Illinois Women Organize

The Illinois Equal Suffrage Association formed in 1869, the year Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment legislating suffrage for African American men. The Association’s mission? “The political enfranchisement of women.”

IESA 1912

Photograph of Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) officers and delegates at the 1912 IESA convention in Galesburg, Illinois. Courtesy of the University City Public Library.

Brown velvet hat

Brown velvet wide brim hat (“marvel of millinery”) with grosgrain ribbon, mink, and rhinestone buckle. Circa 1915. MCHS object 2009-302-0015-FIC.

“Storming the Capitol”

On April 4, 1909, women “stormed the [Illinois] Capitol” wearing yellow flowers (a suffragist symbol) and “marvels of millinery” to advocate for a suffrage bill. The women draped the galleries with “a monster petition bearing 15,000 names.” (Alton Evening Telegraph, April 15, 1909)

At the end of the day, the Senate Committee on Elections recommended the passage of a bill granting women limited voting rights. The Billings Bill proposed permitting women to vote for presidential electors, state board of equalization members, appellate court clerk, county collector, county surveyor, board of assessors members, board of review members, and all city officers. The Committee recommendation was a suffragist win, but the Billings Bill did not end up being the vehicle for women’s suffrage in Illinois.

Illinois capitol

Illinois capitol, pre-1918. MCHS postcard.

Ida B. Wells

Postcard featuring a photograph of Ida B. Wells, circa 1910. Courtesy of the University of Chicago Library.

The Alpha Suffrage Club

Journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells founded the Alpha Suffrage Club in January 1913, probably the first African American women’s suffrage group. The organization rallied women to support candidates serving the interests of Chicago’s black residents.