Browse Exhibits (6 total)

African-American Women and Suffrage

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Many Black American women struggled to make it to the forefront of politics. Women's clubs were made to form communities in Evanston to support and uplift.

Women's clubs were formed in reaction to the radical injustices Black Americans still faced after the Civil War. They were crucial to the suffrage movement because they allowed women to form communities and collaborate with like-minded groups in Chicago.

As Evanston's Black population grew, Black women formed clubs and organizations to work on various causes together. The Black auxiliary of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Julia Gaston Club (members are shown below), and the Iroquois League, among many others, were organizations engaged in philanthropic and political activities.

Although work for suffrage was not often mentioned by any of these women's organizations - the Ladies Colored Republican Club of Evanston was actively working in this time period. Black women’s Republican clubs were one of the primary venues for activism on voting rights issues in Illinois and it is likely that the Evanston group was very much engaged on this issue as well.

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Suffrage Organizations


Individual Evanston women made significant contributions in bringing about women's political equality across Illinois and the United States. However, they also knew that organizing themselves to work collectively would make the movement even more successful.

Women's suffrage organizations existed long before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. The organizations featured in this exhibit formed during the 19th century, building support for the movement throughout the rest of the century.

Some of the organizations featured here remained local to Evanston, but some gained a national following in the years leading up to the passage of women's suffrage. Additionally, some of these groups dissolved after 1920, but many continued to work toward other goals. Click on the name of an organization to the right to find out more!

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The Fight for Suffrage

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While the 19th Amendment was a major victory and cause for celebration, it did not mean an end to the suffrage story. Many women still had to struggle to exercise their right to vote, especially women of color. Access to polling places, lack of information, and other barriers restricted the actual practice of voting for many women. The founding of the Evanston League of Women Voters in 1921 was meant to address ongoing issues of access and information.

Voting rights remains an important issue and is the focus of concern for many Evanston citizens today. Issues such as requirements for voter identification, universal voter registration, non-citizen legal residents voting in local elections, and the reinstatement of voting rights for those released from incarceration, are much-debated and unresolved. The battle over who is a citizen and what that citizenship entails goes on to this day.

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The Suffragists

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Evanston women played a significant role in achieving nation-wide women's suffrage. One of the ways they did this was through their involvement in the Illinois suffrage movement.

Along with other women across the state, Evanston women long advocated for the right to vote for the women of Illinois. They finally succeeded in 1913. The state legislature approved a limited ballot for women that included voting for electors in presidential elections. This expansion of the rights of Illinios women made a significant impact on the national movement. Soon after, in 1920, full women's suffrage became a reality across the nation.

Click on the Evanstonian's names to the right to learn more about the role they played in the fight for women's suffrage at the state and national level.

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An interactive timeline of Evanston women and the 19th Amendment. 

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Voting Before the 19th

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Before the 19th amendment, many American women had opportunities to vote in a handful of western states. In Illinois, an important early expansion of women’s voting rights occurred in 1891 when the state legislature passed a school suffrage bill, allowing women to vote in school board elections. Both the “home protection” argument and partial ballot strategies worked to persuade legislators that since women were already involved in schools as both teachers and administrators, and overseeing their children's education as mothers, school suffrage made sense for women. 

Many American women already had some opportunities to vote in certain elections, thanks to the efforts of early suffragists. In some cases, these voting victories were more symbolic than actually practical. Opinions were divided--some people thought that accepting partial voting rights was settling, and would slow down progress towards full suffrage. However, others saw partial voting rights as steps in the direction of full suffrage and hoped that opportunities to vote would encourage women to become more involved in the election process, as well as prove that women could be responsible voters.

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