Ninety years ago this week, bells rang out in Washington, D.C. After a difficult 72-year battle, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued a proclamation declaring that the 19th Amendment had been ratified and was now part of the U.S. Constitution. American women finally had the right to vote in 1920.

The suffrage movement had been born in 1848, with the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. But it took 30 years before the amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878, and then it was reintroduced in every session of Congress for 40 years.

The Illinois Constitution, adopted in 1870, did not include universal suffrage. However, many individual laws were changed to recognize women’s rights, and Illinois women started breaking into various professions, including law and medicine. The pastor of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Oak Park was Augusta Chapin, the first woman in America to receive a Doctor of Divinity degree. By 1879, more than 180,000 signatures favoring woman suffrage had been gathered in our state.

Oak Park women were in the forefront of this struggle, according to the book, “The Woman Who Never Fails: Grace Wilbur Trout and Illinois Suffrage” written by Carolyn Poplett with Mary Ann Porucznik. The book was published by the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest just in time for the 80th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2000.

In 1903, Grace Wilbur Trout moved with her husband and sons from Chicago to a 10-room house on Forest Avenue in Oak Park. Grace became involved in the suffrage movement through her membership in the Chicago Political Equality League and soon enrolled her friends from Oak Park, especially other women from the Nineteenth Century Club in the league. Anna Lloyd Wright, mother of Frank Lloyd Wright, was among Oak Park’s early league members.

In 1910, after her election as president of organization, Mrs. Trout began enlisting men in the suffrage movement, including Fred Busse, the mayor of Chicago. One of her first acts was to arrange for a Suffrage Float in the Sane Fourth Parade, an event that celebrated the 4th of July and promoted temperance.

Next, she turned to one of her friends, millionaire John Farson (original owner of Pleasant Home which currently houses the Historical Society). Farson was one of the first Oak Park citizens to own an automobile. As president of the Chicago Automobile Club and the American Automobile Association, Farson often used automobile tours to promote this new mode of transportation. Mrs. Trout organized a statewide suffrage automobile tour, reasoning that men would come to see the automobiles, and stay for the women’s speeches.

On July 11, 1910, the tour set off from the CPEL headquarters at the Chicago Woman’s Club in downtown Chicago and visited many towns in north central Illinois including Lake Forest, McHenry, Woodstock, DeKalb and Naperville. In every town, local newspapers provided front page coverage. The Chicago Tribune hailed the women’s return, “Suffrage Tour Ends in Triumph.”

As a member of the board of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, Mrs. Trout surveyed 64 mayors in Illinois in 1911 and found them all to be in favor of woman suffrage. She printed their comments in a pamphlet which was then widely distributed throughout the state.

When suffrage leaders Lucy Burns and Alice Paul organized a parade in Washington, D. C. for the day before the inauguration of President Wilson in 1913, Grace Wilbur Trout and 83 Illinois women went by train to the nation’s capitol to participate. Among the contingent was African-American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, founder of the Alpha Suffrage Club for African-American women.

When Southern women discovered that Wells-Barnett was planning to march with the Illinois delegation, they threatened to withdraw completely from the parade. An angry Wells-Barnett stepped out of the parade and stood along the route. But not for long. When the Illinois delegation passed by her, she stepped forward to join the parade.

The parade began peacefully enough, but jeers and disruptions from spectators quickly turned it into a riot. According to the Oak Park authors, “The women were attacked, spat upon, pushed and beaten by enraged and drunken men. Many were hospitalized.”

When many of the 5,000 marchers returned home bruised and battered, many men converted to the suffrage cause. By June that same year, Illinois Gov. Edward Dunne, who had previously lived in River Forest, signed the state suffrage bill. This Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Bill, or the Illinois bill as it became known, was landmark legislation. Carrie Chapman Catt, then president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, later said that “The work in Illinois was fundamental and as vitally important to the women of the nation as it was to the women of Illinois.” Seven years later, in August 1920, all American women gained the right to vote.

Come celebrate the 90th anniversary of this historic occasion with the League of Women Voters of Oak Park and River Forest when actress Annette Baldwin presents “The Long Road to Victory” on Wednesday, Aug. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake. Baldwin portrays five leaders of the suffrage movement including Carrie Chapman Catt and Susan B. Anthony. The program is free.

• Deborah Preiser is the community relations coordinator for the Oak Park Public Library.

Join the discussion on social media!