One hundred years ago on June 11, 1913, Oak Parker Grace Wilbur Trout was stationed outside the Illinois House chambers in Springfield, waiting to see if the male legislators would pass the Illinois Suffrage Bill, giving women in Illinois the right to vote for president and for municipal offices.
Mrs. Trout, president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, was also present when Governor Edward Dunne (former River Forest resident) signed the suffrage bill into law on June 26, 1913, making Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi River to grant women the right to vote.
On the 100th anniversary of this important milestone, some may dismiss any celebration as unnecessary, antiquarian, or irrelevant. After all, we now see women serving as elected and government officials at all levels. A woman is seriously viewed as a possible presidential candidate in 2016; there are women governors, U.S. congregational representatives and senators. In our own sister villages, women serve as village president in River Forest, as village manager in Oak Park, and on most village boards and commissions.
The Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest, along with the League of Women Voters and the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, believe that such an important anniversary deserves a moment to reflect, appreciate, and learn about the efforts of those trailblazers.
It is hard sometimes today to imagine an Illinois where women could not vote or serve on juries. Grace Wilbur Trout and her sister suffragists knew that passage of the Illinois Suffrage Bill was not the end, but only a step along the road to equality for all people. Citizens today can be inspired by the work of those who came before us.
On Sept. 3, the Oak Park Village Board of Trustees issued a proclamation commemorating the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in Illinois. The proclamation praised Grace Wilbur Trout and members of the Nineteenth Century Club for their role in gaining passage of this bill: "Members of this body are proud of Oak Park's and Illinois' pioneering role in granting the women of the nation their hard-won rights." They urged citizens to join in celebrating "this great milestone."
The Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest is offering a unique way to celebrate with a "Victory March" along Lake Street on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 1 p.m., departing from the Nineteenth Century building, 178 Forest Ave., across from Austin Gardens. Guides dressed in their best 1913 suffragist attire will lead participants as they walk literally in the footsteps on Oak Park women who broke down barriers in the fields of government and civic life, cultural affairs, and social services.
At various stops along the way, guides will tell stories and share photos of women, including Grace Wilbur Trout, whose powers of persuasion were such that she talked her neighbor into loaning her his large touring car and chauffeur for a 5-day "Suffrage Auto Tour" of northeastern Illinois in 1910.
Tickets for the walk are $10/$8 for Historical Society members. Visit www.oprfhistory.org or call 708-848-3515 for more information.
Peggy Tuck Sinko is vice president for programs with the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest.