On the Wings of Change
The ten women depicted in On the Wings of Change, a beautiful new mural at the corner of Wabash and Wells in Chicago, represent the thousands of women who worked for suffrage in Illinois. They also represent multiple generations – spanning the almost 70 years of the suffrage movement. Some were born before the Civil War (and into slavery) – and many after. Some of them knew each other well – and were coworkers and colleagues. Some of them had disagreements and conflicts with each other – and that reveals a truth of the women’s movement in the U.S.
But they all stood out for their work against great odds and their persistent and strategic focus on making change. These ten women rallied other women to the cause and looked beyond obvious allies to build coalitions across boundaries that divided support. And, they did so with intelligence and optimism. All of which makes them inspiring in our world today.
The artist for the mural is Diosa (Jasmina Cazacu) who is a Spanish-Romanian painter based in Chicago. She uses surreal, dreamlike imagery to create fantastical scenes that dare her audience to challenge their perceptions, question reality, and appreciate the magic that is always flourishing beneath the surface of the mundane. Diosa’s pieces ultimately function as social critiques exploring themes such as feminism & social politics. The topic of femininity is prevalent throughout Diosas’s work; her audience is continually challenged to consider an analytic approach to its concepts of and interactions with the feminine.
Brief Biographies (for more click on the name)
Mary Livermore was born in 1820 in Boston. She was 40 years old when the Civil War broke out, at which time she accepted a position with the U.S. Sanitary Commission. By the time the war ended she had received national recognition for her work in relief efforts, but she saw that women were not recognized, and thus decided it was time for a reform movement to help women. In 1869, she organized the first Chicago Suffrage Convention, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in attendance. This convention resulted in the formation of the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association. She was elected president in recognition of her efforts. Later the same year, she created the Agitator newspaper, devoted to women’s suffrage.
Frances E. Willard was born in Churchville, New York in 1839, and in 1858 she moved to Illinois to attend North Western Female College in Evanston. After graduating, she worked as a teacher, growing in reputation and holding more prestigious positions at women’s colleges in the northeast and midwest. Willard was elected the first corresponding secretary of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) at its founding in 1874, a position which took her on a tour of the United States building support for the WCTU. Willard was a key strategist for broadening the role of women in public life – and she developed ideas such as the “Home Protection” argument that won thousands for the women’s suffrage cause. Her election to WCTU president in 1879 gave even further support to a broad range of reform work, and was critical in building the next generation of women leaders. The WCTU was the largest organization of women in the world by 1890 and its support of women’s suffrage was powerful.
Mary Fitzbutler was born in 1870 to two physician parents and this influenced her to also become a Doctor. After her marriage in 1901 and move to Chicago, Fitzbutler Waring became involved with the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). She represented the NACW at National Council of Women meetings in 1911. She also made convention appearances for NACW in 1912, and in 1913 became the secretary of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Many African American women supported the suffrage movement through their work in the women’s club organizations and the NACW.
Myra Bradwell was born 1831 in Manchester, Vermont. She was the first woman to pass the bar exam in Illinois – though it was not until 1890 that this was acknowledged. In 1868, she launched the newspaper the Chicago Legal News, the first legal newspaper edited by a woman, and which quickly became the most circulated legal newspaper in the nation. Through this publication she also advocated for women’s rights and worked to make changes in the law to support women’s legal rights.
Catharine Waugh McCulloch was born in 1862 in Ransomville, New York. McCulloch received her law degree in 1886 from Chicago’s Union College of Law, and was admitted to the bar that same year. McCulloch’s clients often were women beset by problems related to a lack of legal status, such as wage discrimination and child custody issues. By representing women with 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 was the architect of the strategy that led to the partial ballot for women in Illinois. Using her legal knowledge she crafted a bill that would allow women to vote for president and in other elections not constitutionally limited to men, which led to the 1913 vote for women in Illinois. McCulloch was a leader in multiple local, state and national women’s organizations.
Ida B. Wells was born into slavery in 1862. She was an activist and journalist who began her civil rights activism in response to racist incidents she experienced in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 1890s, Wells began to investigate the incidents of lynching in the United States after three close friends were unjustly arrested and lynched, using her journalism skills to shed light on the problem and call national leaders to account. Wells moved to Chicago in 1893. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and the Alpha Suffrage Club, in 1913. Wells’ work for suffrage in Illinois began in the 1890s when women were able to vote for school officials. Through the Alpha Suffrage Club, she was instrumental in the election of Alderman Oscar DePriest who was the first Black alderman in Chicago. She was a member of multiple women’s organizations, and founded the Women’s 2nd Ward Republican Club.
In 1855, Fannie Barrier Williams was born in Brockport, New York. In 1887, she married Laing Williams and moved to Chicago. In 1889, Williams became the Vice President of the Illinois Woman’s Alliance, an interracial labor reform organization. She also was a member of the Prudence Crandall Literary Club. In 1895 she became the only African American member of the Chicago Woman’s Club. She also helped to found the National League of Colored Women in 1893, and the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.
Jane Addams, born 1860, is best known as the co-founder of the first settlement house in the United States, Hull House. Addams authored many articles and books, was one of the nation’s most popular speakers, and worked on a wide range of social issues from child labor, women’s suffrage, immigrant rights, and many more. Her experiences at Hull House pushed her to become politically active and in the final years of the push to the 19th amendment Addams played a significant role both in Chicago and nationally in the women’s suffrage movement.
Grace Wilbur Trout was born in Iowa in 1864, and moved to Illinois in 1893, settling in Oak Park. Trout was a member of the Chicago Women’s Club and the 19th Century Club in Oak Park. She joined the Chicago Political Equality League (CPEL) in 1894. She was elected its president in 1910 after helping to grow its membership to more than 1,200. In 1912, Trout was elected president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA). Her strategic understanding was critical to the passage of the 1913 partial suffrage bill. In 1916 she began to work with NAWSA leaders in a campaign to include women’s suffrage in the Republican National Party’s platform. Trout’s work for suffrage was critical in the years leading up to the passage of the 19th amendment.
Agnes Nestor, born in 1876, was a prominent labor leader and educator. Nestor began factory work young to support her family. Struggling under a 60-hour work week, Nestor led a woman’s strike in 1898. In 1902 she formed a female glove worker’s local, eventually taking part in forming the International Glove Workers Union (IGWU). Through her activism, Nestor befriended leading Chicago reformers, such as Jane Addams, with whom she lobbied for legal protections for working women. In 1909, Addams invited Nestor to work on the Chicago Municipal Suffrage bill, which would have allowed women to vote in municipal elections under a new Chicago city charter. The Municipal Suffrage bill did not pass, but the IESA’s lobbying led to a broader, more inclusive women’s coalition, of which Nestor was a key player.
Images Courtesy of Sandra Steinbrecher