Kane County History: Women Leaders Played Huge Roles in Geneva

Kane County History: Women Leaders Played Huge Roles in Geneva

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series written by representatives of Kane County historical societies and history museums. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.

Inspired by Geneva’s founding mother, Charity Herrington, women have continued to influence and improve the well-being of our city.

Julia Plato Harvey holding child, circa 1905. (ALL PHOTOS CREDIT GENEVA HISTORY MUSEUM)

Although denied the opportunity to vote through most of the Progressive Era (1890 to 1925), women in Geneva exercised their rights as citizens to shape public policy and create institutions.

Spearheaded by the women of the city, the Geneva Improvement Association had its beginnings in 1889.

The first year was a busy one as the various committees worked on community improvements, such as superintending street cleaning, finding an abandoned stone quarry into which refuse could be dumped instead of at the street, managing the upkeep of the cemeteries, and planting 252 trees along many of the unshaded walks.

Trees were purchased with funds raised through the the efforts of the Entertainment Committee that organized lectures and concerts.

The GIA continued its endeavor of making Geneva a source of pride by lobbying and raising funds for the building of the 1892 train station, the Island Park field house and the Geneva Public Library. GIA members raised money to help fund a kindergarten and aided in the betterment of the schools by donating funds for equipment, books and fencing.

This group would also make recommendations to the city as to where sidewalks needed to be installed.

Study Class Program, 1894-5.

The civic-minded group also provided educational opportunities for adults through their “Study Class.” These lecture series focused on various topics, including history, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, architecture, art and literature. These were held, for the most part, in the home of Julia Plato Harvey. Julia was the GIA’s first female president and a close friend of Jane Addams.

Social reformer Jane Addams came to Geneva many times and spoke about a number of issues. In 1912, at the invitation of the Geneva Improvement Association, Addams spoke about equal voting rights for women at the Congregational Church on Hamilton Street.

According to newspaper accounts, the church was filled to overflowing with an estimated crowd of 450 people. Her speech that day was titled “A New Basis For Equal Suffrage.”

The Geneva Improvement Association joined the National Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1913 and created multiple departments within the newly formed organization.

Newspaper announcement of Jane Addams presentation, 1912.

One of the departments was “Garden & Conservation.” By 1928, the Garden and Conservation Department had been discontinued since, according to meeting minutes, “a regular Garden Club has been found in Geneva and is an outgrowth of the above department [Garden & Conservation].”

According to the personal notes of Mrs. Marie Berg, “the Geneva Garden Club was started at the suggestion of the president of the Illinois Federation of Garden Clubs” at a meeting she had attended. Berg and Mrs. E. D. George officially organized the Geneva Garden Club on Sept. 16, 1928.

Celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Geneva Garden Club and its beautification efforts throughout our community at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 11, as Club members discuss their organization’s history.

This is a Brown Bag program at the Geneva History Museum, 113 S. Third St., Geneva. Registration is $5/person or $3/museum member. Please register in advance at GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or by calling 630-232-4951.

Geneva Improvement Association Annual Report, title page, 1890.

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