Kate F. O’Connor was born on May 31, 1863 in Rockford, Illinois to Irish immigrants Cornelius and Mary O’Malley O’Connor. She was the youngest of eight children. Kate attended many Rockford schools and graduated from Rockford High School in 1878.
A few years later, in 1882, Kate was appointed as deputy to the Winnebago County Clerk and within four years was made notary public by Illinois Governor Richard Oglesby.
Kate was involved in just about everything in Rockford. She kept herself busy with her many commitments and advocated fiercely for any group she was involved in. Some groups included: The State Equal Suffrage Society, the Illinois League of Women Voters (of which she was a charter member), the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Business and Professional Women’s Club, among several others. On many occasions she was elected as a delegate to national meetings for these groups, representing the Rockford area group and their interests.
As an outspoken supporter of equal rights for women, in an article from the Rockford Daily Gazette Kate comments that “[t]here is certainly no good reason why woman should not vote if she wants to, and every argument advanced against it so far, is without foundation, and cannot be substantiated by rational proof.” (1/26/1888)
1894 brought controversy for Kate. Reports in the Rockford Morning Star paper said that the new County Clerk wanted Kate to resign her deputy post, citing that she was spending too much time with other commitments. (11/15/1894) Five days later, following much discontent, it was reported in the same newspaper that Kate would stay on as deputy clerk. (11/20/1894) However, in 1898, Kate did resign and opened her own office in the William Brown Building located at 226 S. Main Street where she specialized in general business services, probate law, government claims, and real estate.
After making Chicago her home in 1914, Kate returned to Rockford in 1926 and opened her new practice in Suite 714 of the Rockford National Bank Building. She continued to support democratic candidates, reminding women of the difficult struggle that was the winning of suffrage, and that they had an important duty to vote. Kate urged women to vote, reminding them that the law which formerly required women to prove their exact age before voting had been revised, and reminding women to be “…independent in thought and action…” (Daily Register-Gazette, 12/13/1927). In 1929 she was honored by the national suffrage organization for her work in the movement, along with Jane Addams and Catherine Waugh McCulloch.
By 1932 Kate began working as the representative for the 12th Congressional District for the Illinois Democratic Women’s Congressional Committee, and at the end of the next year she was appointed by Governor Henry Horner as the supervisor to the new minimum wage law for women and children in Illinois. Her work in the new position reflected her lifelong advocacy, pushing for new wage scales for women and minors working in laundries, and also pushing for wage regulations in beauty shops in 1935. In 1942, she was made assistant to Thomas F. O’Malley, the regional director of the federal wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Sadly, on May 25,1945 Kate O’Connor suffered a heart attack and passed away at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago.
By: Kim Ortega, Assistant Curator at Midway Village Museum, Rockford, Illinois.
Rockford Daily Register Gazette, 01/26/1888, “What the Women Say. In relation to Woman Suffrage…”
Rockford Morning Star, 11/15/1894, “Off Goes Her Head. Kate F. O’Connor May Retire from the County Clerks’ Office”
Rockford Daily Register Gazette, 12/13/1927, “Miss O’Connor reminded the women of the revision in the law which heretofore has required a statement of the exact age of the voter.”
Sinnissippi Saga: A History of Rockford and Winnebago County, Illinois, 1968, Published by Winnebago County Illinois Sesquicentennial Committee.