Early Suffrage in Illinois: A.J. Grover and the Earlville Suffrage Association

By Hannah Lahti – Loyola University Chicago, Masters in Public History Program, Fall 2019

In 1818 the Illinois State Constitution extended citizenship to all white men over the age of twenty-one years [1].  Thirty years later, the second Illinois State Constitution still denied suffrage to women [2]. It was not until the third Illinois State Constitution in 1870 that suffrage was extended to African American men [3]. And it was many years later, in 1913, that the state extended partial suffrage to women.

The first documented speech on women’s suffrage in the state was given in 1855 in Earlville, a town in LaSalle County. The speech was given by abolitionist Alonzo Jackson (A.J.) Grover who was a lawyer originally from Bethel, Maine. He moved to Earlville in 1853 with his wife Octavia [4]. In addition to his legal work, Grover edited the Earlville Transcript newspaper where he published articles supporting women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery [5].


“Constitution of the State of Illinois, 1818,” Manuscript, Illinois State Archives, (Illinois Constitution, Identifier const181802).

Grover’s speech and role as the editor of the Transcript launched a network of suffragists in Earlville and beyond. The Transcript was established in the 1870s and was published for nearly five years [6]. Most notably, Grover published women’s rights activist Catherine Van Valkenburg Waite’s article on political rights for women in the newspaper, which marked the first written publication supporting women’s suffrage in the state [7]. 

Reactions to Grover’s 1855 speech inspired the beginnings of an organized movement in Illinois. Susan Hoxie Richardson, who was a relative of Susan B. Anthony, was inspired by the speech to form the first suffrage organization in the state. Richardson became the President of the Earlville Suffrage Association, which organized women’s suffrage efforts from her Earlville home. She worked in collaboration with A.J. Grover’s wife Octavia, who was named Secretary of the organization [8].  

After his speech in 1855, A.J. Grover remained politically active. On January 31, 1860, Grover wrote a letter to Republican Presidential Candidate Abraham Lincoln in which he addressed his support for extended political rights [9]. Abraham Lincoln was elected president later that year, but focused his attention more on the abolition of slavery than voting rights for African Americans and women. Grover remains only briefly acknowledged for his political advocacy in historical documents, but his work helped to begin the suffrage movement in Illinois and connected the future president of the United States to the issue of women’s rights.


Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833 to 1916: Alonzo J. Grover to Abraham Lincoln, Tuesday, January 31, 1860.  Manuscript/Mixed Material. Library of Congress.

In 1940 a plaque was erected in Dodge Park in Earlville dedicated to the work of Susan Hoxie Richardson and Octavia Grover [10].

The plaque remains in the park, where the community continues to celebrate the local achievement of being where the long fight for women’s suffrage began in Illinois.

The women’s suffrage movement slowly extended throughout the state in the years following, but the Illinois story begins in LaSalle County with this first suffrage activity.  These early milestones in the women’s suffrage movement contributed to the growth of the movement and the eventual achievement of constitutional voting rights for women.

Sources:

[1] Constitution of the State of Illinois, 1818. Manuscript. Springfield, Illinois, 1818, pg. 7-8. From the Illinois State Archives, (Illinois Constitution, Identifier const181802). http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/isl2/id/12578/rec/10 (accessed October 21, 2019).

[2] Constitution of the State of Illinois, 1848. Springfield, Illinois, 1848, pg. 26-27.  From the Illinois State Archives, Illinois Constitution (ISL call number: REF.345.2 ILLI3, Supp., 1849).  http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/isl2/id/193/rec/11 (accessed October 21, 2019).

[3] Constitution of the State of Illinois, 1870.  Springfield, Illinois, 1870, pg. 33-34.  From the Illinois State Archives, (Illinois Constitution, Identifier 2215002).  http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/isl2/id/372/rec/14 (accessed October 21, 2019).

[4] Mary B. McWilliams, “A Duty or a Right: The Illinois Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Woman Suffrage.” Conference on Illinois History, 25 (September 26, 2014), 1-2.

[5] History of La Salle County, Illinois, (Inter-state Publishing Company, 1886).

[6] History of La Salle County, Illinois, (Inter-state Publishing Company, 1886).

[7] Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Gage,Harriot Stanton Blatch, Ida H. Harper, History of Women’s Marches: The Political Battle of Suffragettes (Complete 6 Volume Edition), e-artnow (2017). 

[8] Mary B. McWilliams, “A Duty or a Right: The Illinois Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Woman Suffrage.” Conference on Illinois History, 25 (September 26, 2014), 1-2.

[9] Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833 to 1916: Alonzo J. Grover to Abraham Lincoln, Tuesday, January 31, 1860.  Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/resource/mal.0230700/?sp=4 (accessed October 23, 2019).

[10] Mark Harrington, “The Weekend Story: Looking Back Ahead of the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Illinois,” wspynews.com, June 8, 2019, http://www.wspynews.com/news/local/the-weekend-story-looking-back-ahead-of-th-anniversary-of/article_bd7b1c4e-89e2-11e9-9347-cf691b7e4d46.html (accessed October 21, 2019).

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