To honor the centennial of women’s right to vote, we thought it would be a good time to recall the efforts of one of the suffrage movement’s prominent advocates:
Grace Wilbur Trout (1864-1955) was an Oak Park heroine and suffrage leader. Elected president of the Chicago Political Equality League in May 1910, she became a state board member of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) and was elected its president two years later, with Jane Addams as her vice president.
Trout excelled at the use of persuasion and diplomacy in presenting the suffrage agenda. She organized the first suffrage automobile tour in Illinois, using a car borrowed from her neighbor, Charles Stiger, of the Winton Motor Company. Along with other suffrage leaders, Trout visited 16 towns in five days, giving speeches urging support for women’s suffrage and explaining why women needed the right to vote.
As IESA president, Trout launched a statewide campaign to pass a bill in the Illinois State Legislature granting women the right to vote in presidential and municipal elections. She took a nonpartisan approach to gain support for the suffrage bill. She studied the interests and needs of each legislator and figured out ways to avoid having the bill killed in committee. She also lobbied Gov. Edward Dunne. According to one account, “For 14 weeks, Mrs. Trout gave of her time and energy unstintingly, working practically day and night.” The bill was finally passed on June 11, 1913, making Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi River in which women could vote for the U.S. President.
Trout spent the next two years successfully defending the new voting rights law from attempts by opponents to repeal it or have it declared unconstitutional. She published a suffrage edition of the Chicago Examiner in August 1913 and helped register more than 200,000 women to vote. She also pushed for suffrage at the national level, raising $40,000 to support the cause in Illinois. She was reelected president of the IESA in 1916 and successfully fought for a constitutional convention resolution providing for full suffrage for Illinois women.
In 1916, she organized a suffrage parade in Chicago for the National American Woman Suffrage Association. More than 5,000 women marched down Michigan Avenue to the Republican National Convention to press for a woman suffrage plank in the party platform, a measure that was adopted. She later met with President Wilson seeking his support for a constitutional amendment. When Congress finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment, she ensured that Illinois was the first state to ratify it, on June 10, 1919. When the amendment was fully ratified, the IESA decided that its work was finished; it was succeeded by the Illinois League of Women Voters. Trout retired to Florida, where she continued her activism.
For all of these reasons, the League of Women Voters of Oak Park-River Forest, the Oak Park River Forest Museum and the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association have lobbied to have her recognized on the National Votes for Women Trail. A marker will be dedicated to her on the site of her Oak Park home next spring.
Mary Ann Porucznik is a member of the League of Women Voters Oak Park-River Forest and the Collections Committee chair for the Oak Park River Forest Museum/Historical Society.