Born in Maquoketa, Iowa in 1864 to Thomas and Anne Belden Wilbur, Grace Wilbur married fellow Maquoketa resident and hardware merchant George Trout in 1884. They had four sons: Thomas (1886), Philip (1888), Ralph (1890) and John (1892). The Trouts moved to Illinois in 1893, settling in Oak Park in 1903.
Trout joined the Chicago Political Equality League (CPEL) in 1894 and helped grow its membership to more than 1,200. Elected president of the CPEL in 1910, she organized a suffrage float in the Sane Fourth of July Parade and a suffrage automobile tour in July that covered much of north-central Illinois. She also surveyed local mayors about women’s suffrage, lectured statewide, and organized local suffrage committees in every community she visited. These publicity-garnering, non-controversial events would come to typify her approach.
In 1912, Trout was elected president unanimously of the statewide Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA). She avoided confrontation and instead conducted a quiet, educational campaign aimed at building support for suffrage, especially a partial suffrage bill (giving Illinois women the right to vote for certain offices including president and some municipal offices). Her nonpartisan, conciliatory lobbying efforts relied on information cards assembled about each legislator. She encouraged newspaper editors to write editorials to show statewide support and was among the eighty-three Illinois women in the March 1913 NAWSA parade in Washington D.C.
On May 7, 1913, the partial suffrage bill passed the Illinois Senate. When anti-suffrage lobbyists held up the bill in the House, Trout spearheaded a telephone call system that resulted in a flood of telegrams, letters, and telephone calls to Speaker of the House William McKinley. It worked. McKinley scheduled the vote, the bill passed, and Governor Edward F. Dunne signed it on June 26, 1913.
After that watershed victory, Grace turned her attention to preventing the bill from being overturned. She participated in a peaceful parade in Chicago on May 2, 1914, published pamphlets of her lectures, and became a popular Chautauqua speaker. She also began working towards a new Illinois State Constitution to include full women’s suffrage.
By 1915, she was weary of in-fighting among Illinois suffrage groups and declined another term as state president, retiring to Jacksonville, Florida. She returned to Chicago in 1916 to work with NAWSA leaders in a campaign to include a woman’s suffrage plank in the Republican National Convention’s party platform. As the party’s executive committee debated, some 5,000 women marched on Michigan Avenue in a soaking rain. They succeeded, and the Republican party included women’s suffrage in its platform. Grace also served on the lobbying committee of NAWSA from 1917 through 1919.
In late 1919, Trout was re-elected president of the IESA for the seventh and last time, overseeing NAWSA’s Annual Convention in Chicago in February 1920. When the IESA was reformed as the Illinois League of Women Voters, Trout was among the first three signers of its Articles of Incorporation.
In 1921, the Trouts moved permanently to Florida. George died in 1949, and Grace passed away in 1955 at the age of 91.
By Leslie Goddard, Ph.D., for the Women and Social Movements biographical research project of NAWSA leaders.
“Autos Celebrate Women’s Victory,” The Woman’s Journal (July 12, 1913): 219.
Rachel E. Bohlmann, “Trout, Grace Wilbur,” Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary, eds. Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001): 888-90.
Steven M. Buechler, The Transformation of the Woman Suffrage Movement: The Case of Illinois, 1850-1920 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986).
“Illinois Women Feature Parade,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 4, 1913, 3.
“Mrs. Grace Wilbur Trout,” Press Bulletin of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, 9 (Oct. 26 [1912?]), 1.
Carolyn O. Poplett with Mary Ann Porucznik, The Woman Who Never Fails: Grace Wilbur Trout and Illinois Suffrage (Oak Park: The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, 2000).
Mark W. Sorensen, “Ahead of Their Time: A Brief History of Woman Suffrage in Illinois,” http://www.lib.niu.edu/2004/ih110604half.html, accessed Sept 5, 2016.
Grace Wilbur Trout, “Side Lights on Illinois Suffrage History,” Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1920 13 (July 1920): 145-79.
Grace Wilbur Trout, “Address Given at the 25th Annual Convention of the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs,” Edict (August 1920): 7-9, 19).
Adade Mitchell Wheeler, “Conflict in the Illinois Woman Suffrage Movement of 1913,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 76 (Summer 1983): 97-105.