- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Northern Illinois University student Cody Austin with help from Elgin historian Mike Alft’s books and articles. All images are courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.
2020 marks 100 years since the passage of a national constitutional amendment giving women the vote.
Although Elgin women could not vote in most elections in the 19th century, they were able to vote and be elected to the school board. This was made possible by the passage of a new law on April 3, 1873, stating any woman with the “qualifications prescribed for by man” are eligible to any office under general or special school laws.
The Suffragettes armed with this extension of freedom stormed the ballot box to elect the first Elgin woman to hold public office, Mattie Lowrie in 1889.
“We are going to vote,” a member of the Woman’s Club was quoted in the Daily Courier, “because the only hope of the country, so far as temperance and other great issues are concerned lies in the women.”
However, just two years after Mattie Lowrie was voted in, a stagnation in women voters occurred. E.C. Alft believes that this could be due to the limitations of their suffrage and that the women of Elgin wanted more.
Suffrage Heats Up
By the end of the first decade in the 20th century, the suffrage movement was heating up in Elgin.
Dr. Clara D. Todson formed and headed the Civic Equality League, which was affiliated with the c. By the summer of 1910, the IESA decided to make tours of Illinois to gain support for their cause.
When they arrived in Elgin, Todson and Mattie Lowrie greeted the IESA group and then proceeded to drive around the business district with a bright yellow “Votes for Women” streamer. They used a megaphone to attract an audience at Fountain Square, the watch case factory, the watch factory, and D.C. Cook Publishing.
The time came for Elgin to host the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association in early November 1910, and the town was divided. It was clear that most women believed they deserved the vote, but the reasons behind the suffrage was where divisions began.
The most prominent question in the Elgin suffrage movement was whether Elgin should become saloon-free.
Suffrage And Prohibition
Elgin women were helped by the prohibitionists to gain their right to vote in 1913 with the Illinois Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Act.
This Illinois law was the first real suffrage measure adopted by any state east of the Mississippi. The law expanded women’s voting rights to include presidential elections; city, village, and township officials; and perhaps the most significant to the “dry” crusade, local referendums.
Armed with their long-fought suffrage, women led the ensuing crusade to make Elgin a saloon-free city.
On April 7, 1914, the same proposition showed up on the ballot, “Shall this township become anti-saloon territory?”
This was the fourth time the referendum had made an appearance on the ballot. In 1908, 1910, and 1912 the referendum had failed, but with the help of the new voter base, in which 65 percent of women voted “dry,” the prohibitionists were successful in closing the doors to 34 Elgin saloons.
Illinois was the first state in the Union to ratify the 19th Amendment, on June 10, 1919 — just six days after Congress passed the amendment.
However, in order for the suffrage to become federal, it would take almost another year until the last state ratified the amendment on Aug. 18, 1920.
The strong role that Elgin women played in passing the Illinois Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Act in 1913 and the support of the suffragist community became an unstoppable juggernaut in the crusade to make women’s suffrage a federal right.
New Exhibits at The Elgin History Museum
Visit the Elgin History Museum at 360 Park St. in Elgin. Step back into history as you enter Old Main, the stately Greek Revival school building opened in 1856.
Two floors of interactive exhibits help you time travel back to Elgin’s beginnings in 1835. Hear the tick of an Elgin Watch or the roar of the crowd at the Elgin Road Races.
The Elgin History Museum’s newest exhibit features 100 Years of the American Association of University Women. A group that empowers women and girls to become leaders.
The exhibit focuses on some of the Elgin chapter’s projects including day care during World War II for working women, and other community projects that evolved into cultural policy such as the Elgin Art Showcase.
Admission is free for members, $3 for guests, $1 for students and free to children.
Read The Kane County History Series!
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