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Evanston and the Fight for the Vote

1913 Illinois Suffrage

The campaign for suffrage in Illinois reached its peak in the early 1910s. Catharine McCulloch’s legislation for the partial ballot for women was introduced once again in 1913, but this time new tactics were employed that expanded into what we now think of as lobbying. Local suffrage organizations were started in every legislative district and local supporters personally contacted every legislator. 

Suffrage supporters used parliamentary procedures to move the vote along and sent telegrams to all legislators, making sure they would be present for the vote. In 1913, Illinois granted women the right to vote in all elections where their voting was not specifically prohibited by state law, becoming the first state east of the Mississippi to do so. While this victory was limited, the hard work of Illinois women had paid off, and they were able to choose Presidential Electors, as well as various Municipal and Township offices.

This suffrage victory in Illinois was significant because most of the states that allowed women voting rights had very small populations. Women in these western states were not likely to influence national elections, though their votes, of course, played a role in local ones. Illinois was different--the state was populous enough that women’s votes could have a national impact.

Illinois women such as Frances E. Willard, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, Catharine McCulloch, and Grace Wilbur Trout had been working for years to gain this victory. The passage of the Women’s Suffrage Bill in 1913 involved not only the work of previous years but an impressive final campaign that involved a statewide network of women working to advance the cause.

Due to jargon in the state constitution, Illinois women could not vote for members of Congress, Governor, or State Representatives. 

After the Illinois law passed, Evanston women continued to work on the state and national level to achieve full suffrage rights throughout the U.S. Though their focus had long been on attaining state suffrage, once this was achieved they shifted to support the federal amendment. Evanston women celebrated when the 19th amendment was ratified by Illinois in June 1919. And again, when it was made law in August of 1920.

Grace Wilbur Trout

Grace Wilbur Trout was active in the suffrage movement between 1910 and 1920. She was elected President of the Chicago Political Equity League (CPEL) in May 2010. CPEL entered its first suffrage float in Chicago’s annual parade on July 4, 1910. A week later on July 11, 1910, the first suffrage automobile tour in Illinois began and it lasted five days. The group included Trout, Evanstonian Catharine Waugh McCulloch, Ella Sears Stewart (President of Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA)) and S. Grace Nicholes (Corresponding Secretary for the IESA). They visited 16 towns in five days, giving speeches urging support for women’s suffrage and explaining why women needed the right to vote.

This automobile campaign was part of her nonpartisan approach to gain support for a bill to pass the Illinois state legislature granting women the right to vote in presidential and municipal elections. She lobbied individual legislators as well as Governor Dunne, and the bill was finally passed on June 11, 1913.

Illinois Suffrage