KANE COUNTY HISTORY: 1850-1925 — When Penmanship Was Mightier Than The Sword

KANE COUNTY HISTORY: 1850-1925 — When Penmanship Was Mightier Than The Sword

Kane County Courthouse on South Third Street, Geneva, dedicated Sept. 30, 1892. (CREDIT: Geneva History Museum)

  • Editor’s Note: Kane County has an amazing history and outstanding resources for local historians. This week, Kane County Connects begins a series of weekly articles from local historical societies and history museums. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.

Penmanship or basic handwriting skill is at the heart of communication. At the time of Geneva’s incorporation, America was entering the Golden Age of Penmanship, which lasted from 1850 to 1925. Handwriting skills were important for personal communication and essential for success in business.

Miss Minnie Whaley, first woman deputy circuit clerk and recorder. (CREDIT: Geneva History Museum)

By the late 1800s, copy work was a successful profession for women with good penmanship, since it was the only way to duplicate documents. Known as copyists, these women copied important legal documents word for word, including misspellings. Kane County Circuit Court and Kane County Recorder offices employed many women as copyists, indexers and deputies.

In 1892, a group of female employees and ex-employees of various Kane County offices formed The Koregraphic Organization. The organization represented “the daughters of the county, who had helped, to the best of their ability, to give the county its wide-spread reputation for its beautiful and accurate records.”

Kane County had the honor of being the first county in the state of Illinois to recognize woman’s ability in an official capacity as deputy and scribe in her public offices.

The group lobbied for the privilege of giving an entertainment in conjunction with the dedication of the handsome court house which was being completed in 1892 in order to raise funds to publish A Tribute from the Koregraphic Organization to Kane County, Illinois. This book detailed the history of the county’s female workforce and included examples of their penmanship. It was presented at the Columbian Exposition as the best work done by the women “bread winners” of the country.

The Geneva History Museum will have our archival copy of the Koregraphic Organization’s book on display as part of our feature exhibit, In Other Words … A History of Communication in Geneva, which opens Saturday, Feb. 3.  Located at 113 S. Third Street, gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information visit www.GenevaHistoryMuseum.org.

About The Geneva History Museum

The Geneva History Museum is a non-profit organization started in 1943 by volunteers in the community that saw a need to preserve the town’s history. Today the museum offers multiple award-winning exhibits, educational programs, cutting-edge research, and dedicated volunteers, continue to make the Geneva History Museum a source of great community pride.