Kane County History: Mary D. Bailey, Batavia's Trailblazing Lawyer, Foe of Booze and Dope Purveyors

Kane County History: Mary D. Bailey, Batavia’s Trailblazing Lawyer, Foe of Booze and Dope Purveyors

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Jennifer Putzier, director of the Batavia Depot Museum.

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Jennifer Putzier, director of the Batavia Depot Museum.

Mary D. “Dolly” Bailey’s life was defined by her public service. Bailey made local history in 1914, when she became the first woman to hold the position of Kane County recorder. Then she became the third woman in the county to pass the bar and become a lawyer. With that title, she went one to be the first woman to become assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern Illinois District.

Bailey was born April 8, 1876, in Maple Park, the eldest child of Robert C. and Adeline Bailey. Her father worked for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway as superintendent of pump works.

It’s unknown exactly when the family moved to Batavia, but her obituary proudly stated that she was educated in the Batavia schools. Bailey was bright, driven and continued to seek education after high school; she attended Columbia College (back when it was a college for oration and “expression” rather than the arts) and “for a number of years was in demand for programs in this area with her recitations, and also a teacher of elocution.” (Obituary, 2/1/1951)

When Frank E. George was elected as Kane County Recorder in 1896, Bailey was named deputy recorder. She was just 20 years old.

She served in that office until George’s death in 1914, when she was named Kane County recorder. This caused considerable consternation among officials — could she hold the office as a woman? Apparently this question went all the way up to the Illinois Attorney General. In the end, Bailey finished out George’s term, which ended in 1916

But because full Women’s Suffrage had not yet been added to the U.S. Constitution, and Illinois’ Suffrage Act of 1913 did not allow for women to vote for the office of County Recorder, she could not seek re-election in 1916. (For more information on the Illinois Suffrage Act, please read the previous article – “When Women’s Suffrage and Prohibition Met in Batavia”)

While she was working at the court house, she began to study law and joining in on night classes. She was tutored by Edwin L. Pray, but did not formally attend law school. She still passed the bar exam in October 1920 and became an attorney.

New Career: U.S. Attorney

Bailey was in her mid-40s when she undertook this career change, and she excelled. In less than a year, on June 1, 1921, she was appointed assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern Illinois District; the first woman to hold this position.

Her first assignment was the prosecution of food and drug law violations, but in 1925 her work shifted to enforcing the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act was known more formally as the National Prohibition Act, and was designed to provide enforcement to the 18th Amendment, which prohibited manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.

And in Chicago, Bailey had her work cut out for her.

Law enforcement agencies were working round the clock to stop bootlegging operations, and Bailey was placed in charge of the liquor injunction bureau. Under her direction, 2,000 establishments were padlocked for “violating the nuisance clause of the Volstead Act.”

Bailey is credited with originating the argument the club owners were responsible for patrons in their premises; including those that brought in alcohol. The feat is even more incredible when you know she only held the position as head of liquor injunction department for two years.

In 1927, she took a less stressful position working on pure food laws, but this didn’t last long; soon, she changed her focus to narcotics. Here, she tirelessly worked to break up smuggling rings.

Bailey became legendary. “She hammered at dope purveyors with even more deadly effect than she had pursued liquor violators,” historians said.

Her work was so well regarded that when Democrat Michael L. Igoe was appointed District Attorney in 1935, she retained her position, even though she was the lone Republican in the office. They knew she had the talent; between 1921 and 1938, Bailey was successfully obtained convictions in 95% of the cases she handled.

Bailey continued to live in Batavia while working in Chicago, community daily to the city. She often gave talks in the area, discussing her career, the investigations she worked on and displaying tools of the narcotic trade.

One Tragic Batavia Case

There is only one known case she took on in Batavia, for 3-year-old Alice June Wright, who lived only a few blocks from her family home at 75 N. Batavia Ave. (now 205 N. Batavia Ave.)

On June 5, 1923, Alice June Wright got electrocuted by wires that were left free and hot on the north side of Houston Street between Jackson and Jefferson, just around the corner from the child’s house. The child lived, but her left hand was damaged to such a point that her middle finger was amputated, and her thumb was permanently injured.

She was also left with “severe and permanent nervous shock, and her nerves became greatly and permanently deranged.” On July 27, Bailey represented the family as they sued the city of Batavia’s Electrical Department for damages of $5,000.

Community Involvement

Beyond her work as a lawyer, Baily involved herself in the community in both Batavia and Chicago. She was presented the Walter Winchell Orchid Award for her works in helping drug users free themselves of the habit.

She was president of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, president of the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Batavia, member of Chicago chapter of Zonta international, Women’s Auxiliary of Post 504 American Legion, Batavia Royal Neighbors of American and Rebekahs.

Bailey retired from law in 1944 and spent her well-earned retirement between St. Petersburg Florida and her bother Harold’s home in Batavia. She died either Jan. 29 or Jan. 30, 1951, (sources are unclear) after being injured in a fire.

About the Batavia Depot Museum

The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a partnership between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854, and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place. Open seasonally, from March through November. The 2019 season ends Dec. 15, and the museum’s hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Please join visit the museum from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, for the Batavia Park District’s special Christmas event, Celebration of Lights! The Depot will feature ornament making for kids, story time in the research center from 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. and a special lighting of the Coffin Bank at 6 p.m.

Please visit http://www.bataviahistoricalsociety.org/events/ for more information.

Read The Kane County History Series!