Catharine Waugh McCulloch

Catharine Waugh McCulloch was born in 1862 in Ransomville, New York to Susan Gouger and Abraham Waugh.  She married Frank McCulloch in 1890 and had four children, Hugh Waugh (1891), Hawthorn Waugh (1899), Catharine Waugh (1901) and Frank Waugh (1905).  She died in 1945 in Evanston, Illinois.

In 1878 Catharine entered Rockford College Female Seminary, Rockford, Illinois (now Rockford University) and graduated first in her class with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1882. She stayed on in Rockford to earn her Master of Arts degree. Ambitiously, McCulloch continued her impressive educational career and received a Degree of Bachelor of law in 1886 from Union College of Law (now Northwestern University Law School) and was admitted to the Illinois Bar that same year. In 1936 she received a Doctorate of Law from Rockford College, Rockford, Illinois.

After her graduation, it was a challenge for McCulloch to find a position at an established law firm and in 1887 she returned to Rockford and opened her own law practice with support from members of the Equity Club, the first association of women lawyers in the country which McCulloch was instrumental in establishing while she was a law student. McCulloch’s client base consisted of women tormented by problems relating to lack of legal status; wage discrimination, divorce, probate, child custody, abuse and through representing these issues, she emerged as a leading figure among the advocates for the women’s movement and a leading advocate of woman suffrage in Illinois.

McCulloch at the victory celebration in 1913 after Illinois women gained the right to vote.

In addition to their matrimonial union, Frank and Catharine opened a law partnership in Chicago where they continued to work on women’s rights and in 1889, Catharine practiced before the United States Supreme court.

She effected change in the city of Evanston, the state of Illinois and the entire country through her involvement with the Legislative Committee of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) which she was part of for 22 years. She devised a strategy to allow women to vote for president and in other elections not constitutionally limited to men. This bill was introduced in 1893 and every year thereafter.  

She framed the legislation so it neatly sidestepped the state Constitution, allowing women to vote for presidential electors and other government officers not mentioned in the Constitution. Illinois was the first state east of Mississippi River to pass such a law and others soon followed, leading to the universal suffrage amendment in 1920. From 1917 to 1925 McCulloch was President of the Women’s Democratic Club of Illinois, nominated as their first president, working for the enactment of women’s suffrage and prohibition.  

In addition, McCulloch wrote a bill that strengthened rape laws and raised the age of consent in Illinois from fourteen to sixteen. She co-authored a book with Frank McCulloch called A Manual of the Law of Will Contest in Illinois (1929) and wrote several plays including Mr Lex (1899), which called attention to a woman’s need for greater protection against abusive or alcoholic husbands, and Bridget’s Sister (1911) a suffragist comedy play highlighting the need for women to join forces and campaign for tighter laws protecting women and the laws relating to mother and child.

By Lori Osborne and Julia Flynn for the Women and Social Movements NAWSA research project.


Evanston History Center Archival Collection, Evanston, Illinois.

Evanston Women’s History Project, Biography File of Catharine Waugh McCulloch

Library of Congress –

Additional resources:

Catharine Waugh McCulloch’s papers are primarily held at the Schlesinger Library. You can see one highlight from the collection on their Suffrage School series – a suffrage game that McCulloch created and was evidently played by her and friends that visited her home. Scroll through and find the document and video lesson by Tania Shew at this link –