The Chicago Political Equality League was founded by the elite Chicago Woman’s Club in 1894 to organize women to work for the vote. The league lobbied the Illinois state legislature to grant women the right to vote. The league began with an membership of approximately 100, drawn heavily from the Chicago Woman’s Club. The membership expanded to 1,400 in 1913–14. Over time, its members included a broad range of Chicago women, including settlement house founder Jane Addams, African American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, teachers’ union leader Margaret Haley, and public schools’ superintendent Ella Flagg Young.
In 1912, it joined forces with the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League and middle class and settlement house women’s clubs and succeeded in getting a municipal suffrage advisory on the ballot.
The Chicago Woman’s Club was organized by Caroline M. Brown in 1876 and incorporated in 1885 with the goal of bringing together elite Chicago women engaged in social reform or who were associated with literary or philanthropic circles. They worked in support of enhanced health, environmental, and sanitary conditions; funding for the public schools; safe and affordable housing; and parks, beaches, and recreational facilities.
The club helped lead suffrage and voter registration drives to influence local elections. After the passage of Illinois’s Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Act in 1913, the club organized voter registration drives and citizenship classes for women. The club also supported the activities of union women and attempted to address race relations. After one year of tense debate, they granted membership to African American educator and political activist Fannie Barrier Williams.
Abolitionist and suffragist Mary Richardson Jones arrived in Chicago in 1845, where the “Black Codes” were in full effect, restricting the freedoms of African American residents. Richardson assisted her husband John’s campaign to stop the decades-long grip the Codes had on the city. Richardson also offered her home as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Following the Civil War, she joined Chicago women’s suffrage movements, hosting fellow crusaders Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chatman Catt, Emma Chandler, and Mary Ann Day Brown in her home. Richardson was also active in Chicago’s prominent colored women’s club movements. The former location of Richardson’s home is now Mary Richardson Jones Park.
Activist, social worker, and women’s suffrage supporter Jane Addams purchased a rundown mansion and established America’s first settlement house in 1889, providing housing for European immigrants on the city’s Near West Side. At the settlement’s height of operations, thousands of visitors would visit, participating in programming and amenities like art and drama workshops, kindergarten classes, boys’ and girls’ clubs, language classes, reading groups, college extension courses, public baths, gymnasium, labor museum, and playground.
Addams was also a prolific writer and spoke at engagements across the country on issues related to child labor, the eight-hour day, sanitation, building codes, strike mediation, women’s suffrage, juvenile justice, adult education, immigrant rights, civil rights, freedom of speech, the death penalty, and peace. Addams and her supporters also fought for neighborhood parks and playgrounds and agitated for branch libraries.
The highly active Chicago Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) promoted vocational education, protective legislation, and women’s suffrage. Members of the WTUL included upper class women who sourced and provided financial support and working class women with experience in labor organizing. Leaders of the organization were mixed as well, consisting of civic reformers like settlement house founder Jane Addams and trade unionists like Agnes Nestor. Meetings for the WTUL were originally held in Jane Addams’s Hull House settlement.
The WTUL saw its heyday between 1907 and 1922 during the presidency of Margaret Dreier Robins, an upper class woman whose life work was in service to the WTUL. The organization became deeply tied to the Chicago Federation of Labor, encouraging leadership positions for working-class women and assisting with the 1910‒11 garment worker’s strike by providing food to strikers and their families through a system of commissaries.
Frances Willard was an educator, temperance activist, and women’s suffragist. Willard was elected to the presidency of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1879. Willard merged WCTU rhetoric with suffrage, arguing for “home protection,” or protecting the homelife of women from the devastating impact of consumption of alcohol. The combined efforts of Willard and prohibitionists across the country led to the ratification of the Volstead Act.
Willard’s legacy of activism was not without conflict; African American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells challenged Willard’s viewpoint and other temperance activist’s depiction of alcohol’s inciting effect on “innate” African American male criminal behavior and Willard’s initial silence on lynching, and she accused Willard of pandering the myth of the “savagery” of African American men toward white women. Willard denied Well’s charges, openly opposed the practice of lynching, and cited the WCTU’s efforts to recruit African American women for membership. Willard developed the “Do everything” slogan for the WCTU, encouraging action across various reform initiatives.
Farwell Hall hosted the 1880 Women’s Suffrage Meeting at the same time as the Republican National Convention, which excluded women from participation.
The Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) was founded by prominent men and women in Chicago in 1869. Originally named the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association, the organization provided civic education on the importance of the vote, moving slowly toward their goal: full political freedom for women in the state of Illinois. Suffragist Grace Wilbur Trout assumed the role of president in 1912 and held the position nearly consecutively until 1920. During Trout’s tenure as president, she established headquarters in Springfield to be near state legislators, amended organizational strategies mounting successful public relations campaigns including auto tours and parades, and began lobbying for individual legislators to support suffrage movements. Though Trout was more conservative than some of her contemporaries, and her flashy sense of style made headlines, her skills as an orator and an organizer were tremendous and ledading to significant advances for women’s suffrage in Chicago.
The Emanuel Settlement House was founded in 1908 by Dr. Fannie Hagan Emanuel and her husband, chiropodist Dr. William Emanuel. Fannie Emanuel was one of the first African American doctors to graduate from the Chicago Hospital College of Medicine, now the Chicago Medical School. Upon completing her studies, she set up a general practice serving women and children on Thirty-Fifth Street and Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). Emanuel Settlement House offered many different services to their predominantly African American clients. Emanuel House offered housing for those in need, provided free health care for Chicago’s African American community, provided childcare, kindergarten classes, domestic courses, an employment bureau, and continuing education classes for adults.
Fannie Emanuel’s legacy of community action and social justice was lifelong. She served on the board of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, was an active member of the YWCA and the Ida B. Wells Women’s Club, and served as the second president of the Alpha Suffrage Club.
The Phyllis Wheatley Club was co-founded in 1896 by prominent African American clubwoman, journalist, and educator Elizabeth Lindsay Davis. Davis developed relationships with African American women’s clubs like the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACW) and the Ida B. Wells Club. Seeing how little the YWCA provided for the employment, housing, healthcare, and educational needs of African American women and girls, Davis worked tirelessly to establish the Phyllis Wheatley Home.
As a journalist and author, Davis highlighted the work of African American women in her frequent contributions to the Chicago Defender, Chicago’s premier African American newspaper, the NACW’s “National Notes,” and her own collected history of the NACW, titled Lifting as They Climb. When Illinois women gained limited suffrage in 1913, Davis was one of the first women to register to vote.
Founded in 1913, by Ida B. Wells with the assistance of white colleagues Belle Squire and Virginia Brooks, the Alpha Suffrage Club was the first and most important African American female suffrage club. The organization was founded due to the exclusion of African American women from national female suffrage organizations, including the National American Women Suffrage Association. The purpose of the Alpha Suffrage Club was to educate African American women on civic responsibilities, organize them to aid in the election of candidates who would best serve African American interests in Chicago, fight back against white Chicago women who did not want the vote extended to African Americans at all, and promote the election of African Americans to public offices.
The Alpha Suffrage Club boasted over 200 members at its height and played an instrumental role in the election of Chicago’s first African American alderman, Oscar De Priest, canvasing different wards across the city registering thousands of new voters, created the Alpha Suffrage Record newsletter, hosted a weekly speaking series, and advocated for the voting rights for incarcerated women at Chicago’s Bridewell Prison.
Founded in 1891 by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Provident Hospital was the first African American owned and operated hospital in the United States. Provident provided medical services for African American Chicagoans and served as a training institute, initially for aspiring African American nurses. Fundraising events were organized on Chicago’s South and West Sides, which had sizeable African American populations. Donations included supplies, medical equipment, financial contributions, and the 3-floor, 12-bed building that would serve as the original location of the hospital. Educator, suffragist, and Black women’s club supporter, Fannie Barrier Williams was a fervent supporter of the establishment of the hospital.
Provident continued to serve the African American community of Chicago into the twentieth century, including direct community activism and suffrage into their roster of service. Provident Hospital was eventually absorbed into the Cook County Hospital system and continues to service Chicago’s predominantly African American South Side.
Boasting a long history of impactful activism, Chicago’s oldest African American congregation, Quinn Chapel AME Church began as a nondenominational prayer group in 1844 that was organized as a congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church by 1847. Quinn Chapel had strong ties to abolitionist movement in the city, and many of the original congregants were formerly enslaved, with the church serving as a stop along the Underground Railroad. After slavery was abolished, Quinn Chapel continued its social activism for Chicago’s African American community. Following the Great Chicago Fire, the construction of Quinn Chapel’s new location on Twenty-Fourth Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was completed in 1892.
Due to its activist initiatives, Quinn Chapel became a meeting place for both national and local civic and social organizations and hosted speeches from Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, President William McKinley, W. E. B. DuBois, and Ida B. Wells.
The Chicago Bee (or Chicago Sunday Bee) was a weekly periodical founded by banker and manufacturer Anthony Overton primarily for African American readers. Overton intended for his newspaper to appeal to conservative middle class African Americans and used sedate tones, emphasizing improved interracial relations, civic improvement, racial uplift, Black-owned businesses, and wholesome news for the entire family. The staff of the Bee was mostly female, including Ida B. Wells as an editor at one point, and frequently featured the work of African American women’s club movements. In 1929, the Bee moved to a brand new three-block art deco building designed by architect Z. Erol Smith that still stands today and houses the Chicago Bee Branch of the Chicago Public Library system.
The Negro Fellowship League was originally organized in 1910 by Ida B. Wells to provide housing, entertainment, sports, games, and music for newly arrived African American male migrants from the US South. At the time, the YMCA did not provide rooms for African American men. The league also provided a reading room, employment assistance, weekly lectures by African American intellectuals like William Monroe Trotter and Garland Penn. They also assisted incarcerated African American men, providing counselling and occasionally the counsel of Wells’s husband attorney Ferdinand Barnett.
By the time the Negro Fellowship League closed in 1920, more than 1,000 men had found jobs, and countless others had been provided shelter through its efforts.
The Ida B. Wells-Barnett House is located in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. It is a three-story building constructed out of ashlar granite. The dominant architectural features are the large bay windows on either side of the façade and a turreted bay window on the second and third levels. The house was built between 1889 and 1890 by architect Joseph Thain.
Journalist and activist Ida B. Wells and her husband, attorney Ferdinand Barnett, purchased the home in 1919 and resided there until 1929. While Ida B. Wells lived at three different addresses in Chicago, this location is the best preserved and has US National Landmark status, is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places, and is also a Chicago Landmark.
Founded in 1904 on Chicago’s South Side by Celia Parker Woolley, a white Unitarian minister, novelist, and social reformer, the Frederick Douglass Woman’s Club hosted weekly meetings featuring conversations on political events, interracial cooperation, and women’s suffrage. The club was one of the few interracial clubs in Chicago. With a membership of mostly middle class women, weekly meetings often consisted of speeches focused on contemporary social issues, including suffrage and race relations. The Frederick Douglass Center also featured an on-site settlement house organized by both Woolley and club vice president Ida B. Wells. Activist Fannie Barrier Williams was also a supporter of the club and its work.