From its beginnings in the 1850s, Evanston was a community that encouraged women’s leadership. The Evanston Women’s History Project at the Evanston History Center explores the story of the significant role women have played throughout Evanston history through research projects, digital exhibits, and an online database that includes hundreds of women and women’s organizations.
Starting with North Western Female College, a small women’s college that existed in the town’s earliest days, Evanston was known from the start as a “paradise for women.” At a time when women’s education was still being debated, Evanston welcomed women seeking education and encouraged them to expand their knowledge and their opportunities.
As the town grew after the Civil War, the presence of women who actively worked for the suffrage and temperance movements, and for women’s rights more broadly, influenced the way the town thought of women’s lives and roles. Evanston was home to Frances Willard, head of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the largest organization of women in the U.S. in the 19th century. Though world famous, Willard was just one of many women who played leadership roles in this rapidly changing time for women.
In the 20th century women continued the movement out of their homes and churches, and into larger roles in professions and public life. Evanston women became lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs and educators as these professions opened to them. They also continued to form and support organizations and women’s clubs that would help the community, especially women and children.
The changing role of women included women serving in elected offices. The first woman elected as Alderman was Daisy Sandidge in 1932. The first female mayor was Joan Barr who was elected in 1985. Lorraine Morton (elected in 1993) was the first African American to be elected Mayor – and the first Democrat. In the late 20th century, Evanston was led by a female mayor (Morton) and a majority female city council, and Evanston’s representatives at the state and national levels were also women.
The Evanston Women’s History Project documents and shares this remarkable story. Based at the Evanston History Center, the EWHP was founded in 2007 with the goal of ensuring that Evanston women are remembered for their roles in making Evanston the community it is today.
In 2020, the EWHP focused on the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th (women’s suffrage) amendment. Evanston women were at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement, in Illinois and nationally, and this story was told in multiple ways, including new research, online programs, and online and onsite exhibits. The anniversary culminated in a marker for Catharine Waugh McCulloch on the National Votes for Women Trail.
Visit www.evanstonwomen.org for more and to explore this amazing history on your own.