1972 Joanne Alter - founder of the Illinois Women’s Political Caucus - wins a seat on the Metropolitan Sanitary District (now MWRD), the first woman to win countywide in Cook. 1994 Newspaper scribe turned lawmaker Judy Baar Topinka is elected first female State Treasurer. (“Thinka Topinka!”) In 2006, she would be the Illinois GOP’s first female gubernatorial nominee. Topinka spoke four languages and played the accordion.
First let us pay homage to some political trailblazers (in chrono order)…
1922 Lottie O’Neill of Downers Grove is elected the first woman in the Illinois House, serving on-and-off in the General Assembly until 1963. O'Neill is best-known for requiring 8th graders to pass a Constitution test and for opposing the U.N.
1922 Writer Winnie Huck is first Illinois woman in Congress, elected to fill the term of her late-father. Alas, Party poo-bahs don’t back her for re-election; her time in D.C. is short.
1924 Bloomington Republican Florence Fifer Bohrer (daughter of former Gov. “Private Joe” Fifer) is elected first woman in the Illinois Senate where she’ll serve four terms.
1929 Ruth Hanna McCormick (daughter of Ohio power-broker Mark Hanna and widow of a U.S. Senator) wins statewide at-large seat in Congress. In 1930, she's first Illinois woman to win a U.S. Senate nomination, ousting the incumbent, but losing in the General.
CWLU founded in 1969. Courtesy of Busy Beaver Museum.
1971 Anna Langford and Marilou Hedlund are first women elected to Chicago City Council. A new bathroom must be built.
1972 Joanne Alter - founder of the Illinois Women’s Political Caucus - wins a seat on the Metropolitan Sanitary District (now MWRD), the first woman to win countywide in Cook. She's also a trailblazing environmental voice.
1974 Nina Shepherd is the first woman elected as University of Illinois Trustee. In 1985, she’s the first woman named Chair.
1979 Jane Byrne is first woman elected Chicago Mayor.
Late '70s-early '80s Despite repeated tries, Illinois supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment fall short of ratification.
("Write-in Byrne" & "One Year Left" courtesy of Busy Beaver Museum)
"National Federation of Republican Women 1938-1988"
1994 Newspaper scribe turned lawmaker Judy Baar Topinka is elected first female State Treasurer. (“Thinka Topinka!”) In 2006, she would be the Illinois GOP’s first female gubernatorial nominee.
1992 Carol Moseley Braun upsets incumbent U.S. Sen. Al “The Pal” Dixon, becoming our State’s first female and first African-American U.S. Senator. She was also the first woman in U.S. history to oust an incumbent U.S. Senator. (See also Gallery #3 - "They Ran for POTUS" and Gallery #30 - "Lagniappes")
1992 Mary Ann McMorrow is the first woman elected to our State Supreme Court. When McMorrow becomes Chief Justice 10 years later, she’s the first woman to lead any branch of Illinois government.
1994 After being the first Illinois woman elected Comptroller in 1990, Dawn Clark Netsch is the first Illinois woman nominated for Governor by a major party. When she’s paired with Sen. Penny Severns post-Primary, they're the first female duo to head a ticket in Illinois. (The circles-within-circles Dawn Penny button is among my all-time faves.)
"Netsch 9/9/94" courtesy Busy Beaver Museum.
1997 Soon-to-retire State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie becomes first female Party Majority Leader in the General Assembly.
1998 Barrington State Rep. Corinne Wood is the first Illinois woman elected Lieutenant Governor (as George Ryan’s running-mate). An advocate for women’s health, she spearheads a national battle against Abercrombie & Fitch for sexy ads, and is dragged down by George in her '02 Governor’s bid.
2003 State Sen. Lisa Madigan is first woman elected as Illinois Attorney General.
2010 Ex-high school teacher and Chicago Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle is first woman elected as Cook County Board President.
Many milestones yet to be had. And let's not forget those who may not have been the first, but left a lasting contribution. Let’s also honor so many Illinois women who blazed trails without being electeds. Jane Addams, Matilda Carse (WCTU), Ida B. Wells, Mary Harris aka Mother Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks, Florence Scala, Gale Cincotta…
"Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living." Mother Jones button courtesy of Busy Beaver Museum.
Evanston-born teacher Lynn Martin had a meteoric career, from Winnebago County Board member to Springfield to Congress to U.S. Labor Secretary. She was the GOP U.S. Senate nominee in ’90 against Simon, and reportedly on George H.W. Bush’s VP short list.
Susan Catania was a Chicago GOP State Rep (pre-Cutback) who was sponsor of the ERA ratification, an early advocate for gay rights and the first lawmaker to breast-feed in the House powder room. She is remembered for bringing her baby on the floor of the ’76 Republican National Convention where she pushed for a pro-choice platform plank.
State Rep. Lauren Beth Gash lost her Congressional bid, but for some reason, this button always spoke to me. Clean design and font, cool color scheme, subtle use of the word "choice".
Joanne Alter was the first woman elected to a Cook County-wide seat. (Love the watery theme of these Water Rec buttons. Pat Young even carried it to her County Clerk race.)
Illinois Republican Women's Federation (late 1970s)
Take Back the Night...Reclamamos La Noche. 1980. Courtesy Busy Beaver Museum.
- Claude Walker. Bicentennial-by-Buttons: 200 Years of Trailblazers, Rascals and Felons