In light of Women’s History Month this March, we are honoring Chicago female politicians and activists from the past and present. These women helped shape the political and social climate of Chicago and beyond.
Students, staff and community members interested in learning about Chicago women and the organizations they served can find photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, campaign memorabilia and more in the Daley Library Special Collections.
The profiles below highlight several of the Chicago women and organizations featured in the Special Collections archives:
Alma Zola Groves (1898-1984)
Alma Zola Groves served as assistant attorney general under six Illinois attorneys general. She also participated in women’s organizations at the local, state, and national levels. Groves helped organize and served as president of the Illinois Federated Business and the Professional Women’s Club of Chicago. She was also active in the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois and the National Association of Women Lawyers where she served as Publicity Chair.1
Esther Saperstein (1901-1988)
Saperstein served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1957 to 1967. She made history in 1966 as the first Democratic woman elected to the Illinois Senate. While in the General Assembly, Saperstein focused on education, public aid, health, and women’s rights issues. She assisted in the passage of House bill 1505 which established the Commission on the Status of Women. Under her leadership, the Commission reviewed women’s employment issues and equal employment opportunities for women. In 1975, Saperstein was elected Alderwoman of Chicago’s 48th Ward.2
Joanne Alter (1927-2008)
Joanne Alter was a politician, activist and community organizer. Her efforts centered on environmental, education, feminist and cultural issues. Alter served as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago from 1972 to 1990. Alter’s political career began in the fifties when she served as secretary to the Young Democrats. Alter co-founded the Illinois Democratic Women’s Organization and served multiple times as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Alter also founded the Junior Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago.3
League of Women Voters of Chicago
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that was founded on February 14, 1920, in Chicago. The League of Women Voters influences public policy by distributing information to citizens and advocating for or against certain public interest policies based on facts and details. The organization encourages citizens to participate in the democratic process and to work toward positive solutions for society’s pressing issues.4
Chicago National Organization of Women
The National Organization of Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 and the Chicago chapter was established in 1967. NOW’s goal is to eliminate sexism and end oppressions through legal, political, social and economic change. Chicago NOW works to create equal wages, address women’s health issues and stop violence against women. Chicago NOW hosts panel discussions, fundraisers, and other political activities open to the public.5
Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded the Hull House in 1889 in Chicago’s Near West Side. It was the first social settlement in Chicago, and became one of the most influential settlement houses in the country. Residents of Hull House established Chicago’s first public playground, advocated for reformation in ward politics and public schools, and investigated housing, working and sanitation issues. The residents also offered courses for new immigrants looking to succeed in America. On the state level, Hull House residents lobbied for child labor laws and protection of immigrants. Nationally, the residents fought for national child labor laws, women’s suffrage and unemployment compensation, among other issues.6
See the UIC Library website for a list of manuscript collections. Phone Special Collections staff (312 996 2742) or Ask a Librarian to make an appointment to see specific materials.