Fifth, and last, in a series of profiles of local suffragists, celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States.
When Grace Wilbur Trout moved to Oak Park in 1906 and began her campaign to win full suffrage for the women of Illinois, she found a legion of supporters already organized to help. By then, the suffrage movement in Oak Park had been making strides for more than a decade and organizations such as the Suburban Civics and Equal Suffrage Club, the Nineteenth Century Woman’s Club, and the Chicago Political Equity League had strong memberships in the community.
We may not be able to point to a single individual who started the suffrage campaign in Oak Park, but Madame Elizabeth Ball certainly comes close. Instead of a life of leisure and luxury, she chose to involve herself with social causes and suffrage. For 37 years, she served as a director of the Chicago Home for Girls (originally the Erring Woman’s Refuge). She was a 40-year member of the Chicago Women’s Club, serving not only as president but also as a charter member of the suffrage committee.
Elizabeth Hall was 6 years old at the time of the Seneca Falls Convention, when full suffrage for women was first proposed. She grew up in Wisconsin, where she met and married her husband, attorney Farlin Q. Ball. Oak Park was still a part of Cicero Township when they arrived in 1884, and she quickly became a force in the community. She was often called “Madame Ball,” a title that recognized her husband’s status as a Superior — later Appellate — Court judge.
She regularly hosted suffrage meetings in her parlor and gardens. In 1894, she helped organize the first mass meeting of Republican women in Cicero Township. As soon as women had won the right to vote for trustees of the University of Illinois, Madame Ball urged her fellow members of the Nineteenth Century Club to register to vote. Her friend and fellow suffragist Dr. Anna Blount later recounted Madame Ball’s role in establishing the Suburban Civics and Equal Suffrage Club. “One hundred postcards of invitation to a civic meeting [at the Ball’s residence] were sent out,” recalled Dr. Blount. Although the invitation didn’t say “suffrage,” that quickly became the focus of the event. Sixty women attended and 30 joined.
At the Nineteenth Century Club, she debated suffrage with her best friend, an anti-suffragist named Elvira Adams. “The recognition of suffrage for women was the exciting moment in each meeting,” recalled one member. “Mrs. Ball was always ready with her motion that the club go on record as favoring suffrage. Mrs. Adams would immediately rise and move that the motion be tabled. After which, they would go off arm-in-arm, the best of friends.” But in 1906, the die was cast and the club voted to support suffrage.
In 1916, as thousands of women marched in Chicago to demand a suffrage plank in the Republican Party platform, Elizabeth Ball was at the head of the parade, a guest of honor and pioneer suffragist.
Sadly, she died in June 1920, just two months before the Suffrage Amendment became law. She is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, and was recently featured on the annual “Tales of the Tombstones” cemetery walk.
Mary Ann Porucznik is a volunteer at the Oak Park River Forest Museum, where she researched this article.