Fourth in a series of profiles of local suffragists, celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage in the U.S.
When it came to make the argument for woman suffrage, few were more eloquent than Dr. Anna Ellsworth Blount. A close associate and ally of Grace Wilbur Trout, Dr. Blount was devoted to the suffrage cause. Originally from Wisconsin, she received her medical degree from Northwestern University Women’s Medical School in 1897, volunteered at Hull House, and soon settled in Oak Park.
Like several other Oak Park women, Anna Blount was a member of Chicago Women’s Club and the Chicago Political Equity League. She was also one of the founders of the Suburban Civics and Equal Suffrage Club. When the Illinois Equal Suffrage Convention was held at the Scoville Institute in 1907, Blount was described as “the wittiest and most persuasive voice.” She often attended conferences and meetings around the country and she addressed both the Illinois State Legislature and the U.S. Senate, as well as many national suffrage meetings.
In 1910, speaking before the Illinois Legislative Committee in Springfield, she argued, “We need equal suffrage, first and foremost for the sake of the men. … The men of a nation may be judged by the status of the women; there was seldom ever a great man who had not a great mother.” She also refuted several arguments against woman suffrage, pointing out that many of the same arguments had been made a generation earlier against the value of educating women.
Nearly a month before Grace Wilbur Trout set off in a borrowed automobile to tour Chicago suburbs and campaign for suffrage, Blount organized a similar tour in northwest Illinois. She started in Rockford and made nearly 20 stops in one week, including Freeport, Galena, Dixon, and Oregon. In Ottawa, the local press described her as a “prominent Chicago physician and a brilliant woman.” Her speeches focused on “taxation without representation.”
In addition to woman suffrage, Blount supported divorce reform and was a driving force in the emerging birth control movement and a proponent of sex education. To test the laws that prohibited physicians from discussing birth control with patients, Blount openly distributed information about birth control and wrote for Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review. She spoke out against women’s clubs that restricted African-American women from joining. Unfortunately, like many of her time, she also supported the eugenics movement.
After the enactment of the Nineteenth Amendment, she continued her activist ways. In 1922, she ran unsuccessfully for village trustee. In 1925 she was elected president of the National Association of Medical Women; she also served as president of the Oak Park Physicians’ Club, which at the time had five women and 60 men members.
Anna Blount died in 1953; two of her three children (a son and her daughter) followed in her footsteps and became physicians.
Mary Ann Porucznik is a volunteer at the Oak Park River Forest Museum, where she researched this article.