promote better relations. It was not a conventional settlement house but a center situated geographically on the edge of the Black Belt, the segregated area in which the black elite and the black working class lived, the boundaries demarcated by the discriminatory behavior of the white neighborhoods and a real estate market that systematically upheld the maintenance of segregated housing patterns. (Housing discrimination continued to exist through the 1960s, and Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago in 1966 to protest de facto segregation in northern cities.)

Both Fannie Emanuel and Ida B. Wells-Barnett initially participated in the Frederick Douglass Center, although tensions and conflicts immediately developed. When Wells-Barnett, who had served as vice-president of the center's woman's club, sought the presidency, she was denied the position. It went, instead, to Emanuel; Wells-Barnett discontinued her relationship with the center. Emanuel was not satisfied either. She began to plan for her own settlement by taking a year-long course in 1908 in the newly opened Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. Emanuel Settlement was not established as a center for middle-class interactions on matters of race; rather, it was situated in the heart of the Black Belt and offered one of the few kindergarten classes in the city in which African American children could enroll; a medical clinic; an employment bureau; literary, art, cooking, and sewing classes; and a nursery and reading rooms. It lasted only three years. Wells-Barnett's Negro Fellowship League also struggled and had a short existence. There was not enough financial support in the black community for such endeavors. At the same time, African Americans were not welcomed in settlements designed to serve white ethnics. While Jane Addams, Mary E. McDowell, Harriet Vittum,.Graham Taylor, and others had concerns about the plight of the new arrivals from the South in the Great Migration of Blacks to Chicago, they were participants along with the rest of white America in a status quo that upheld segregation as the norm.

Anticipating passage in Illinois of the Presidential Suffrage Bill, Wells-Barnett organized the Alpha Suffrage Club in January 1913. It was Illinois's first black woman's suffrage organization. Wells-Barnett traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the National American Woman Suffrage Association's parade in March 1913 and discovered, once she arrived, that the national organizers did not want Blacks to march with Whites. They were afraid that an integrated parade would alienate Southern white suffragists. Wells-Barnett waited for the parade to begin, then suddenly appeared from the crowd and took her place in the middle of the other Illinois suffragists.

Wells-Barnett and the Alpha Suffrage Club went block by block canvassing the predominantly black wards to get women registered to vote in the aldermanic primary in Chicago in 1914. They succeeded in registering three thousand women in the 2nd Ward; Alpha Suffrage supported a black independent instead of the regular machine candidate and nearly brought him an upset victory. The close call for the regular candidate got the attention of the political establishment. The Republicans (Blacks had not yet switched to the Democratic Party) told Wells-Barnett and the Alpha Suffrage women that if they supported the party regular, the Republicans would fill the next vacancy with a black candidate. In 1915, with the help of organized black women, Oscar De Priest became the first black alderman in the history of Chicago.

Maternalist Argument for Suffrage

Jane Addams's article "Why Women Should Vote," published in the Ladies' Home Journal in 1910, expressed the maternalist argument that by this time had become the dominant rhetoric of the suffrage movement. She believed that women had a special role in transforming society and fighting social, economic, and political injustice; and she focused on the collective utility of woman suffrage in the movement to eradicate the evils of economic inequality in American society. Respecting the work women did as nurturers, she argued that woman's political equality was the inevitable result of contemporary government's involvement with the basic human interests with which women had traditionally been concerned. She made a strong argument for woman suffrage on the basis of traditional definitions of woman's role. Society had developed to a point where protection of the family required mothers to be engaged in public life. Traditional family life would be protected as a result of women's having the vote and being included in organizations, political parties, and labor unions. This view was an extension of the arguments first advanced in the 1870s by Elizabeth Harbert, when suffragists in Chicago had already begun to depart from liberal, individual rights arguments and were theorizing about women's differences from men and women's unique and natural capacity for civilizing and moralizing social life.

Trade Union Women and Suffrage

A second component in the suffrage alliance was the involvement of working-class and immigrant women. Settlement house workers and social reformers had forged coalitions with trade union and immigrant women starting with the Illinois Woman's Alliance in the late 1880s and continuing with the Chicago chapter of the WTUL. The cooperation of allies (middle-class and upper-class women) with trade union women was possible when both sides saw eye-to-eye on protective legislation such as eight-hour-day laws, minimum wage legislation, child labor laws, and factory inspection laws. Florence Kelley, Margaret Dreier Robins, Jane Addams, Ellen Henrotin, Ellen Gates Starr, and Mary E. McDowell were leaders in the WTUL.

The WTUL did not endorse woman suffrage until 1907, when Margaret Dreier Robins was president and was able to forge an effective alliance with such trade union women as Elisabeth Christman, Mary Anderson, Agnes Nestor, Margaret Haley, and Elizabeth Maloney. In May 1907 Margaret Dreier Robins led a parade of some twenty thousand working women and men through Chicago to protest the arrest of International Workers of the World leader William "Big Bill" Haywood and two other labor leaders. They had been forcibly transferred from Colorado to Idaho and placed on trial for the murder of a former governor of Idaho, a charge of which they were eventually cleared. The demonstration of solidarity was important in winning the respect of labor for the cause of woman. suffrage. That same year, as a result of pressure by social reformers Mary E. McDowell, Sophonisba Breckinridge, and Edith Abbott, President Theodore Roosevelt initiated a federal investigation into the conditions of working women and children. The Bureau of Labor began its study on working women and in 1910 published the first volume in the multi-volume series Report on Conditions of Women and Child Wage-Earners in the United States (1910-13). Using this information, Mary E. McDowell and other progressives lobbied for state legislation to restrict the hours of work for women and children and to establish minimum wages for women in industry. In 1908 Margaret Dreier Robins, as president of the Chicago WTUL, became a member of the executive board of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which had a male majority. Two years later, Agnes Nestor joined a group of suffragists on the Suffrage Special train to Springfield, Illinois, to speak in favor of a state suffrage bill; there she began organizing groups of labor union women to push for the passage of the Illinois suffrage legislation.

Shortly after the 1913 victory in the Illinois legislature, and seven years before the passage of the federal suffrage amendment, problems between suffragists and trade unionists exploded in Illinois. Suffrage leaders had accepted publisher William Randolph Hearst's offer to print a special suffrage edition of the Chicago Examiner, with the proceeds going into the suffrage treasury. However, the Hearst papers were on organized labor's list of employers engaged in unfair labor practices, and the Chicago Federation of Labor sent the suffrage organizations a series of resolutions condemning Hearst. The WTUL informed Trout and the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association that they would not continue to affiliate if Hearst's offer was accepted. A meeting with suffrage and WTUL leaders was arranged, but the Chicago Political Equality League and the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association representatives did not show up. The Hearst edition went forward. Mary McDowell was dismayed by the failure of suffrage leadership to embrace the cause of working women. "Our sisters of the suffrage movement who worked so splendidly for us because we are women failed to understand the struggle we must make because we are workers" (quoted in Steven M. Buechler, The Transformation of the Woman Suffrage Movement: The Case of Illinois, 1850-1920 [1986], 179).

Chicago Political Equality League

In 1910, under the leadership of Grace Wilbur Trout, a relatively conservative clubwoman who had the ability to combine public relations and modern technology, the Chicago Political Equality League forged a more broad-based campaign focused on convincing state legislators that their political careers depended on their votes in favor of suffrage in Illinois. In Chicago, suffragists persuaded male trade unionists to support the cause. Settlement house workers campaigned among male voters, and the Cook County Suffrage Alliance organized on a ward and district basis. The WTUL distributed prosuffrage literature to every labor union in the city. Despite these efforts, Chicagoans defeated the resolution by almost two to one in a nonbinding popular vote on woman suffrage in 1912.

Many of the leading suffragists and social reformers joined the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party in 1912 and actively campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt. Everyone got involved, from Jane Addams and Mary J. Hawes Wilmarth, both of whom were on the platform at the convention and seconded Roosevelt's nomination, to Republicans such as Ruth Hanna McCormick, who broke ranks with the regulars. On the local level, women supported Progressive Party and Independent reform candidates, including Alexander McCormick (no relation to Ruth McCormick) for county commissioner and Charles Merriam for alderman. In both cases women's support made a difference and the reformers won; this was also true when reformer William E. Dever was elected mayor of Chicago.

In 1913 Grace Wilbur Trout was elected president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, bringing the same upper-class connections and money that dominated the Chicago Political Equality League to the entire statewide effort. There were more than one hundred affiliated suffrage clubs throughout the state focusing their efforts on the legislators in Springfield. Trout hired paid staff workers for the first time. Having organized twenty-nine of the thirty-two state senatorial districts outside of Chicago, the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association established permanent headquarters in the state capitol in 1913 and carefully watched the floor proceedings. In June 1913 the Chicago WTUL formed its own Wage-Earners Suffrage League to organize working-class women en masse. The Illinois legislature passed the Presidential Suffrage Bill in 1913. It permitted Illinois women to vote for all national offices and virtually all municipal, county, town, and village offices.

Illinois women now faced the challenge of national enfranchisement. Activists worked on two fronts. They continued to campaign for the federal amendment, and they organized to use the vote in local elections. At Jane Addams's urging, Harriet Vittium, head resident at Northwestern University Settlement and president of the Woman's City Club of Chicago in 1913, ran as an Independent for the 17th Ward aldermanic seat. The following year, having lost her bid for the aldermanic seat, Harriet Vittum and Mary E. McDowell ran for the Cook County Board of Commissioners on the Progressive Party ticket. They lost the election because of a last-minute judicial ruling that women could run for county offices but could not vote in county elections. Nearly one hundred thousand registered women were denied participation.


In the 1890s there was a significant increase in the choices available to young, single women for constructing a life of economic independence in urban America. The New Woman was initially more closely identified with economic independence than with sexual liberation. New ideas about marriage, female sexuality, and reproduction, however, were necessarily woven into the arguments in favor of women's economic independence. Women physicians took the lead not only in providing models of economic independence but as students of anatomy and physiology whose perspective as females was different from that of male doctors. They began to alter the conventional wisdom about women's physical and mental capacities. Physician Alice Stockham was labeled by the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper the "original `new woman' of the West" (May 21,1905) for her rejection of Victorian conceptions about women's anatomy, physiology, and mental capacities. Stockham's Karezza: Ethics of Marriage (1896) was one of the first marriage manuals that dealt with sexual relations from a female point of view. She was one of several women gynecologists, including Lucy Waite and Marie Mergler, who wrote manuals and textbooks to reform the treatment of women's diseases and to educate women and young girls about their bodies.

Women in nontraditional religions also contributed to a questioning of conventional attitudes about women's roles. These women began by rejecting the patriarchal message in the male interpretation of Christian Scripture. They focused on the ways in which Christianity subordinated and oppressed women and contributed to the sexual double standard in society. New Thought religious leader Ursula Gestefeld's novel The Woman Who Dares (1892) compared wives with prostitutes and fought for a woman's right to determine her own sexual and emotional life. Elizabeth Boynton Harbert's theosophical novel Amore (1894) argued that traditional Calvinist theology produced the evils it tried to eliminate while religions based on the principle of love led to harmony in society.

Putting her theories into practice, Spiritualist Ida C. Craddock opened a sex counseling service in Chicago's central business district in 1893. She supplemented her lectures and personal consultations with pamphlets that advocated the shocking (for the time) notion that there should be mutuality in sexual intercourse and that female sexuality was normal and respectable. Stockham's and Craddock's mail order pamphlets and tracts on sexuality brought them into federal courts for violation of the mail obscenity law.

Women in the freethinking and socialist movements also contributed to the reformulation of conceptions of womanhood. Lucy Waite, a freethinker, combined a scientific approach to female reproduction with radical ideas about marriage. Waite's novel Doctor Helen Rand (1891) critiqued religious morality that stigmatized children of unmarried parents. Socialist and anarchist Lizzie Swank Holmes's Hagar Lyndon; or, A Woman's Rebellion (1893) exposed the evils of traditional marriage and, at the same time, showed that women had limited opportunities under existing capitalist conditions to lead alternative, independent lives.

A growing number of educated women born before the Civil War did not want to marry. Instead, physicians Mary Harris Thompson and Sarah Hackett Stevenson, businesswoman Helen Culver, poet and art teacher Eliza Allen Starr, lawyer Ellen Annette Martin, dramatics and speech teacher Anna Morgan, artist Annie Cornelia Shaw, and educator Mabel Slade Vickery pursued careers and found new space in which to live autonomous, independent lives. Caroline Huling became an associate editor of a trade journal in Chicago in 1884 after answering a want ad for the job with the ambiguous signature, "C. A. Huling." She obtained an interview and then convinced the editor that her experience working on her family's newspaper was more than adequate preparation. In Huling's novel The Courage of Her Convictions (1896), the heroine wants to have a child and is artificially inseminated because she is disillusioned by the character of men. After giving birth she marries her male doctor (who is really the father of the baby) because she realizes a child needs both parents. Huling never married and supported herself as an editor and journalist all her life.

For many the break with their family's expectations was traumatic. Jane Addams experienced emotional and physical crises after graduation from college. Addams's modest inheritance allowed her to cofound, with Ellen Gates Starr, Hull-House settlement, a new enterprise that influenced the way in which early twentieth-century women reconfigured their roles as nurturers and caregivers in society. Starr may serve as a more realistic model for the New Woman who emerged by the 1890s. She had completed only one year of college before she was forced to support herself and began teaching at Miss Kirkland's School in Chicago, a position she held for ten years before joining Addams to establish Hull-House. Frances E. Willard went through a soul-searching experience in which she broke off her engagement to a young man. She remained a member of her family household and lived with her mother while pursuing her career as organizer of the temperance movement, lecturer, publicist, and writer.

Jane Addams went so far as to claim that the subjective necessity for the settlement movement came out of the personal needs of a generation of college-educated women and men whose desire to be useful was as significant a drive in establishing neighborhood centers such as Hull-House as was the discovery of urban poverty and social injustice, which represented the objective necessity for settlements. She wrote about the pull of family and how difficult it was to forge ahead in an independent direction.

In Addams's case, her friendship with Ellen Gates Starr was significant, even critical, in releasing the energy necessary to implement her yearnings to be independent and to be useful. Starr, however, was not to be Addams's long-term partner. Addams and Mary Rozet Smith did develop a lifelong relationship. Everyone who knew them well understood that Smith and Addams had a unique relationship of deep emotional and psychological attachment. Smith, ironically, honored her "family claim" and was a dutiful daughter to her aged parents, maintaining her primary residence in her family home in Chicago.

She traveled extensively with Jane Addams and was a daily member of the Hull-House community, a confidante of Addams, and one of the major financial contributors to Hull-House until her death one year before Addams died.

Other women lived together quietly and unflamboyantly. Such long-term attachments were acknowledged among women settlement residents. When Gads Hill Center settlement was looking for a new head resident, Mary E. McDowell of University of Chicago Settlement recommended Ruth Austin for the job. McDowell reminded the Gads Hill board that there was an additional advantage in hiring Austin: her friend Neva Leona Boyd, recreational training specialist, would be living with Austin and therefore be available to provide her expertise. Boyd and Austin had a long-term partnership as did Frances E. Willard and Anna Gordon; the younger Gordon "became an integral member of the household" and was Willard's "beloved companion". Cornelia De Bey and Kate Starr Kellogg lived together, the former a physician and prominent reformer, the latter an educator and administrator in the Chicago public schools. Helen Culver lived with her companion Martha Ellen French for more than thirty years. Theologian Georgia Harkness and musician Verna Miller were partners who shared a home for thirty years until Harkness died in 1974. Other women couples included rare-book dealers Margery Barker and Frances Hamill and artists Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears. The latter couple probably met in 1926 at SAIC and remained together until Spears's death in 1974; the former also met in 1926 and remained together until 1980, when Barker died. Botanist Margery Carlson and Kate Staley, an instructor in physiology, were companions for more than forty years.

Other women also took advantage of the growth of economic opportunities to lead independent lives. Ada Celeste Sweet, a government pension agent, businesswoman, and journalist, was manager in 1911 of the newly organized Woman's Department in the Chicago office of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, where she sold insurance to career women like herself. The city was a place of employment for an ever-increasing number of young women factory workers, office workers, department store clerks and salesgirls, schoolteachers, domestics, and nurses. It was also a magnet drawing in young women with aspirations to become novelists, poets, reporters, painters and sculptors, performing artists, and playwrights. In the 1880s through 1940s, most students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) were women. (The number of men enrolled began to equal the number of women only after World War II.) In 1909, 3,222 students were enrolled at SAIC; and in 1922 there were 4,521 students. First generation New Woman artists Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Nellie Verne Walker, Bertha Jaques, Enella Benedict, Clara Barck Welles, Edith de Nancrede, Bessie Bennett, and Laura Van Pappelendam, and second generation New Woman artists Gertrude Abercrombie, Frances Strain, Jane Heap, Beatrice S. Levy, Julia Thecla, Kathleen Blackshear, Macena Barton, and Ethel Spears studied at SAIC. Benedict, Bennett, Van Pappelendam, Spears, and Blackshear also had careers as SAIC faculty.

A number of craftswomen opened shops in Chicago. Clara Barck Welles had studied at SAIC in the late 1890s and later exhibited her work at the Art Institute of Chicago. She was influenced by Arts and Crafts movement ideals and was the founder of Kalo Shop in downtown Chicago near Bessie Bennett's silver shop. Welles closed her downtown shop after marrying George Welles in 1905 and opened the Kalo Art Craft Community in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge. She held design classes and ran an apprenticeship program in metalsmithing for women and men. Her classes were attended mostly by young women, many of whom she hired.

Many first generation new women in the arts also advocated making high cultural forms accessible to working-class and immigrant neighbors, a major goal of Hull-House from its inception. The settlement's Butler Art Gallery opened in 1891. Hull-House's art studios were run by Enella Benedict, a painter who agreed with Addams and Starr that there was a connection between art and social reform. As Starr became a leader in the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society, Benedict applied many of the principles of that movement to the studio arts. Benedict also taught at SAIC, and she was an important bridge between the two institutions. She brought professionals to the neighborhood, and she encouraged talented students at Hull-House to continue to study at SAIC. Ellen Gates Starr dedicated herself to the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement and was a catalyst in bringing together architects and crafts people who shared a critique of industrial society's ugliness and the alienation of the crafts worker that resulted from the factory system.

Laura Dainty Pelham became the director of the Hull-House Players, an ensemble of fourteen neighborhood residents who were amateur actors and worked regular jobs during the day. They learned from the local little theater movement in Chicago and performed the latest in American and European drama, including works by George Bernard Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, and John Galsworthy. Pelham concentrated on new Irish drama, including plays by John Millington Synge; the Abbey Players attended performances of the Irish plays done by the Hull-House ensemble.

Hull-House resident Eleanor Smith composed vocal music and pioneered in the field of music education. Under her direction, the Hull-House Music School was an important cultural and artistic force in Chicago. It presented regular choral, orchestral, and chamber music performances as well as solo voice and instrumental recitals. Smith was interested in pedagogical theory and practice and worked with John Dewey. Her Hull-House Songs (1915) expressed the social outlook of Hull-House. Charlotte Chorpenning, who was influenced by Professor George Pierce Baker's famed 47 Workshop in playwrighting and directing at Harvard, and she wrote and produced plays for community groups. Neva Leona Boyd of the Recreation Training School of Chicago learned of Chorpenning's work and asked her to become drama director of the school. Chorpenning expanded her work to include group dramatics with children.

Edith de Nancrede helped create a network of clubs at Hull-House that integrated the arts and social contact by using drama and other arts to encourage group cooperation, to acquaint young people with the works of high culture, to teach proper elocution, and to draw on immigrant culture for theatrical inspiration. Nancrede saw the theater as a means of developing social relationships and a sense of community in the neighborhood. Jane Addams encouraged the different settlement groups to work together. The Hull-House Dramatic Association (later the Hull-House Players) was a troupe of actors selected from all of the young people's clubs and classes. When they did a play, Nancrede directed, Harriet Monroe might write it, its music was scored by Eleanor Smith, and its set was designed by Enella Benedict. Mary Wood Hinman and Rose Marie Gyles, who taught movement and gymnastics classes, also helped in the staging.

Women's involvement in the performing arts, including movement, gymnastics, and folk dance, was part of a new conception of what normal, healthy females should and could undertake in their physical development toward mature young women. Mary Wood Hinman – a leader in pageantry and recreation and a folk dance specialist – had been influenced by Melvin Ballou Gilbert, who taught "aesthetic calisthenics." Hinman combined an emphasis on women's capacity to bear children and engage in physical and mental activity with the discovery of folk culture and a new appreciation of the diversity of cultural expression. Hinman introduced dance at Hull-House in 1898.

The major departures for creative women in the 1890s were in the little magazines and little theater movements. Born in 1860, the same year as Jane Addams, poet and editor Harriet Monroe described her childhood as restrictive; and like many Victorian young women, she suffered from an overwrought nervous condition. She embarked on a career in journalism writing art criticism; in 1888 she moved to New York City, from which she sent back freelance articles on art as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Monroe's interest in writing was not unusual for a woman of her time. In fact women wrote for newspapers and magazines throughout the nineteenth century. The Illinois Woman's Press Association, founded in 1885, included a wide variety of women publicists; journalists; editors of legal publications; writers of utopian New Woman novels; writers on literary subjects, religious topics, and practical manuals on a variety of subjects; and writers of medical texts. In the 1890s Amy Leslie began her long career as the drama critic for the Chicago Daily News, a position she held until her retirement in 1930. She wrote from two to three reviews and feature articles on theater a week. A self-proclaimed New Woman, she advocated a more liberated egalitarian lifestyle for women. She wrote about the double standard, divorce, and the working conditions of young girls and children.

Just as wealthy women had subsidized the reform and research efforts of Progressive Era women activists, well-to-do patrons of the arts funded new little magazines, little theater, and avant-garde art galleries. Kate Sturges Buckingham, Bertha Honore Palmer, and Edith Rockefeller McCormick were among the rich Chicagoans who financially guaranteed Harriet Monroe's Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in its first five years. Patronage was important in the African American community as well. In 1921 Nora Douglas Holt founded and became the editor of Music and Poetry, a magazine that featured the original musical scores of Holt and a number of contemporary composers; she received financial support to keep the magazine afloat from several wealthy Chicago families.

Monroe was also a member of the Little Room group. It represented a transition stage between the Victorian world and modernism. Made up of many Fine Arts Building residents and their friends, including sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh; writers Henry Blake Fuller, Clara Louise Root Burnham, Hamlin Garland, Elia W. Peattie, and Edith Wyatt; and playwrights Mary Aldis and Alice Gerstenberg, the group had considerable influence in shaping Chicago's art world. Critic and novelist William Dean Howells noticed Edith Wyatt's "Three Stories of Contemporary Chicago" in McClure's (1900) and encouraged her to write more along those lines; a year later she published twenty-one short stories in one volume, Every One His Own Way (1901). Howells announced that Wyatt should be included with Chicago writers Henry Blake Fuller, Will Payne, George Ade, and Robert Herrick as a defender of realism. In 1903 she produced her first novel, True Love, in which she attempted to define how women's roles were changing. Wyatt's heroine seeks equality, honesty, and compatibility in marriage.

Another art arena for the expression of New Woman attitudes was the little theater movement. In 1898 Anna Morgan opened the Anna Morgan Studios on the eighth floor of the Fine Arts Building. Her suite of eight rooms had a small stage and an equipped gymnasium. Her program was intended for women, although men could participate. She promoted expressive skill, health, physical grace, and mental well-being at a time when women were just beginning to participate in athletics and physical fitness. Alice Gerstenberg studied at her school. Many Chicago artists and craftspeople were tenants in the building and socialized on the building's upper floors, forming a community that met daily and that regularly entertained visitors. In the 1910s Maurice Browne and Ellen Van Volkenburg opened the Little Theatre, which was housed in the Fine Arts Building. Mary Reynolds Aldis, an upper-class matron who had homes on Chicago's Gold Coast and in affluent Lake Forest, Illinois, built the Play House with her husband, Arthur Aldis, on their Lake Forest property in 1911 and began to produce plays with a group of amateur actors. These productions were social affairs as well as theatrical experiences.


Women's gains were increasing by 1900; that year the majority of high school graduates were women. More women than ever before had access to higher education: 80 percent of the colleges, universities, and professional schools in the nation admitted women. The percentage of women in the work force increased from 15 percent in 1870 to 20 percent by 1900. From the 1870s to the 1920s, between 40 and 60 percent of women college graduates did not marry; this was at a time when only 10 percent of American women remained single. The use of the word "feminism" was rare before 1910 but frequent by 1913. As a result of advances in medicine, there was a significant drop in the birth rate, from 7 children per family in 1804 to 3.56 in 1900.

By 1910 there were significant numbers of New Woman adherents. While women in the 1890s who did not marry had advanced the argument that self-development was a legitimate goal, only an agenda of women's freedom from sexual subservience and oppression in marriage, not one of sexual liberation, had been advocated. The second generation New Woman of the 1910s and 1920s thought about sexual autonomy and advanced the idea that sexual experimentation and self-expression was a positive, natural aspect of women's identity. Margaret Anderson, who left small town life in Indiana for Chicago, where she "could live and breathe" (Margaret Anderson, My Thirty Years' War [1930], 16), took a leading role in the Chicago Renaissance and experienced both a sexual and an artistic awakening. The movement to advance literary modernism in the United States took hold in Chicago with Floyd Dell and his wife, Margery Currey, Tennessee Mitchell Anderson and Sherwood Anderson, Eunice Tietjens, Maurice Browne, Ellen Van Volkenberg, and other literary figures. Margaret Anderson's innovative magazine the Little Review was launched in 1914. Jane Heap, initially an art student at SAIC, joined Anderson's Little Review staff; the two, who identified themselves as lesbians, fell in love. Anderson wrote "here was my obsession – the special human being, the special point of view" (My Thirty Years' War, 107-108). In the 1920s, attorney and gay and lesbian rights activist Pearl Hart lived with Blossom Churan, an aspiring singer and actress.


The outbreak of World War I divided the coalition forged by suffrage and progressive reform issues. Jane Addams and Lola Maverick Lloyd cofounded the Woman's Peace Party and were two of the forty-seven American women who traveled to the International Congress of Women at The Hague. There they joined European women, all of whom had come as representatives of local women's organizations. After the conferences, Alice Hamilton, who had also attended, accompanied Addams on her peace mission to several warring nations. Labor leader Elisabeth Christman also attended the International Congress and helped found the International Committee for Permanent Peace; at the WTUL convention she supported a resolution requesting an embargo on arms and war supply exports. Addams and Lloyd persisted in their refusal to support the war and continued to hold this unpopular position after the entry of the United States into the conflict. When the United States entered the war and labor supported it, Margaret Haley and the Chicago Teachers' Federation withdrew permanently from the ranks of the American Federation of Teachers and from the American Federation of Labor.

Women, War Work, and the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments

Another flank of the coalition not only supported the war but, after the United States became involved, used the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense, Illinois Division – chaired by Louise deKoven Bowen from 1917 to 1919 – as a vehicle to implement a variety of progressive reforms. For example, Rachelle Yarros delivered lectures for the Council of National Defense on social hygiene and the eradication of venereal disease. Mary E. McDowell became a member of President Woodrow Wilson's Committee on Women in Industry; the committee's charge was to see that laws restricting hours of work for women and children and establishing minimum wages were implemented in the defense industries. Elisabeth Christman, who had opposed the war, found herself chief field representative for women workers in the Women in Industry Service formed in the Department of Labor. Mary Fitzbutler Waring organized classes, for black Red Cross nurses, and Ada S. McKinley worked as a hostess to black soldiers at War Camp Community Services, a government project organized by the Chicago Urban League. This work led to her continued efforts to provide programs for Blacks in the community and to the establishment of the South Side Settlement House (later Ada S. McKinley Community Services). In 1920 the Women in Industry Service was transformed into the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor and given permanent legal status. Eleanor Slagle trained volunteers in occupational therapy techniques for the Chicago Red Cross chapter and then persuaded the U.S. Surgeon General's office to appoint her a consultant to the army, charged with training aids to work with returning soldiers.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union began a major lobbying effort for, prohibition during the World War I period. Anna Gordon, elected National WCTU president in 1914, brought to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives a scroll containing a plea for prohibition, signed by representatives of twelve thousand organizations. The heightened campaign for prohibition occurred simultaneously with the unabated efforts of the national suffrage movement. Five thousand women marched through pouring rain – the rainy day suffrage parade – in Chicago on June 7, 1916, to show their support for Grace Wilbur Trout and three other National American Woman Suffrage Association representatives who brought the suffrage plank appeal to the Platform Committee at the Republican National Convention at the Chicago Coliseum. The Republican delegates placed a suffrage plank in their platform. The following year the WCTU and other temperance groups lobbied Congress for war prohibition. The signatures of six million women were gathered for a food conservation petition, which requested that, in a time of government food rationing, grains and fruits not be used for the production of alcoholic beverages. Congress voted to forbid the use of foodstuffs in distilled liquor and, in December 1917, passed a resolution to submit a national prohibition amendment to the states. Even after passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in January 1919, Anna Gordon continued the work of the WCTU, focusing on Americanization, "Scientific Temperance Instruction," and child welfare. By 1924 the WCTU's membership was approaching five hundred thousand.

After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Alice Paul's National Woman's Party began its campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In Chicago and Illinois, however, the dominant leadership of the postsuffrage and social reform movements rejected the National Woman's Party and the ERA. At the victory convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Chicago, February 14, 1920, women voted to create the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, educational organization geared to preparing women to use the franchise. By October the Illinois League of Women Voters had been formed, and Flora S. Cheney had become its first president. Under her leadership the league began publishing a newsletter, which by the end of 1922 was issued monthly and had a circulation of about twenty-two thousand.


New thinking about art and individual freedom led to discussions of new roles for women in society and a new conceptualization of womanhood. Artistic modernism smashed traditional aesthetic axioms such as tonality in music and classical perspective in painting and replaced them with a variety of self-consciously invented and individual standards. In terms of form, instead of representations of external reality that could be recognized by the viewer, artists rendered original forms that were individualistic and not recognizable. Etcher Beatrice Steinfelt Levy was one of the Chicago women artists who embraced postimpressionism. Catholic liturgical artist Margaret Dagenais, who studied at SAIC, would later incorporate material objects from different non-Western cultures in her collages. Alice Roullier, a cofounder of the Arts Club of Chicago with Rue Winterbotham Carpenter, was interested in postimpressionist paintings and sculpture and did much to stir up the conservative art world of Chicago in the 1910s and 1920s. Following the 1913 AIC Post-Impressionist Exhibition (the name given to the New York City Armory Show when it came to Chicago), the majority of art students, teachers, and patrons in the midwest city rejected the advant-garde modern art of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Marcel Duchamp, and Constantin Brancusi. Alice Roullier became a leader in changing the climate in Chicago and in providing a new context for a positive reception for the new art. As the head of the Exhibitions Committee of the Arts Club from 1918 until 1941, she brought not only postimpressionist art to Chicago but also new music, poetry, and dance. In a sense, the Arts Club became a safe corridor through which controversial art could migrate into the conservative museum world without the latter's engaging in too much risk. Many of Roullier's Arts Club exhibits occurred in rented gallery space at AIC.

Helen Gardner taught the first art history survey course at SAIC. Her book Art through the Ages: An Introduction to Its History and Significance (1926) was one of the first texts to acknowledge the historical context in which art was produced yet consider each work of art on its own merits. She analyzed what she believed were the universal design elements in each work. This approach provided a new strategy for understanding art across cultures and historic time periods. Artist Kathleen Blackshear began teaching the survey of art history at SAIC in 1926, and the two worked together for the next twenty years. They encouraged students to study natural history, anthropology, and the sciences so that they could detect the universal patterns in the natural world and in manufactured objects.

In the 1920s, etcher Beatrice S. Levy and other rebels formed an "art for art's sake" group that believed in no particular school or movement. Russian painter Nicholas Roerich named them the Cor Ardens (burning center) Society on one of his visits to Chicago. Modernists found gallery space in the Thurber Gallery and Raymond Katz's Little Gallery, located in the Auditorium Theater building. Painter Fritz Brod joined the Chicago No-Jury Society and served as its vice-president.

The Association of Arts and Industries was established in 1922 and was dedicated to forging an alliance between artists and industrialists to promote the cause of good design in manufacturing through a school of industrial art. Norma K. Stahle was chief fund-raiser and administrator from 1922 to 1937. Artist Laura Van Pappelendam and photographer and artist Eva Watson Schutze were involved in advancing a modernist agenda in the Renaissance Society, which held lectures, concerts, and exhibits that were in keeping with the idealist approach to art of Charles Hutchinson, Martin Ryerson, and Lorado Taft.

Pianist Diane Lavoie-Herz's teaching studio/salon was a focal point for avant-garde music in Chicago in the 1920s, at a time when there were few venues for young composers in the city. Her studio served as a meeting place for composers and performers traveling through Chicago as well as for her own students. She filled her apartment-studio with Oriental, medieval, and Renaissance art as well as with contemporary art. Ruth Crawford Seeger dedicated her "Piano Preludes" of 1924-28 to Lavoie-Herz.

In the 1920s, Fanny Butcher's bookshop in downtown Chicago acquired the atmosphere of a literary salon. It was the first store in the United States to be owned by a literary critic. In 1928 Margery Barker and Frances Hamill opened Hamill & Barker, a rare-book store that placed them among the first women rare-book dealers in the United States. They acquired and dealt in the papers of Virginia Woolf and other members of the Bloomsbury group.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, Chicago's Black Metropolis was experiencing its own cultural renaissance. Vivian Harsh had begun to develop the Special Negro Collection (renamed the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature), housed in the new Hall Branch Library that opened in 1932. She acquired books, pamphlets, clippings, and photographs from friends in the association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1933 Harsh started a Book Review and Lecture Forum that attracted such speakers as Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Horace Cayton, William Attaway, Margaret Walker, St. Clair Drake, and Alain Locke. The library became a research site and a meeting place for young black writers, artists, and social scientists.

Children's librarian Charlemae Rollins, music critic and journalist Nora Holt, and symphony composer Florence Price were part of a social and cultural world that was based in Chicago's Black Metropolis. Marita Bonner Occomy, an essayist and short story writer who had been involved in the Harlem Renaissance, came to Chicago, where she wrote her "Frye Street" stories about the Chicago ghetto. Lovie Austin was a blues pianist and composer, and Lil Hardin was a pianist and composer who led her own jazz band. Estella C. Bonds was an organist at Berean Baptist Church and was prominent in the musical world of Chicago. She was the first piano teacher to her daughter, Margaret Allison Bonds. Margaret Bonds became a composer and concert pianist. Sculptor Richmond Barthe, poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, soprano Abbie Mitchell, and composer Will Marion Cook all visited the Bonds' home. Margaret Bonds also studied with Florence Price, in whom she found a friend, mentor, and collaborator. Bonds's mother was a founding member of the National Association of Negro Musicians, established in Chicago in 1919. Its local branch was the Chicago Music Association. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry, born in 1930, spent her childhood and adolescence in the rich cultural environment of Chicago's Black Metropolis; her father and mother entertained W. E. B. Du Bois and Richard Wright in their home.


Not all women embraced cultural diversity, modernism in literature and art, or ideas of sexual freedom and self-expression. Anne Shaw Faulkner Oberndorfer was a music educator whose music appreciation textbook, What We Hear in Music, was published in 1913; it was one of the first books for music appreciation used in the public schools. In the 1920s, Oberndorfer introduced the first program classes in connection with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (although never officially affiliated with the symphony itself), and from 1920 to 1926, she headed the music division of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Her publications for music educators during her tenure with the federation reflected the contemporary debate over music. What was American music? Should all folk songs be sung in English? Should composers assimilate music from other countries into the music from America? Oberndorfer sought an American music that somehow consolidated the different traditions; she believed that music should promote and correct morals, values, and virtuous action. Along with many women's groups, she opposed jazz, citing so-called medical studies that showed the demoralizing influence of the persistent use of syncopation. She saw jazz as disorganizing, stimulating listeners to engage in extreme deeds and to break with all rules and conventions.

In the art world, conservatives split from the Chicago Society of Artists and formed a new organization, the Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptors, leaving the modernist core to run the Chicago Society of Artists. Josephine Logan's Sanity in Art organization, founded in 1936, attacked the aesthetics of modernism; Eleanor Jewett, art critic for the Chicago Tribune, shared Logan's point of view and labeled the works of Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh brutal, primitive, and childish.


The post World War I "Red Scare" dominated political culture, and the restrictionist path taken in 1915 culminated in immigration quota laws in 1924. Cultural pluralists such as Caroline Hedger began to write less on topics of Americanization when the increasing conservatism of the Americanization movement made them uncomfortable. Pearl Hart had spent her early years as an attorney enmeshed in the women's political culture of the 1910s and 1920s. She dealt chiefly with cases of child abandonment, bastardy, child abuse, and with women criminals designated prostitutes. She worked with the Committee on Social Work and the Woman's City Club of Chicago to defend the rights of poor women in the Morals Court and became one of the first public defenders in the renamed Women's Court in 1929. Hart found herself defending the rights of aliens, radicals, and eventually, gays and lesbians in the 1920s through 1960s. Increasingly, progressive women and men were attacked by conservative politicians and publicists. Two of the most significant accomplishments won by the progressive women's political reform coalition – the juvenile court system and federal aid for prenatal and infant health care – were successfully attacked. The Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act was not renewed by the U.S. Congress in 1929, and in 1935 the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the original 1899 juvenile court legislation was unconstitutional. The courts criminalized children older than ten, placing them outside the scope of the juvenile court and in contact with adult criminals.

In the 1920s the work of progressive women continued, even though the broad coalition formed in the struggle for suffrage no longer existed. One of the vehicles for the expression and implementation of the pre-1920 agenda after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was the League of Women Voters. The non-partisan nature of the league was disarming to those who felt threatened by the introduction of millions of potential new voters into the political process. The establishment of the league has often been interpreted as a move away from activism and women's involvement in realpolitik. However, on the basis of the historical record of women's political involvement in Illinois in the three decades following the achievement of the Nineteenth Amendment, a case can be made for the central role of the League of Women Voters in the support of women politicians and the continuation of the progressive reform agenda. The league stayed out of party politics and did not endorse candidates. However, its issue-oriented approach distinguished those candidates that loyal and intelligent league members should support. A reading of the Bulletin, later called The Illinois Voter, demonstrates the public policy concerns that made the League of Women Voters the successor and major institutional structure through which the women's political culture of the Progressive Era continued.

Initially the officers and leadership of the Illinois League of Women Voters were drawn from the WTUL, the Chicago Woman's Club, the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, the settlement movement and the social science think-tank connections of Hull-House. The connection was vividly on display when thousands of Illinois women arrived in Springfield, Illinois, on January 3, 1923, for Lottie O'Neill's inauguration as 41st District State Representative. She was the first woman elected to the Illinois state legislature. Julia C. Lathrop, who had headed the U.S. Children's Bureau, was president of the Illinois League of Women Voters, and she presided at the evening banquet held in honor of O'Neill. The press coverage of the election of O'Neill trivialized the enormous victory women political activists and progressive reformers experienced by focusing on the lack of a ladies' bathroom near the legislative chambers. Such human interest stories along with photographs of elected women in maternalist poses with their families contributed to the growing popular idea that while women had gained the right to vote, they were not a political force. Few women were elected, and those who were elected to office were marginalized.

Efforts made by elected women to put the progressive women's agenda in place through legislation contributed to the
idea that women were a different breed of politician. In her first term, O'Neill sponsored several bills that became law: funding for the education of crippled children; an amendment of the inheritance property act to provide for a widow to receive one-third of the real estate of her deceased husband in place of the dower right to a share in the income of his real estate during her lifetime; a moratorium on the purchase or sale of certain wild flowers in danger of extinction. These were seen as women's issues, and they represented a continuation of maternalist politics. Those women who ignored women's issues were also criticized, however.

Material for a new narrative of the history of women in politics in Chicago is provided by the biographies of state representatives Lottie O'Neill, Flora S. Cheney, Bernice Van der Vries, and Marjorie Pebworth; state senator Anna Wilmarth Ickes; state representative and state senator Esther Saperstein (later the first female alderman in Chicago); congresswomen Winnifred Mason Huck, Ruth Hanna McCormick, and Marguerite Stitt Church; League of Women Voters activist Laura Hughes Lunde; Cook County Commissioner Lucy Palermo; Republican committeewoman Irene McCoy Gaines. These elected women differed from one another in substantial ways. For example, Lucy Palermo, an Italian American whose interest in services to the aged and sick in Cook County gave rise to her political career, joined the conservative "We, the Mothers" group, the largest isolationist mother's organization active during World War II. Its leader was Elizabeth Dilling, who was known for her virulent attacks on first wave feminists and the progressive social reform agenda represented best by the Hull-House women. Of the elected women, only Winnifred Huck supported the first ERA amendment.

There were also personal struggles among the elected women. Republicans Lottie O'Neill and Ruth Hanna McCormick publicly challenged each other's authority and, in a primary, O'Neill ran against McCormick; both women lost their bid for a place on the ballot in U.S. congressional elections.

The issues advocated by the Illinois League of Women Voters from the 1920s through 1950s included the basics of the progressive reform agenda: prohibition of child labor; protection of women workers; expansion of educational programs, including day care; reform of married women's inheritance and other property laws; modernization of the structures of government. In 1924 the Illinois league's Child Welfare Committee organized an Illinois Joint Committee to urge the ratification of the Child Labor Amendment. Reorganized two years later as the Illinois Child Labor Committee, it included Esther Loeb Kohn, Grace Abbott, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Agnes Nestor, and Edith Abbott. In 1924 Laura Hughes Lunde became secretary of the Illinois Women's Conference on Legislation, a coalition of women's organizations (including the League of Women Voters) that had been established to research and pool information about legislation of interest to member organizations.

Many of the peace activists of the Progressive Era continued their efforts between the two wars. In 1923, Zonia Baber served as the Illinois delegate to the Women's Committee for Recognition of Russia, affiliated with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which urged the recognition of the Soviet Union. Alice Hamilton served on the Health Committee of the League of Nations from 1923 to 1930 and became a League of Nations advocate. Sister Vincent Ferrer Bradford of Rosary College served as an officer of the Catholic Association for International Peace, founded at Catholic University in 1927. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 to Jane Addams was in recognition of work she began in 1915. After her death in 1935, the organization that she had initiated and guided, the Woman's International League for Peace and Freedom, adopted a people's mandate to government to take joint action for peace by reduction of arms and peaceful settlement of ongoing conflict. That year Anna Wilmarth Ickes presided over a peace movement rally in Washington, D.C., which was attended by two thousand supporters who had come to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Anita McCormick Blaine and Lola Maverick Lloyd were also engaged in peace activism.


Radio and television images had enormous power, and women initially took leadership roles in the emerging broadcast industry. Women promoted educational uses of broadcast media in the same ways that they had developed programs from kindergarten through adult education in the context of schools, settlements, public health services, recreation, libraries, museums, and religious institutions. In all of these venues women had utilized the local infrastructure of the club movement to aid them in the dissemination of information about literacy, child care, nutrition, sanitation, social hygiene, and citizenship. Women's use of print material continued unabated in the 1920s and 1930s, often in conjunction with the new medium of radio. A link between maternalism and consumerism had already been made in the nineteenth century, when women organized to use their purchasing power to advance political change and social transformation. This resulted, for instance, in the boycotts of products produced by slave labor during the abolitionist movement in a strategy that Florence Kelley's aunt, Sarah Pugh, embraced; later, Florence Kelley "mobilized consumers' political activism on a much broader scale" (Kathryn Kish Sklar, Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work [1995], 22) through the National Consumers' League.

Another connection between maternalism and consumerism was made by proponents of scientific motherhood, the Progressive Era movement that had both academic and popular culture aspects. University of Chicago professor and dean Marion Talbot studied under Ellen Richards, a key figure in the home economics movement that attempted to transform household management into a social science. Believing that the majority of women students would become homemakers, she identified the need for educating them "both to administer their homes and to become involved in social reform work [municipal housekeeping] in the community". The home economics movement, whose leaders included Katharine Blunt and Lydia Roberts, saw scientific motherhood as a golden opportunity to improve future generations and solve many of society's problems. This use of modern medical, technological, and even psychological and sociological information to develop better methodologies for the prenatal and postnatal care of children was an extension of the larger reform projects of women through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. These ideas formed the core of the U.S. Children's Bureau approach advocated by Julia C. Lathrop; the kindergarten movement promoted by Alice Putnam, Elizabeth Harrison, and Edna Dean Baker; and the municipal housekeeping efforts of a wide range of women, including Ada Celeste Sweet, Lucy Flower, Caroline Hedger, Rachelle Yarros, Harriet Vittum, Edna Foley, and Harriet Fulmer. The latter two used the Chicago Visiting Nurse Association to teach mothers, in the context of home visits, how to care for infants and children.

The boundary between selling products and disseminating information about useful products was less well defined in the early years of radio and newspapers, which used women experts to give advice to a mass audience of homemakers. The use of a female persona to educate the public about new products was an effective marketing device. Leona Krag Malek was one such writer/journalist, and she used the persona Jean Prescott Adams. Her fellow home economist Ethel Kemper was "Virginia Page" of Sears, Roebuck, and was the company's domestic science editor. In 1925 Leona Malek became "Prudence Penny" for the Herald and Examiner, writing the daily home economics column. She invited her readers to attend her lectures on home economics, which were held at Chicago's Balaban and Katz Theater, and to listen to her weekly radio program broadcast on Chicago's station KYW.

In 1928 Martha Crane joined the radio mail department of the Prairie Farmer, one of the leading farm newspapers in the Midwest and owner since 1924 of radio station WLS. Crane became "Uncle Toby," preparing and editing a weekly children's page for Prairie Farmer and later hosting the paper's Homemakers' Hour on radio. By 1929 Martha Crane hosted the daily morning Radio Bazaar on WLS, taking the role of helper assisting her audience with everyday homemaker activities. Her afternoon show was Homemakers' Hour and offered music, inspirational talks, poetry, and informal chats by a number of women broadcasters on topics of interest to homemakers. From 1928 to 1930, nearly three hundred speakers appeared on the program, addressing such topics as dental clinics for school children, running water in homes, hot school lunches for rural children, rural recreation, good books, and baby care. In 1935, Martha Crane did a new show on WLS, Feature Foods; the show limited its sponsors to food and grocery advertisers, all of whom allowed Crane to write commercials for the program.

In the 1920s Anna J. Peterson began broadcasting from radio station KYW fifteen-minute daily Table Talks, short cooking demonstrations that were most likely the first cooking programs broadcast in America. Home economists such as Peterson, working in utility-sponsored home service departments, played a vital role in boosting the sales of gas and electric products while also promoting do-it-yourself housewifery. By 1923 consumer demand for neighborhood-based services prompted Peoples Gas to open eight branch stores; home service was integral to the mission of these neighborhood stores, which featured spacious auditoriums designed for cooking classes and demonstrations, alongside bill-paying centers and appliances for sale. Anna Peterson and her staff extended the reach to Polish, Italian, and Colored Mothers' Clubs, the Urban League, and community and settlement houses.

The commercialization of radio, that is, the sale of radio time to sponsors, did not happen all at once. For example, in 1922, Judith Cary Waller went to work for the radio station WCU, recently acquired by the Chicago Daily News. Typically radio stations at this time were owned by newspapers and were seen as outlets for reporters to air their stories and features. Waller became the first general manager in this new and untested medium at a time when women had opportunities to become managers, producers, writers, and announcers. Throughout the 1920s, Waller had a free hand to determine the nature of the shows that were broadcast since there were no sponsors. Waller featured classical music on her station while the other Chicago radio station played popular music and jazz. She produced innovative shows, broadcasting collegiate sports, a major league baseball game, the inauguration of Calvin. Coolidge in 1925, and that same year, a transatlantic news broadcast from London by Chicago Daily News foreign correspondent John Gunther.

Chicago Historical Society librarian Caroline Mcllvaine, showing that she understood the impact of radio in reaching new audiences, began to make live broadcasts in 1925 concerning services the society could offer to the citizens of Chicago. Judith Waller offered to broadcast talks on CHS and on Chicago history. McIlvaine's resulting broadcast about the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 was accompanied by a "Radio Photologue" in the Chicago Daily News on October 10, 1925, so that listeners could view photographs of sites she described. In the vanguard of what later was termed "outreach," McIlvaine organized special tours with docents/interpreters for subscribers to Polish newspapers, promoted the museum by advertising in streetcars, and displayed objects from the collection at Orchestra Hall in downtown stores and office buildings. She also established a Junior Auxiliary for CHS members' children and prepared lectures, entertainment, and special exhibits for them.

Judith Waller also experimented with broadcasting as a service to public schools by producing a series of programs for an elementary school in Chicago in 1926; by the end of the year, eleven schools were tuning in to what was the forerunner of the American School of the Air, broadcast by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) a few years later. In 1927 Caroline Mcllvaine worked again with Judith Waller to broadcast a series of talks on notable Chicagoans, directed to the city's primary schools. In her capacity as NBC's education director, Judith Waller developed educational programs and, in the 1930s, two to three hundred schools participated, including some in the five states adjoining Illinois. Ruth Harshaw became the director of the new Educational Services Bureau at Carson Pirie Scott & Company, a major department store. From 1933 to 1949 she developed innovative marketing programs for Carson's including a monthly mail-order children's book club, Hobby Horse Book Foundation, in which books of her selection were advertised.

Chicago was considered the capital of the daytime radio serials and home to many favorite soap operas. In 1929, Irna Phillips created a storyline for a WGN family serial aired for ten minutes daily, five days a week; it was called Painted Dreams and ran through 1931. Phillips's Today's Children, the renamed version of Painted Dreams, ran from 1932 to 1938 on NBC. By 1938 it had become the most popular daytime serial on radio. She also created The Road of Life and The Guiding Light. While Irna Phillips lived an unorthodox life as a single woman who adopted two children at age forty, her soap opera characters followed the genre's basically conservative portrayal of women's roles in society. Virginia Payne starred in Ma Perkins, a show that attracted millions of listeners, most of them women; the show was broadcast from Chicago through 1947 and portrayed a folksy character whose life was very different from Payne's own activist life as a union organizer in the broadcast industry. Other women in broadcasting were Ireene Wicker and Marion Claire.

Immigrant women also used the broadcast media to disseminate cultural, political, and social ideas about ethnic identity and acculturation. Lidia Pulcińska hosted the popular radio program Sunshine Hour – Godsina Szoneczna from 1933 to 1984. Broadcast in Polish, it aired Polonia news, commentary on cultural and theatrical events, literary readings, practical household and childrearing tips, and current events in Poland.


The World War I period was one of expanded opportunities for African Americans and, at the same time, an era of increased tensions and racial violence against Blacks in both the South and in the industrial cities of the North. Between 1916 and 1919, fifty thousand Blacks migrated to Chicago from the South in what became known as the Great Migration. Whereas in the nineteenth century a small black population had attended white public schools and lived in different neighborhoods, in the 1920s the response by white residents to the increased numbers of rural Blacks in the city was to impose a strict policy of segregation. This policy consigned most migrants to the Black Belt on Chicago's South Side to housing that was substandard and soon overcrowded. Similarly, the public schools in the Black Belt were crowded and inadequate. Segregated health facilities did not meet the needs of the population, and the mostly poor and unskilled Blacks faced discrimination in the job market. The housing shortage in the Black Belt became acute by 1919 and contributed to mounting racial tension in the city. Conflicts surrounding employment of returning white servicemen who viewed the black newcomers as competitors in the period of readjustment from a wartime to a peacetime economy also strained race relations.

On July 27, 1919, a race riot erupted in Chicago. While swimming at a Lake Michigan beach at 29th Street on Chicago's South Side, a young African American man had accidentally crossed the imaginary racial dividing line and found himself in a whites-only section. He was stoned by Whites and drowned. Reactions to the drowning by African American youths and assaults by Whites on African Americans precipitated four days and nights of turmoil and violence. When order was restored, thirty-eight citizens were dead, more than five hundred injured, and thousands left homeless. During the riots, Jane Addams, Mary E. McDowell, and Harriet Vittum contacted African American settlement head resident Ada S. McKinley and worked with her to restore order in the neighborhoods. They took to the streets and linked arms in solidarity with McKinley and then began organizing job placement programs for Blacks.

Although significant individual progressive reformers, including McDowell and Addams, worked with Blacks in inter-racial coalitions, the majority of Whites continued to perpetuate segregationist policies; and whether or not these conditions disturbed them, they were reluctant to fight for integration. Rather, they assisted Blacks in operating their separate institutions. Leaders in the black community were caught in a dilemma. They opposed segregation and had no desire to contribute to it. Activist Blacks faced the question of whether to continue to work with white activists under the circumstances. When African Americans realized how desperate was the need for services and economic help for their community, they tended to compromise and work within the system. In addition, black elite and middle-class leaders had mixed feelings about the race riot. There were some who experienced embarrassment and hostility toward migrants whose existence appeared to threaten the progress that had been achieved among educated, professional Blacks in Chicago. African American middle-class clubwomen, including Fannie Emmanuel, Mary Fitzbutler Waring, Maudelle Bousfield, and Fannie Barrier Williams, generally believed that the Southern black migrant family needed to be educated and socialized.

Black clubwomen debated what role they should take in an environment in which even those Whites who wanted to work for better race relations and economic improvement continued to accept segregation as part of the American way of life. Former National Association of Colored Women (NACW) president Mary McLeod Bethune felt that the organization's priorities were misplaced and began in 1928 to recruit supporters to form a new national organization. Plans for this group, which became the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), were underway; in Chicago Mary Fitzbutler Waring disagreed with this initiative and feared the proposed NCNW would weaken the national black women's club movement. Waring, who was national president of the NACW in 1933, continued to emphasize the traditional concerns of women that centered around home, family life, employment, and health; she also used National Notes to speak out against lynching and discrimination, and in response to the Scottsboro case, urged NACW members to actively support the antilynching measure that was pending in the U.S. Senate and to join efforts to make segregation illegal; but she did not join Bethune's NCNW.

Another aspect of the tension in the black community over strategies to achieve economic justice and full citizenship in the United States came from the class and status structure that developed as some Blacks made gains in their personal careers and financial standing. Often they did so in the context of the segregated community itself or as a result of a political system that incorporated Blacks who accepted the general rules of white majority control in order to gain minor appointments and patronage for their cooperation. Attorney Violette Anderson was appointed an assistant city prosecutor in 1922. Fannie Barrier Williams became the first Black and the only woman appointed to the Chicago Library Board in 1924. In the context of segregated facilities, Blacks emerged as leaders and managers of programs. In 1926 Maudelle Bousfield was appointed Dean of Girls at Wendell Phillips High School, the first African American to hold that position at a Chicago high school. The South Side Settlement House grew with support from Whites and Blacks. Soon it was providing social services to more than twenty-five thousand people. McKinley was an active member of the Social Workers Round Table, an organization comprised of forty-seven members that met regularly at the South Side Settlement House to plan and provide educational seminars. McKinley was an early supporter of the League of Women Voters of Chicago and one of the organizers of the Douglas branch of the league, an all-black chapter. Irene McCoy Gaines became industrial secretary to the first "Negro" branch of the Young Women's Christian Association in Chicago. Florence Chapman Williams organized a Negro health institute in 1937. Working within the constraints of Chicago's racially segregated health and school systems, Williams had to contend with the fact that since its opening in 1915, the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, the city's largest and best tuberculosis (TB) hospital, had been closed to most blacks. Provident Hospital attempted to serve the South Side of Chicago, but the TB ward at Cook County Hospital was the last stop for most black Chicagoans with advanced TB.

At the same time that they participated in the segregated, racially discriminatory institutions in Chicago, black women professionals and activists in the club movement began to challenge the prejudices and social inequalities of a society that conferred second-class citizenship on all African Americans. As early as 1931, Maudelle Bousfield's master's thesis, "A Study of the Intelligence and School Achievement of Negro Children," based on research she conducted at the Keith Elementary School in Chicago, drew conclusions about the testing of African American children that later would be acknowledged by the broader academic community. She found that tests had to be devised that were not culturally biased, that is, that did not depend on the manners, customs, or background of the child. As a member of the book selection committee of the Children's Department of the Chicago Public Library, Charlemae Rollins educated her white colleagues on the detrimental effects of ethnic and racial stereotyping. She agitated against racism in children's books. She protested the 1931 publication of Lucy Fitch Perkins's The Picaninny Twins. In 1937 Rollins succeeded in having Elvira Garner's Ezekiel pulled from the Chicago Public Library's selection list because the black child Ezekiel was portrayed offensively as a pickaninny, an unkempt and uneducable black child.


Women continued to pursue goals of social justice in the economy and the protection of women and children in the workplace. During the 1920s the WTUL sponsored four women workers a year to attend their Chicago Trade Union College. There, worker-students enrolled in classes on labor problems and trade unionism. Alice Henry directed the training program in the 1920s. She had been involved with the Bryn Mawr College summer school for women workers in 1921. One of the trainees was Fania Cohn, who later became educational director of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union.

Chicago Federation of Labor delegate Lillian Herstein taught at the famous Bryn Mawr School for Women Workers in Industry founded by M. Carey Thomas. Agnes Nestor, who served as president of the WTUL, maintained a relationship with the old Progressive Era coalition of trade union women and middle-class allies through the WTUL; it continued to exist through the 1950s. She also worked with the League of Women Voters, for which the eight-hour day law for women and the child labor amendment remained top priorities.

In 1933, when the Chicago Board of Education voted drastic cuts in curriculum and services to schools, high school teacher and union activist Mary Herrick organized a mass rally of twenty-seven thousand teachers, parents, and concerned citizens to protest the cuts. The same year, Herrick and Laura Hughes Lunde were among the organizers of the Save Our Schools committee, which soon became the Citizens Schools Committee, a progressive coalition engaged in depoliticizing and reforming the Chicago school system. Helen Maley Hefferan was a featured speaker at the 1937 rally. Her presence linked the old progressive coalition with the new labor union activists. Herrick, Tobey Silbert, and Lillian Herstein were charter members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Local #1, of the American Federation of Teachers. CTU was the product of a merger of various teacher union locals in an effort to consolidate power in the depths of the depression when Chicago teachers were being paid in tax anticipation warrants, which they could cash for only three-quarters of their value. Herrick, a high school teacher, had chaired the Joint Board of Teachers Unions, a coalition that forged the CTU in 1937. Lillian Herstein was instrumental in arguing for affiliation with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) rather than the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). She reasoned that the Chicago Federation of Labor had supported their organizing efforts, but she also challenged the AFL's discriminatory policies toward African Americans.

Catholic women on the Left increased their participation in working-class politics and supported trade unionism in the 1920s and 1930s. Many Catholic women religious and lay activists were influenced by the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, the central theme of which was the dignity of the human person and a concern for social order, including a more just distribution of wealth. Sister M. Vincent Ferrer Bradford, who taught history at Rosary College (now Dominican University), located in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, was an early participant in the Catholic Conference on Industrial Problems, organized in Chicago in 1922 to explore how American industrial problems could be solved through the application of Catholic teachings on social justice. Bradford invited Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement to the River Forest campus during the 1930s. Like Herstein, she was an early supporter of industrial unionism and the CIO. Beginning in 1937, Bradford was an annual member of the teaching staff of the summer institute for women workers sponsored by the National Council of Catholic Women and held at the National Catholic School of Social Service, Washington, D.C. Bradford worked with Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor in the Roosevelt administration, as well as with many union leaders, including Agnes Nestor and Elisabeth Christman. The summer institutes continued even during World War II. Bradford also taught at the Sheil School of Social Studies, Chicago, the center of progressive social thinking among Catholic educators, clergy, and women religious in Chicago. Bradford and others connected with Sheil School encouraged students to engage personally in social activism; to volunteer to work in youth programs in inner-city Catholic parishes; and to work at the Chicago branch of Friendship House, an experiment in interracial community building begun in Harlem, New York, in 1938.

For many Progressive Era settlement head residents, the Great Depression seemed to bolster a determination to work with working-class groups in efforts to relieve unemployment immediately and to achieve passage of labor legislation and support unionism. In 1932, after holding hearings to publicize the conditions of the unemployed, Harriet Vittum of Northwestern University Settlement and other reformers and settlement workers formed the Chicago Workers Committee on Unemployment (CWCOU), a group motivated by the extreme social dislocations. Vittum was a member of CWCOU's Advisory Committee, which included Jessie Binford and Lea Demarest Taylor. After the early relief measures and New Deal programs were put in place, CWCOU created grievance committees to investigate the complaints of the unemployed so that those who were victims of administrative errors or oversights could have their situation rectified.

The Great Depression created a climate in which federal social initiatives toward recovery and emergency relief allowed for advances in the progressive women's reform agenda. For example, Rose Alschuler was appointed staff director for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) nursery schools in Chicago; eventually the WPA supported eighteen nursery schools scattered throughout the city. The following year Edna Dean Baker was involved on the national level in establishing emergency nursery schools as a member of the National Advisory Committee for Works Progress Administration (WPA) Nursery Schools. Lea Taylor became the first woman to be appointed to the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council; when federal funds made public housing possible in the 1930s, Taylor advocated an open housing policy and resident support services.

By 1934, although women politicians had retained connections with the postsuffrage coalition represented by the League of Women Voters, women remained a tiny minority in state and national office. In Illinois that year Bernice Van der Vries was one of two women representatives in the Illinois General Assembly. She had been reelected ten times, but few other women were joining the ranks of political officeholders. In 1937 the Woman's Eight Hour Bill was passed finally by the Illinois legislature. In 1941 Van der Vries became the first woman to head a standing committee in the Illinois General Assembly when she was appointed chair of the legislative committee on municipalities. Lucy Palermo was elected to the thirteen-person Cook County Board of Commissioners; she was one of three women, all of whom were Democrats.

Women achieved leadership roles as well as funding for their work as artists in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA/FAP). Increase Robinson (after her husband's death, Josephine Dorothea Reichmann took his name) became the midwest regional director of the Public Works Art Program (1933-34), an adviser to the Treasury Relief Art Project (1935-39), and administrator of the Illinois Art Project of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) (1935-43). Artists Julia Thecla, Ethel Spears, Macena Barton, Frances Foy, and Fritzi Brod participated in the Illinois Art Project of the WPA/FAP.


Among Chicago's black workers, the Great Depression was disproportionately severe. While unemployment for Chicago's white workers doubled in 1931, it tripled for Blacks. Although Blacks made up less than 10 percent of the city's population in 1931, African Americans comprised 16 percent of the total unemployed and 25 percent of the city's relief cases. The black community's relationship with organized labor had a complicated history. In the early years of the Great Migrations to northern industrial cities, Blacks had been brought in as scabs to cross the picket lines of striking white workers. Prominent black businessmen, preachers, and civic leaders had encouraged poor and relatively unskilled migrants to place their trust in the paternalism of capitalists who owned the Pullman Company in Chicago. There was a legacy of anti-union sentiment in the black community that also came from the prejudices and racist behavior of workers and a reluctance by unions to accept Blacks into their apprenticeship systems. A. Philip Randolph, the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids, had to raise the consciousness not only of workers but of the community as a whole in his efforts to develop a strong union. Recent scholarship by Beth L. Bates indicates the central role of black clubwomen and social reformers, including Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Irene McCoy Gaines, Thyra Edwards, and Halena Wilson in supporting Randolph's efforts and in transforming the negative image of unions in the black community. By 1935, even conservative clubwoman Mary Fitzbutler Waring had come to accept the view that the central concern of the black community had to be jobs. Her address, "Women in Industry," at the 1935 biennial convention of the National Association of Colored Women, reflected her continuing concern with the impact economic depression and the high level of black unemployment had in the black community and for black women workers; she advocated hiring Blacks as salespersons and attendants in the parts of the community where Blacks predominated.

Just as white trade union organizers had advocated leadership training of working-class women in worker colleges, black and white union organizers raised money to send black factory workers from Chicago to labor school. Talented social worker Thyra Edwards received a fellowship to attend the International People's College in Elsinore, Denmark. During her six-month stay in Europe, she made independent field investigations of low-cost housing developments in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany, France, and England.

Having assisted A. Philip Randolph in organizing the Chicago Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters by speaking at mass rallies in the 1920s and 1930s, Lillian Herstein was prepared to support him at the convention in a battle to force the AFL's Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, a white-dominated union, to admit Blacks as full members, not auxiliary members with no voting rights. The discussion never came to the floor.

The disproportionate misery African Americans experienced during the Great Depression radicalized many in the black community and focused the attention of leaders on economic issues. Thyra Edwards was a leader of the National Negro Congress when in February 1936 more than five thousand men and women attended its first convention. She chaired a committee at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago called The Negro in Industry, which focused on how to open employment opportunities for more Blacks. Delegates to the first national conference of local women's economic councils officially formed the International Ladies' Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The original Colored Women's Economic Council was formed in New York in 1925, in Chicago in 1926. In Chicago, Halena Wilson was a leader, serving as president of the Chicago branch in 1931 and becoming the president of the newly formed auxiliary. A number of Pullman maids were members, as were wives, partners, and daughters of Pullman porters. The object of the auxiliary was to advance the economic, social, moral, and intellectual welfare of porters and their families through the promotion of women's involvement in brotherhood affairs and fund-raising. Women were involved in membership-building; and from the 1930s through the 1950s, they also engaged in civil rights activism. In 1939, Irene McCoy Gaines was one of the founders and president of the Chicago Council of Negro Organizations, a group formed to secure the civil rights of Chicago's black population. In 1941, Irene McCoy Gaines led a group of fifty Chicagoans to Washington, D.C., where they met with others and protested racial discrimination in federal employment. This effort was an important precursor to that of A. Philip Randolph who, four months later, threatened a massive march on Washington to protest the very same thing. That year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 forbidding employment discrimination by businesses holding government contracts.


Wartime measures at home once again made possible some progress in the implementation of the women's agenda. Securing federal money for day care or early childhood education was difficult, if not impossible, in peacetime but made easier by war. Women's employment in sectors of the economy traditionally closed to them became available in wartime. In 1941, with America's entry into World War II, Lillian Herstein was appointed the woman's consultant for the War Production Board. Her job was to advise the board on child care and problems of absenteeism among women workers in war industries. She was sent to Los Angeles, California, where the Lockheed, Vega, Douglas, and North American plants and large shipyard all had women workers. Congress passed the Lanham Act that provided grants for child care to communities with war-related plants. Rose Alschuler was hired in 1943 as a consultant to the Federal Public Housing Authority to plan activities and services for children in housing projects. She served in this capacity for the rest of World War II, using her consulting fees to support research projects of the National Association of Nursery Education. Psychologist Helen Koch supervised wartime nurseries in Chicago.

America's entry into World War II expanded career opportunities for women. Alice Bright graduated second in her University of Chicago Law School class of 1941 and was the first woman hired by Sidley & Austin, one of only three women then at major Chicago law firms. Bright was headed for a position in military intelligence in Washington, D.C., and Sidley & Austin was willing to interview her because of the shortage of male applicants.

For African American women, World War II offered opportunities for personal advancement and, with the involvement of labor unions and professional organizations, a way to demand the end of discriminatory practices in different industries. Carrie E. Bullock, who promoted the professional advancement of African American nurses, worked to equalize opportunities for white and black nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. She launched a letter-writing campaign to protest discrimination against black nurses in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps, and in 1945 the U.S. Navy dropped the color bar against black nurses. Sylvia Woods, who migrated to Chicago in the 1930s from New Orleans, Louisiana, had found it difficult to secure any better job than one in a commercial laundry; she later obtained a skilled job at a Bendix Aviation plant on the West Side of Chicago during World War II. Initially hired at the factory in one of the lower skilled jobs – those generally assigned to African Americans – Woods eventually became a drill press operator. She helped organize United Auto Workers Local 330.

For Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, World War II was a nightmare of injustice and dislocation. Wartime production requirements, however, offered some Japanese Americans in internment camps an opportunity for resettlement in the Midwest. About thirty thousand Japanese Americans who had been internment camp residents came to Chicago. In 1943, Chicago became the largest Japanese American resettlement center in the forty-eight states. Among those who came in the summer of 1944 were the Arais. Akira Arai arrived first, having accepted a job at International Harvester to recruit Japanese Americans. About a month later, Joan Arai and her son joined him, and she found employment as a clerical worker with the Chicago YWCA. Imayo Suzuki and her family resettled in Chicago after she and her husband and their three children were imprisoned in the Minidoka Camp located in Idaho. Research scientist Chiyo Murakami came to Chicago in 1943 after spending one year in a relocation camp. She became a staff member of the Mt. Sinai Hospital laboratory, where she assisted with the development of the blood bank and worked on the new method of typing blood by its Rh factor.

Women in Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods were organized to aid their homelands. Stella Petrakis was active in the Greek War Relief Association, sold Defense Bonds, and founded and headed the Greek-American Star Mothers who prepared and sent food and gift parcels to American servicemen. Czech immigrant Vlasta Vraz organized two thousand Czech American women into Czechoslovak units of the American Red Cross. She also worked with the Voice of America and with Radio Free Europe and played an active role in relief work for Czechoslovak refugees. Lidia Pucińska promoted war bond sales in Chicago's Polonia through her radio programs.


Women in Chicago who taught school, worked in YWCAs, were social workers and probation officers, lawyers and research scientists, who staffed settlement houses and community centers, were nurses and doctors in hospitals, made candy in factories, worked as clerks in offices and waitresses in restaurants lived a reality different from the suburban lifestyle portrayed in television programs, consumer advertisements, and magazine articles. Stay-at-home mothers in suburbia were a real phenomenon, but even here the image of life in the postwar bedroom communities ignored the process of community-building in which many women were engaged. Women in the suburbs organized for library and education bond issues and for expanded community services; they established League of Women Voters chapters and Parent Teacher Associations, and a minority began to question the proliferation of nuclear armaments, Strontium 90 in the milk supply, the use of DDT, and the disturbing images of Jim Crowism in the South. In postwar suburban Riverdale, Illinois, Marjorie Pebworth became active in the Department of Social Relations in her local Episcopal church and worked on open-housing issues; she also served on the board of Benton House, a neighborhood settlement house. In 1958 Pebworth was the first woman elected in suburban Cook County to the Thornton Township High School and Junior College Board, on which she was instrumental in getting the first black teacher hired in the Thornton district. In 1965 she was one of seven women elected to the Illinois legislature, where she worked on open housing initiatives. Although a state fair housing law was never achieved, in July 1966 Governor Otto Kerner did issue an open occupancy order that called for revocation or suspension of licenses of brokers who listed any property that the owners did not want sold or rented to Blacks or minority religious groups.

In Chicago, a great urban center whose metropolitan population had grown to nearly 5,600,000 in 1950, the number of city residents had begun to decline in proportion to the increase in the number of residents in the suburban metropolitan area. The city's black population doubled between 1940 and 1950 and increased another 65 percent between 1950 and 1960 (from 492,000 to 813,000). The Congress of Racial Equality was founded in Chicago in 1942. One of its major campaigns was to integrate public facilities, including lunchrooms, public accommodations, and transportation. But the fault line of racial tension in Chicago remained the area of housing.

A period of urban renewal brought high-rise housing projects to the city's segregated neighborhoods and maintained the segregated patterns. Between 1945 and 1954, nine major racial riots related to housing took place in Chicago. Lorraine Hansberry's autobiographical play Raisin in the Sun, the poignant story of the Younger family's dream of owning their own home in a quiet, uncongested, tree-lined Chicago neighborhood, is bracketed by the hopelessness of ghetto life and the potential violence that awaits them when they become the first black family to move into a white neighborhood. Public housing official Mary Bolton Wirth – who had witnessed the 1919 Chicago Race Riot while attending the University of Chicago – was appointed a supervisor in the Community and Tenant Relations Division of the Chicago Housing Authority in 1953. It was apparent at that early date that building maintenance at the CHA projects was inadequate, that tenants felt hopeless, that vandalism and crime were not being controlled, and that the demolition of slums and provision of new housing was not sufficient "to cure the ills of the relocated slum dweller without additional welfare services". Lea Taylor voiced similar concerns. She had been appointed in 1946 to the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council's Committee on Race Relations. Taylor helped to organize a conference on civil rights and social welfare in 1949; as Chicago's racial strife worsened, she served on the Citizens Committee to Fight Slums.

Public schools shared the problems associated with segregated housing patterns, overcrowding, and inadequate facilities in South Side and West Side black neighborhoods. Black educators, librarians, and civic leaders had advocated curriculum reforms and a variety of programs to combat the growing racial intolerance and polarization in the school system from the 1920s. In 1942, staff members at Hall Branch library and William Johnson, superintendent of the Chicago Board of Education, collaborated on a research project to choose materials for the preparation of black history courses to be included in the regular school curriculum. Charlamae Rollins and Vivian Harsh started a Reading Guidance Clinic for parents. Stella Counselbaum began promoting human relations extracurricular clubs devoted to creating interracial understanding and interaction in Chicago-area public and Catholic schools. The Chicago Council against Racial and Religious Discrimination, of which Counselbaum was a member, sponsored an Institute on College Quotas; the findings confirmed there was discrimination in Chicago and Illinois schools against members of racial and religious minority groups. Counselbaum established the Women's Council for Fair Education Practices of Illinois in 1948 and served as secretary of the organization. The group unsuccessfully lobbied for passage of the Illinois Fair Practices in Education bill.

In 1948 Annabel Carey Prescott was appointed assistant principal in charge of the new freshman-sophomore Cregier Branch of Crane Technical High School. It had an enrollment of African American, Italian, Mexican, and Caucasian students from the racially changing nearby neighborhoods on the West Side; in addition to poverty, the West Side was experiencing serious racial tension as the second wave of black migration from the South settled there. The other ethnic groups attending Cregier came from neighborhoods resisting integration.

Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and government commissions on human relations – including the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the Human Relations Committee of the Chicago Public Schools, and ad hoc groups such as the Citizens Committee to Fight Slums – attest to the formative development in the 1940s of the civil rights movement in the North and in Chicago. The African American community had always struggled for civil rights and economic justice, as illustrated by the biographies of Chicago women beginning with Mary Jane Richardson Jones in the antebellum period; Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Fannie Barrier Williams, and Elizabeth Lindsay Davis in the Progressive Era; and Ada S. McKinley, Irene McCoy Gaines, Maudelle Bousfield, Annabel Prescott, and Thyra Edwards in the interwar and postwar periods.

Events in Europe during World War II that led to the establishment of a war crimes tribunal for the first time in human history formed the broader context for human rights activists such as Lillian Herstein, Tobey Prinz, Stella Counselbaum, Sister Mary Ellen O'Hanlon, Annetta Dieckmann, Rose Hum Lee, Raya Dunayevskaya, Sylvia Woods, Pearl Hart, Thyra Edwards, and Edith Sampson. Anti-Semitism and racism had dominated events inside the United States and abroad. Sociologist Rose Hum Lee studied Chinese immigrant communities, and her interest in issues of race and human rights led to her appointment to Chicago's Commission on Human Relations. Edith Sampson, the first African American woman to serve as judge in Cook County, toured Europe after World War II, lecturing on human rights; she was made an alternate delegate from the United States to the United Nations. Herstein, Prinz, and Edwards had been radicalized in the 1930s when they took the side of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War (1936-38). Sylvia Woods had been influenced by the Pan-Africanism of the 1920s and 1930s. For Edwards, Woods, and Prinz, the Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s expressed their commitment to socialism, internationalism, interracialism, and antifascism.

For Catholic educator and scientist Sister O'Hanlon, the shock of recognition of racism in American institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, occurred during a period of postgraduate study in Europe prior to the outbreak of World War II. In her work as a college biology teacher in the 1940s and 1950s, she wrote textbooks that countered racial stereotyping with sound biological information. Dieckmann and Hart drew on their experience in the field of civil liberties in advocating human rights. The former directed the South Parkway YWCA's industrial programs for black women workers, and took a progressive stand on social and economic issues; the latter was, in 1937, a founding member and the first national secretary of the National Lawyer's Guild. Counselbaum had forged interfaith and interracial relationships through her work with the Anti-Defamation League in the Midwest. On the national level she worked with Mary McLeod Bethune in shaping an interracial dialogue between black and white women.

Russian immigrant and founder of the Marxist-Humanist News and Letters Committees Raya Dunayevskaya had written for the Negro Champion, the newspaper of the American Negro Labor Congress. News & Letters was edited by African American revolutionary Charles Denby, and the black liberation movement was at the core of interest for Dunayevskaya and the News and Letters Committees. Of the women active here, Dunayevskaya was the most self-consciously engaged in theorizing about the liberation of women. She had rejected the Soviet-system by the 1930s, had even broken with Leon Trotsky in 1939 when he insisted that Russia was still a workers' state; and she began to argue that the transformation of the relationship between women and men was fundamental to a Marxist concept of a new society. Only Stella Counselbaum had deep roots in the network of women's organizations that had been so important for the activism of the Progressive Era and the period between the two wars. Most of the networking took place in radical circles; in the organizations established to defend civil liberties; in the coalitions to promote understanding among different racial, ethnic, and religious groups; with organizations dedicated to civil rights; and in labor unions.

The experience of Annabel Prescott illustrates how modest programs for interracial understanding and integrated schools could be attacked as subversive and anti-American. At Cregier High School, Prescott's father, African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Archibald J. Carey, member of a prominent and prestigious old-settler black family of Chicago's Black Metropolis, found that white flight turned integrating schools all black and made black children feel a sense of rejection; their resentment ultimately turned into hostility toward learning. Prescott identified the same pattern among Mexican students who experienced prejudice and rejection. Prescott condemned the practice of passively permitting this ghettoization of schools. In the 1950s, under the superintendency of Herold Hunt, a reform-minded school leader, Prescott's programs were initiated; she was able to stabilize Cregier, at least temporarily. Prescott received awards for her work, but the Chicago school superintendent responsible for attacking segregation throughout the system came under an intense red-baiting attack. Hunt was labeled a communist by the Chicago Tribune because he had attended Columbia University in New York City, identified as communist-led. His tenure with the Chicago school system was over by 1953.

Much of the energy of activists in the 1940s and 1950s was turned toward defending themselves and others accused of being communists or of participating in communist-front organizations. In 1947 the Taft Hartley Act precipitated organized labor's purge of radical trade union leaders. Taft Hartley's non-communist affidavit requirement stipulated that unions whose local or national officials were communists or affiliated with communists could not enter into collective bargaining agreements. Unions purged their ranks of accused and suspected communists to comply with the act. Taft-Hartley provisions also established a sixty-day cooling off period in which strikes could not be declared, outlawed mass picketing, and provided for the suing of labor unions for unfair labor practices. Between November 1949 and August.1950, the CIO kicked out ten unions, including the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), one of its original affiliates, in a defensive response to the Taft-Hartley Act and the anticommunist red-baiting. Florence Criley was an organizer for UE in the Chicago area and, with her husband Richard Criley, became an ardent champion of the civil liberties of radicals and a foe of the McCarthy-type red-baiting tactics of the cold war era.

The passage of the McCarran Act in 1950 began a period of deportations and raids to sweep up immigrants accused of being communists. In 1952 Title I of the Walter-McCarran Act identified the U.S. Communist Party (CP) as a clear and present danger to national security; CP members were required to register, and the law barred members from holding federal jobs and from receiving passports; it tightened existing espionage laws and denied entrance to aliens who were CP members or associated with the CP. Title II mandated detention of likely spies, though they could appeal to a review board. In 1952 aliens suspected of CP affiliation were to be deported or, in the case of naturalized citizens, their citizenship was to be revoked. Pearl Hart, who had responded to the growth of racism in the United States and the repression or restriction of the activities of trade unions, civil rights advocates, and immigrants by insisting that the Constitution of the United States protected all of these activities, advocated a strong civil liberties approach. She entered a period of legal work defending immigrants and radicals. By the 1960s, the McCarthy-like tactics and proceedings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had extended to the pursuit of activists in the civil rights movement and in the anti-war movement. Hart was the legal counsel for the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, which was part of a national movement, the American Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights. These groups publicized HUAC's abuses and other oppressive government actions.

Radicals like Tobey Prinz learned to function in the context of red-baiting and conservative unionism. Prinz pragmatically signed a teachers' loyalty oath so that she could continue as a public school teacher but retained her membership in the CP. Prinz established the ad hoc Committee on Community Relations within the Chicago Teachers Union as well as the Concerned Rank & File Teachers. These groups kept alive integrationist goals. Prinz also worked for international acceptance of the Stockholm Peace Appeal aimed at stopping nuclear war; she worked with other activists in her local Parent Teacher Association to reject the national organization's proposed endorsement of a universal military draft in peacetime. Her involvement in grassroots organization never faltered. She worked for tenants' rights, local progressive politicians, and to save the beaches along Lake Michigan in the Rogers Park neighborhood in which she lived. In all these efforts she worked in coalitions with neighbors, social justice Catholics and Jews, antimachine political organizations, the homeless, and the unemployed.

Protestant theologians began to call for desegregation of the all-white Protestant churches in America. Theologian Georgia Harkness opposed the merger of the Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, arguing that no union should take place until the all-black Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church was integrated into the new United Methodist Church. The segregated jurisdiction would not be eliminated until 1972, four years after the merger.


From the earliest days of Chicago's corporate history, women engaged in economic and social activities that were integral to the growth of the city. Immigrant, African American, and white American-born women were innovative educators, municipal reformers, social scientists, physicians and lawyers, artists and writers, broadcasters and journalists. In their struggles to enter the mainstream of the American economy in Chicago – one of the fastest growing business and industrial centers in the country – they emerged as shapers of modern culture. As modernizers, most women reformers prior to World War II shared an uncritical belief in the potential efficacy for society of technology, science, and knowledge of human nature – a faith in progress shared by men.

By the 1950s, such women as Irene Kawin, Charlotte Towle, Mary Bolton Wirth, Lea Demarest Taylor, and Jessie Binford realized that the problems of inadequate housing, segregation, poverty, and juvenile delinquency were more intractable than they had initially thought. As social workers whose careers spanned the Progressive Era and the New Deal, they came to understand that the professionalization of the field of social work had produced its own problems. Struggles with the political system prevailed, and interest groups emerged that confounded efforts to implement programs offering hope for rehabilitation or prevention of society's ills. In Chicago, the persistence of racism stymied many efforts to improve housing, education, and the standard of living for African Americans.

One of the strengths of Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary is its recovery of biographies of women whose major activities and careers are situated in the period from 1945 to 1960. These biographies provide evidence for the continuation of women's efforts in politics and the professions at the same time that they provide the political and social context for understanding the attacks on women's advancement in these decades. Postwar women in suburbia in the 1940s and 1950s were told that women's role as homemaker was the appropriate one. Individual women like lawyer Soia Mentschikoff, who successfully pursued careers, denied the need for a women's movement to fight for equal rights and argued that their achievements were based on merit. The disengagement from women's organizations by career women who attempted to define themselves according to the masculine image of lawyer, doctor, or scientist made it difficult for the majority of college-educated women to understand what opportunities and constraints actually existed for them in the economy. Women's alienation from one another's plight in this period is evident from a reading of the biographies of such scientists as Mary Alice McWhinnie, Chiyo Murakami, Maud Slye, Margery Claire Carlson, Margaret Morse Nice, Dorothy Price, Libbie Hyman, and Maria Goeppert Mayer, and of mathematician Mary Catherine Bishop Weiss. It was difficult for women to advance in careers in science and mathematics, regardless of the significance of their work. The biographies of psychiatrist Therese Benedek, lawyers Dorothea Blender and Alice M. Bright, opera company director Carol Fox, merchandising executive Edith Grimm, anthropologist Frances Shapiro Herskovits, psychologist Helen Lois Koch, and sociologist Rose Hum Lee begin to fill in the details of women in the period between the two waves of feminism – the first women's movement that emerged after the Civil War and ended at about the time the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, and the second wave that began around 1963 and continued through the late 1970s. Our understanding of both women's movements will be enriched, and even transformed, by this new knowledge.


The majority of women activists in second wave feminism in Chicago are still alive and therefore are not included in this collection of historical biographies. Those women who died young, by December 31, 1990, and are included here begin to tell the story of this period. As recent books indicate, the leaders of the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s were a mixture of college-age women whose involvement in civil rights and antiwar movement politics placed them in the center of great political, social, and cultural upheavals and older women activists, whose longstanding commitments to social change also located them in the movements for social justice, civil rights, and peace.

An indication of the onset of the second wave was the 180-degree change in attitude toward the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The old progressive coalition had opposed the ERA because they feared that the hard-won protections of women and children would evaporate in challenges by conservative forces if the ERA was approved. By the time Esther Saperstein first introduced bills in the Illinois General Assembly requiring equal pay for men and women and the repeal of the Eight Hour Day Law (which effectively prevented female workers from working more than eight hours a day), the second wave of feminism had reconfigured the debate. In 1961 Illinois Republican Congresswoman Marguerite Stitt Church, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a resolution proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution providing equal rights for men and women. In 1963, State Representative Esther Saperstein established a Commission on the Status of Women and used it to launch legislation to achieve women's equality. The U.S. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the latter containing a prohibition against sex discrimination in employment. In 1963 Saperstein introduced her bills requiring pay equality and the repeal of the Eight Hour Day Law; though the bills failed to pass, she reintroduced them in each new session. In 1969 Saperstein secured passage of the first grant-in-aid bill to provide for day-care centers in Illinois.

After the U.S. Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, identical ERA ratification bills were introduced in both houses of the Illinois legislature; Esther Saperstein was sponsor in the State Senate. Saperstein cosponsored ERA bills through 1974, but none passed; Illinois remained the only northern state to fail to pass ERA. Ironically, after the progressive social reform coalition succeeded in obtaining passage of the federal Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act in 1921, Illinois was one of the handful of states that did not create the matching legislation and funding to participate in the program. Illinois also retained anti-abortion laws after many northern states had made provisions for legal abortion. In a radical departure, women activists in the Chicago Women's Liberation Union began an underground abortion service called "Jane." Only with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 did Illinois women gain the right to choice. Congressman Henry Hyde, the author of the Hyde amendment, is from suburban Illinois and continues to use the power of appropriations in the House of Representatives to prevent the use of public funds for abortions for women with low incomes.

Outside the Illinois legislature, women activists had mounted a substantial movement for ERA. The coalition that supported ERA reflected deeper changes in the construction of womanhood that had occurred in the postwar period. For example, an entire segment of Catholic women religious and lay Catholic women emerged as militant feminists in the 1960s. Their involvement with women's liberation politics was one aspect of a revolutionary change occurring in the American Catholic Church, the repercussions of which are still not fully clear. In 1968 Sister Marjorie Tuite and others founded the National Assembly of Religious Women, a Catholic feminist social justice ministry based in Chicago; it was the first of many Catholic feminist groups that emerged after Vatican II. Founded originally to provide a national and public voice for women in religious congregations, it opened its membership in 1983 to all Catholic women. When Sister Albertus Magnus McGrath was asked in 1974, "Are women oppressed in the Church?" she answered with a resounding yes. She turned a critical eye on the institutional structures of the church as they affected women's struggle for self-determination. In her book What a Modern Catholic Believes about Women, published in 1972 (reprinted as Women and the Church [1976]), McGrath reveals the contempt with which women have often been treated in clerical circles, despite declarations by the church hierarchy of the equality of women and men as children of God. In the book's final chapter, "Women as 'Niggers' of the Church," McGrath characterizes the Catholic Church as "overprotective of women on the one hand, and, on the other, as the land of the perpetual putdown of the feminine".

McGrath was a member of the National Organization of Women and an ardent proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment; she went public with her endorsement of ERA in an advertisement in the Chicago Sun-Times that featured her photograph and quoted her as saying, "Sometimes I think Illinois seems almost past praying for when it comes to equality for women."

When U.S. Steel denied Alice Melickian Peurala a promotion because of her sex, she made a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), invoking the 1964 Civil Rights Act. EEOC investigated Peurala's complaint and, two years later, in 1969, found probable cause. Since U.S. Steel refused to reverse itself, Peurala sued the company for sex discrimination. In 1974, U.S. Steel settled with Alice Peurala and she was given the job previously denied her.

Undeterred in her efforts to democratize the steel union and press for equal treatment for women, Peurala won a seat on the grievance committee of Steelworkers Local 65 in 1976; she developed a reputation as a fighter for the rights of all workers. She began meeting with other women in Local 65 and they pressured the executive board and union president to appoint a women's committee. Alice Peurala ran successfully for president of Steelworkers Local 65; in 1979 she became the only woman in the nation to head a basic steel unit. Defeated for reelection in 1982, Alice Peurala regained the presidency of Local 65 in 1985. Peurala had initially opposed the ERA but realized, through her own experience, that the provisions of the so-called protective laws were used against her. She came to support the ERA and believed that equality of opportunity on the job was crucial, as was having an effective union willing to stop the continuing harassment of women by male bosses.

In the late 1960s Iris Barbara Merrill helped found the Black Labor Leaders of Chicago, a precursor to both the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. The founding members were African American officers in a number of Chicago unions who wanted to advocate for more black leadership in the local unions. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing riots in 1968, black leaders organized union contributions toward the rebuilding of Chicago's West Side. They also worked with the local office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The CLUW emerged after a meeting of eight female union leaders who convened in Chicago in 1973. Cofounders Addie Wyatt of the Amalgamated Meatcutters Union and Clara Day of the Teamsters immediately invited Iris Barbara Merrill to join the organizing activities; Merrill became one of the coordinators of the Midwest Conference of Union Women, a prototype of the national organization. Two hundred women from eighteen states representing twenty national unions participated in the regional conference held in 1973. A year later, Merrill helped coordinate the founding national conference, at which Florence Criley and other trade union women created the CLUW. Some three thousand women delegates came to the founding meeting; soon afterward its Chicago chapter was created. The Chicago chapter of CLUW ran a speakers bureau, conducted educational classes, organized nonunion women, supported striking workers, lobbied for passage of the ERA in Illinois, and held demonstrations in support of a full employment bill.

In the 1900s the WTUL had played a significant role in developing the women's movement of the Progressive Era, the first wave of feminism. A comparison of the WTUL with the CLUW of the second wave of feminism illustrates some of the continuities and differences in the two women's movements. It also offers some final insights into Chicago history. The WTUL emerged from a cross-class alliance; its early leadership was in the hands of prominent women social reformers that included Margaret Dreier Robins, Ellen Gates Starr, Jane Addams, and Mary E. McDowell. Trade unionists, including Agnes Nestor and Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, achieved significant leadership roles as well. CLUW included women who were experienced union activists; their efforts were directed toward democratizing and integrating the male-dominated, gradualist unionism that prevailed in American labor after 1945 and after the purges of Left-oriented leadership. Iris Barbara Merrill, by creating a coalition of workers and community organizations, helped found a union for public employees in Chicago at a time when Cook County party politics controlled labor contracts. CLUW came together without the assistance of middle-class activists; rather, as Merrill and others liked to point out, union women, influenced by the women's movement, wanted to join the fight for the ERA as trade unionists; at the same time, they sought more power and recognition within their unions as women. Socialist and trade union women in the first wave of the women's movement voiced their concerns as they attempted to define their role and identity in relationship to the suffrage campaign. In this sense, issues of class and race always differentiated women from each other and created the internal politics of women's movements.


Chicago continued to receive new immigrants in the post-war period. Displaced persons from Europe came in the 1950s, Hungarians and Cubans in the 1960s, Indo-Asians and Middle Easterners in the 1970s. Native Americans from more than forty tribes lived in Chicago, making up a population of ten thousand. The biographies of Amy Leicher Skenandore and Chauncina Yellow Robe White Horse are accounts of the experiences of Chicago's modern Native American population.

One of the largest groups of immigrants in the post-1945 period were the Mexicans. Nearly 275,000 Mexican immigrants arrived legally in the United States in the 1950s. By the 1960s and 1970s, there was a vital Chicano (Mexican American) movement in the United States. Maria del Jesus Saucedo, community activist in Chicago, came to the United States during this period and with her family settled in Pilsen, a growing Mexican American neighborhood. Saucedo graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, where with fellow students she founded the Chicago Student Union in 1974. Saucedo also founded and edited Contra la Pared (Against the Wall), a newsletter that addressed Chicano issues. She was part of the Compania Trucha, a street theater in Pilsen that was an out-growth of the community's political activism. In the context of the larger women's liberation movement, Saucedo used the Compania Trucha to address women's issues. She did not call herself a feminist and she did not see the Latino male as the primary problem for Latinas; she believed in a unified struggle involving both men and women. She taught school after graduating from college and cofounded the Mexican Teacher's Organization.

Social worker Maria Diaz Martinez was one of the founders of Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Latin Women in Action), the first Latina women's agency in Chicago. A rebellious adolescent who was pregnant at age fifteen and forced to marry her child's father, Martinez had a second chance when she enrolled in the University without Walls, an outpost of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago that enabled Chicanos who had not completed their education to continue their studies. Martinez received a bachelor's degree in social work and served as a crisis intervener and counselor with Mujeres Latinas en Accion. Returning to school, Martinez enrolled at Roosevelt University, Chicago, where she received a master's degree in social work.

Chicago's history is intimately tied to the transformation of the nation from a largely agricultural society to one dominated by industrial cities. It is also closely bound up with the peopling of these cities by migrants from the American countryside and small towns and by immigrants from foreign countries. Here new American forms emerged even as neighborhoods retained cultural institutions adapted from those of the Old World. When the latest immigrants to occupy Pilsen developed Compania Trucha, they dipped into their Mexican heritage and styled their contemporary street theater after Teatro Campesino, which had been used by Cesar Chavez and Luis Valdes. Now secular and focused on current events, these street and political theaters drew upon a long tradition of religious theater in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Earlier in the 1940s, Mexican immigrant Angelina Moreno Rico had brought a traditional dance to the West Side of Chicago to encourage young, Mexican American children to look with pride on their traditions. In the 1970s, Martinez and Saucedo explored their identities as women, as Latinas, and as Americans. As in earlier periods of immigration, they coalesced with other women of their ethnic background and developed organizations of self-help and social outreach.

Following the pattern of women in nineteenth-century Chicago, immigrants to the city in the last part of the twentieth century continued to create opportunity for themselves by using education as the major source of social mobility. Through the process of education, women trained themselves and returned to their own communities to develop ways to live in urban settings that promoted the well-being of the next generation. Just as Catholic women religious had forged structures of education designed to foster balance between assimilative and autonomous goals for immigrants and their children, immigrant Mexican women found ways within their own traditions to accomplish similar agendas. In the process, women achieved economic autonomy for themselves and established new pathways for female social mobility.

These biographies provide a new context for understanding contemporary culture and society. The diversity of the women's lives presented in the following biographies illustrates the ways in which women are differentiated by class, race, and culture distinctions and suggests that much research in the field of the history of women remains to be undertaken. There are many ways to read these biographies, and new patterns and interpretations are bound to emerge to further expand our understanding of the role of gender relationships in urban society.


Our thanks to the CAWHC for giving History Fair the permission to reprint Dr. Schultz's Introduction. For more information about the organization, visit http://www.cawhc.org.

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