The American Woman’s League
The American Woman’s League (AWL) was created by magazine publisher Edward Gardner Lewis. The League had a dual purpose: to promote educational and political opportunities for women and to promote Lewis’s magazines. White women (the AWL didn’t admit black women) joined the League by pledging to sell $52 in magazine subscriptions in two years. Half the money went to the League and the other half paid for magazine publication and distribution costs. (Men could join as honorary members, but they weren’t permitted to vote.)
Lewis provided chapter houses for local AWL chapters. Once the chapter secured a site, the AWL paid for the chapter house design, construction, insurance, taxes, furnishings, and repairs.
The first chapter house in the country was built in Edwardsville on land donated by Charles Willys Terry. Constructed in 1909, the Mission-style bungalow designed by St. Louis firm Helfensteller, Hirsch & Watson still stands at 515 West High Street (now a private residence). Additional chapter houses were constructed in 1910 in Alton’s Christian Hill neighborhood and for the Jeffress Chapter in Marine. The latter, at 202 East Silver Street on land donated by A.W. Jeffress, has been repurposed as an endowed free library.
The chapter houses were typically furnished with Mission-style furniture. As seen in the photograph above, a plaque of the AWL emblem—”Woman’s Mission” designed by sculptor George Julian Zolnay—usually hung on the brick fireplace.
The American Woman’s Republic
In 1912, Minna L. Crocker of Edwardsville, Cora (Shiek) Ruhr of Highland, Angie (Rand) Schweppe of Alton, and Virginia (Evans) Springer of Edwardsville joined over 470 other AWL members in University City to establish the American Woman’s Republic. The group signed a Declaration of Equal Rights and adopted a constitution.
The structure of the organization, led by President Mabel Lewis (Edward Lewis’s wife), mimicked that of the United States, helping women learn about government so they could be informed voters when the time inevitably came. Edna Jeffress of Edwardsville was “Regent” (analagous to governor) for the state of Illinois.