A suffragette-era dress on a mannequin in the window of the St. Charles History Museum illustrates the 75-year battle for women’s voting rights. But it also calls attention to the current status of women and acknowledges the future of how women’s history will be told.
“Unfortunately, women tend to get forgotten in history,” said Alison Costanzo, director of the St. Charles History Museum. “So what is so great about Women’s History Month is that it highlights all these fantastic women who did so much. Women’s History Month in March is all about that.”
Costanzo said the museum will have displays of St. Charles women in history, such as Amelia Anderson, the first St. Charles public school nurse, who raised money for students’ medical and dental services in 1919.
The museum is cosponsoring a Brown Bag Lunch program with the St. Charles Public Library called “Fascinating Women of History: Bette Davis” at noon March 17, featuring Leslie Goddard as Bette Davis. The library is at 1 S. Sixth Ave., St. Charles.
The St. Charles museum and other groups in the Fox Valley are promoting women’s history on several fronts.
At the Geneva History Museum, presentations will focus on women’s history, such as author Cynthia Ogorek’s talk about Chicago’s First Ladies, from 2 to 4 p.m. March 21 at 113 S. Third St., Geneva.
Geneva History Museum Executive Director Terry Emma said Geneva has a history of strong, progressive women who accomplished much to better their community.
“The more research I do, the more I find that women are the ones who got things done,” Emma said. “The women of the Geneva Improvement Association got the … train depot to be built. For years, men had been writing letters and trying to get [a new depot built], but it took a bunch of women to get it done in 1892.”
The brick train depot was built on Third Street in 1893 to replace a structure that was an eyesore, according to the city’s history. First, the women wrote to the president of the Northwestern Railroad to ask for a new building. And when they were ignored, several went to Chicago to call on him personally, Emma said, citing “Geneva, Illinois, A History of Its Times and Places” written by volunteers and published by the Geneva Library District in 1977.
The new depot stood until 1959, when it was torn down, according to the city’s history.
Women’s groups in Geneva also organized the first public kindergarten, as well as a form of local relief for the needy. Those involved led the way for the public library building, raised money to plant more than 600 elm trees on the parkways and raffled a quilt to pay for a chain to keep cows out of the West Side Cemetery, Emma said, according to the city’s history.
The organizing of the Geneva Improvement Association in 1890 also illustrates attitudes about women, according to the book of Geneva’s history. The women themselves did not think it was proper for a woman to be president of the group. Mayor Dennis Hogan asked that the officers for next year be women, and Julia Plato Harvey became the first woman in Geneva to serve as president of an organization with men and women as members.
Emma said a section in the museum’s new gallery features women’s contributions.
“That is what makes Women’s History Month so important – because they did not get the recognition they deserved,” Emma said. “The more research I do, the women are the ones who made it happen, especially for Geneva.”
St. Charles resident Kay Catlin keeps a record of women’s history all year – not just in March – in the form of 22 signatures in a collection of significant women in her baby boomer generation. These include Condoleeza Rice’s signature on a baseball, Barbara Walter’s signature on stationery from the Waldorf Astoria, Hillary Clinton’s on a page from her high school yearbook, and Maya Angelou’s on one of her poems, Catlin said.
Each is framed, and all are available for display by organizations and groups, such as libraries or history museums, for a free-will offering by calling 630-476-1128, she said.
“These are all women who made history in my lifetime,” Catlin said.
Women’s History Month should be of particular interest to young women, so they know how far society has come in expanding rights and opportunities to women, Catlin said.
“I was in college during the Vietnam War at Western Illinois University,” Catlin said. “We had hours – or curfews – where we had to be in at a certain time. And we had a dress code. You had to dress for dinner, and you could not wear slacks to class. It was like that everywhere.”
Then, protests of the war and other institutions during the 1960s changed society, she said.
“Young people take it for granted,” Catlin said. “This signature collection is a starting point for a lot of discussion of how things have changed and how brave some of these women were.”
If You Go
Free events for Women’s History Month at Elgin Community College, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin, are planned, including:
• Annual Wise Latina Brunch, 8 a.m. Monday at the Building E dining room.
• Generation FF – First Generation of Female Immigrants: Challenges, Hopes, Perspectives, 12:30 to 2 p.m. March 18 at the Building B community room.
• Soup N’ Stories, featuring Evolution of a Black Girl, as Morgan McCoy portrays 12 inspirational characters, 11 a.m. March 19 at Building G Spartan Auditorium.
• Inspiring Tea, featuring Kyla Lacy, 1 to 3 p.m. March 31 at Building B community room.
There will be two free events at the Holmstad, 700 W. Fabyan Parkway, Batavia, for Women’s History Month:
• The Journey to Mollie’s War, at 7 p.m. March 26, features author Cyndee Schaffer sharing her mother’s experiences in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II.
• Molly Brown: More Than Unsinkable, will be at 7 p.m. March 30. Barbara Kay will portray a living history of Margaret “Molly” Brown, who survived the Titanic and went on as a social reformer and champion of rights for women, children and workers.