83 Illinois women, including Grace Wilbur Trout, in the March 1913 NAWSA parade in Washington D.C.
In honor of the Centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, we are featuring a piece in our local newspaper every month about a famous suffragist.
In the May 16 edition of the Union Democrat, we featured Illinois suffragist, Grace Wilbur Trout.
The article and additional information about this suffragist appear below.
Grace Wilbur Trout (1864 – 1955)
By Lane Willey
Address by Grace Wilbur Trout
Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I moved to Chicago in 1884, where I became president of the Chicago Political Equality League. Within two years, we published pamphlets and circulated a petition to lobby our state legislature to grant women voting rights. Believe me, this was an unpopular stance to take. In 1912, I became president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, part of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. I decided to approach our goal of getting the right to vote differently than my predecessor; I organized local organizations and lobbied individual legislators.
For years, a bill had been introduced to the state legislature but went nowhere. I decided to go slow, starting with a bill in 1913 for partial suffrage. We wanted to be able to vote for Presidential electors. I devised a plan with segments that would involve women throughout the state. Each district had a suffrage club that lobbied their own representatives. I had an automobile and conducted speaking tours throughout the state.
My best support came from newspapers. A favorable editorial would be published, and women would make sure the paper was delivered to a legislator’s desk with the editorial on suffrage folded to the top.
Three other women helped me spread the message. We became known as the ‘Big Four.’
We worked behind the scenes, talking individually to legislators. Our legislator chair made cards for each legislator showing their picture, voting record and if their support could be gained. When we talked to them, we knew their records! We listened to advice and were willing to negotiate. We just wanted to be able to vote, not argue.
To show the support in Chicago, we set up a phone system where for one day, every fifteen minutes, Speaker of the House William B. McKinley, received a phone call.
But my favorite day was voting day.
A cab went to pick up any missing legislators who favored suffrage.
To ensure no legislator left the building before voting
I stood at the door and asked him not to leave.
The Illinois Suffrage Act passed that day.
I believed I’d accomplished my goal and stepped down from my presidency in 1920. That year our organization became the League of Women Voters in Illinois.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with you
Sponsored by: Law Office of Jim Cherry, Law Office of Sally Chenault, Frank Russell Attorney at Law, Tuolumne County Bar Association, National Hotel and Restaurant, and Members of LWVML
Trout co-authored the 1913 Illinois Suffrage Bill, which made Illinois the first state west of the Mississippi to grant women the right to vote.
In 1913, Trout spearheaded a telephone call system that resulted in a flood of telegrams, letters, and telephone calls to Speaker of the House William McKinley. This resulted in the scheduling of the Illinois Suffragge Bill for a vote, and Illinois women receiving the right to vote for President and in some elections.
In 1916, Trout worked with NAWSA leaders in a campaign to include a woman’s suffrage plank in the Republican National Convention’s party platform. As the party’s executive committee debated, some 5,000 women marched on Michigan Avenue in a soaking rain. They succeeded, and the Republican party included women’s suffrage in its platform.
On June 10, 1919 Illinois was the first state to ratify the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting the right to vote to all American women. However, there was a race to be first to ratify, and Illinois beat Wisconsin by only one hour. Michigan also ratified the amendment on June 10th, so the three states surrounding Lake Michigan led the country that day.
Trout worked closely with Jane Addams, the co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and who later became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Trout was the author of a book entitled "A Morman Wife." The book became an instant success, as this was the time of debate over accepting Utah as a state, and the controversial Mormon practice of polygamy.
It was written in 1927, “Mrs. Trout’s unusual gifts made her successful on the lecture platform, where she spoke without manuscript or notes. Her study of a theme was exhaustive, her preparation painstaking and the finished product sparkled with wit and humor.” However, she was criticized by some for her designer clothes and love of hats, the bigger the better!
Writings from Grace Wilbur Trout
William McKinley, “the young Speaker of the House, looked worn and haggard ...” wrote Trout in her memoir (Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 23, No. 2).
“He told me he had not been allowed to sleep for many nights —
that hundreds of men from Chicago and from other parts of Illinois
had come down and begged him to never let the suffrage bill come up for the final vote,
and threatened him with political oblivion if he did.”
McKinley told Trout he needed to know if there was real support for the cause.
So, her machine-like Illinois Equal Suffrage Association made sure that McKinley got a call from suffrage supporters “every 15 minutes” for the next three days.
He let the bill have a final vote.