Tag Archives: Politics

Women’s History Month

Kate’s signature from a letter written in 1937 to Chief A. E. Bargren congratulating him on his 47th anniversary as a Rockford policeman. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate’s signature from a letter written in 1937 to Chief A. E. Bargren congratulating him on his 47th anniversary as a Rockford policeman. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate F. O’Connor

In honor of Women’s History Month, we thought it would be fitting to talk about Kate O’Connor, one of the most notable businesswomen, philanthropists and suffragists from the Rockford area. Here are some highlights from her life story.


Early Years

If you lived in Rockford from the 1880s to the 1940s, you would know the name Kate F. O’Connor. Born June 1, 1863 in Rockford, IL to Irish immigrants Cornelius O’Connor and Mary O’Malley O’Connor, Kate was the youngest of 8 children. She graduated from Rockford High School in 1878, and afterwards studied drawing and attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago.



In 1882 Kate was appointed to the position of Deputy to the County Clerk. Four years later she was made a notary public by Illinois Governor Ogilsby. The Register newspaper described her in 1887 as follows: “Though she does the work of an able-bodied man, she is small and slight in appearance, wears her hair down her back in one braid, and never wears her dresses longer than to her ankles.” (12/29/1887) The article continues to state her local popularity in both the business and wider communities.


Kate, age 30, pictured in 1894. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate, age 30, pictured in 1894. (Midway Village Museum)


Her popularity was put to the test in 1894. That year, the papers reported that the new County Clerk wanted Kate to resign from her position, citing that too much of her time was being spent on other commitments. (Morning Star, 11/15/1894) The local uproar was reported in the papers, citing her faithful and exemplary record in the position, and within 5 days, the County Clerk reversed his original statement.

In 1898 Kate did leave her position, opening up her own offices in the Brown Building, which offered services in pensions, loans, real estate, and insurance, with probate matters listed as a specialty. Kate found much success in the real estate business and focused her efforts in that sector. She eventually opened an office in Chicago, doing business in Winnebago, Stephenson, Ogle, and Cook Counties.



Looking at Kate’s long list of organizations and clubs she was a part of there were not many clubs in Rockford that she was not involved in. She was a part of groups at St. James’ Catholic Church, member of the Business & Professional Woman’s Club, founded the Rockford Riding Club in 1887, and was involved in the Winnebago County Home for the Aged, among many, many others. She sponsored petitions, directed inquiries into wrong doings, and fought for Civil War widows to receive their husband’s pensions.

In 1921 Kate, along with her fellow members of the Business & Professional Woman’s Club, backed Rockford teachers in a dispute over equal pay for female teachers. She continued this fight when being appointed to the Board of Education, pushing for general teacher and student welfare. Her advocacy eventually led to her appointment in 1933 by Governor Henry Horner to supervisor of the new minimum wage law for women and children in Illinois. She made strides, getting new wage scales for women & minors working in laundries, and pushed for wage regulations in beauty shops. In 1942, she was made assistant to Thomas F. O’Malley, regional director of the federal wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rockford Republic, 4/29/1921

Rockford Republic, 4/29/1921



Kate was an outspoken supporter of the woman’s equal rights movement, cited many times locally in papers for her comments on the subject, and was well known for her strong opinions on equal rights for women in all ways. In an 1888 article noting Rockford women’s differing opinions on the topic, Kate states: “Great reforms will always work out in time, and woman suffrage is inevitable. There is certainly no good reason why woman should not vote if she wants to, and every argument advanced against it so far, is without foundation, and cannot be substantiated by rational proof.” (Daily Gazette, 1/26/1888) As the flag was raised on the newly completed courthouse in Rockford, Kate tied a yellow ribbon, representing equal suffrage, to the flag’s rope.

A charter member of the Illinois League of Women Voters, she spoke to women’s groups across the state, working diligently in the effort to win the vote, and, after that battle was won, continued to remind women of their duty to vote. In 1929, along with Jane Addams & Catherine Waugh McCulloch, she was honored by the National Suffrage Organization for her efforts. The next year, she had another first as a member of the first jury in Winnebago County to have women and men serving together. In 1932, she was Vice chairman of the 12th Congressional District for the Illinois Democratic Women’s Congressional Committee.

She actively campaigned for Ruth Hanna McCormick, Judge Henry Horner, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was appointed by Horner to run his re-election campaign for his second term as Governor of Illinois.


Starting around 1907, Kate commented on her preference to wear suits, as seen in this photo, c. 1930. (Midway Village Museum)

Starting around 1907, Kate commented on her preference to wear suits, as seen in this photo, c. 1930. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate died May 25, 1945 in St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago of a heart attack.

This of course is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s lots more to learn about Kate! Go to our Downloadable Resources page here to learn more!

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Undercover Agents in Rockford during Prohibition

By Guest Blogger Noah Neiber

Noah is a home school student who is active in the museum’s junior volunteer program and works in the Collections department once a week.

Prohibition.  It was a time when crime rose to become powerful, and anarchy ran rampant across America.  The law meant little or nothing to people, and law enforcement seemed powerless if not incapable.  All of this was due to a division in the United States over alcohol and the question of whether or not it was immoral to partake of it.  The feud between the wets – those who wanted alcohol to remain legal – and the drys – those against the selling of alcohol – continued until January 6, 1919, when the United States government ratified the 18th Amendment to the constitution that forbid the selling or consumption of alcoholic drinks.  That was the beginning of what is now known as prohibition. 

The struggle was keeping people from drinking alcohol as well as keeping them from brewing it at home.  This was an evident problem throughout all of prohibition, because not only were small town people involved, but the mob as well.  The mob retrieved liquor from Canada.  They also brewed their own and made a fortune off of it.  A well-known success story is that of mobster Al Capone, who made millions off of the illegal sale of alcohol.  He operated from Chicago and would occasionally even do business with people in Rockford.  This is where our story comes in.

Rockford was a major center for selling alcoholic drinks and other criminal enterprises for many reasons.  One of the biggest reasons was our proximity to Chicago which was, in all respects, a mob run town.  There were also corrupt Illinois officers who liked to drink.  The St. Louis Star newspaper stated: “It is said that least two bootleggers carry deputy sheriff stars.”  As prohibition took hold, many police forces struggled to keep up with the enforcement of it.  It took a while for those in charge to realize that they needed a new tactic.  So law enforcement started using a new strategy to bring down alcohol sellers: the use of undercover agents.

These undercover agents were generally people from out of town who could keep a low profile as they mingled with the owners of bars.  The eventual goal was to provide evidence that these establishments were selling and/or producing alcoholic beverages.  Rockford has records of having such brave men in their employment.  One example was Agent 126, whose real name is believed to be George F. Moore.  His job was to get in close to owners of pool halls, bars, and small establishments that housed stills.  When trust was built, these bootleggers brought him deeper into the organization of people selling booze.  Once enough evidence was compiled, he would turn them over to the cops.

Despite the efforts of people like Agent 126, criminals continued to sell liquor unabated.  Because of this, and the growing demands of people who wanted to legally drink again, the government repealed the 18th Amendment in 1933, and the sale of liquor became legal again throughout all states.  Now law enforcement could finally take a rest and not be concerned about people selling illegal alcohol.  Rockford was no longer a place of prohibition related crimes and we could breathe a sigh of relief before World War II began.  It was no longer a mad scramble between individual still owners to produce the most alcohol and rule the underworld.  It was just peace for people like Agent 126 who had fought, and some died, to keep crime from expanding and taking over.

 Note: Midway Village Museum has in it archives a collection of reports from agents like George Moore, detailing their undercover operations during prohibition.

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West!

William F. Cody was born in Iowa in 1846.  When he was just a boy, his father moved the family to Kansas, settling near Fort Leavenworth.  Cody was naturally skilled in shooting and riding, and at the age of 14, became a renowned pony express rider, a dangerous occupation on the plains.  The advertisement called for “skinny, expert riders willing to risk death daily.”   Clearly not one to be left out of the excitement, he served as a Union scout during the Civil War as part of the Seventh Kansas Calvary.  Cody continued to serve the Army after the war as a scout and dispatch rider.

In 1867, Cody began hunting buffalo to feed the Kansas Pacific Railroad workers.  In seventeen months, he had killed 4,280 buffalo.  It is believed that he took up a contest with William Comstock to see who could kill more buffalo in eight hours.  With Cody’s 69 to Comstock’s 46, Cody earned the nickname Buffalo Bill.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Program, 1893

His reputation as Buffalo Bill grew into that of a national folk hero.  Ned Buntline’s dime novels featured Buffalo Bill along the ranks of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.  In 1872, Buntline even persuaded Cody to appear in his play The Scouts of the Plains, which was a great success thanks in part to Cody’s natural showmanship.  Riding on this achievement, Cody organized Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883.  The show dramatized frontier life with buffalo hunts, Indian attacks, the Pony Express, and a presentation of Custer’s Last Stand.  His show featured stars such as Annie Oakley, Buck Taylor, and, for one season, Chief Sitting Bull, the “slayer of Custer.”  He added the Congress of Rough Riders of the World that featured cavalrymen around the world, including Mexico, Russia, and Syria.  The show toured for thirty years, even travelling to Europe.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show pulling into Rockford, July 26, 1901

 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show even made it to Rockford in 1901!  The show then returned for Rockford’s Chautauqua events, the first of which was held in August 1902 at Harlem Park.  The Chautauqua was advertised as a place of learning for adults: “A School for Out-of-School People.”  It was a two-week long event that offered lectures on cultural and political topics, women’s topics, and global topics with speakers from all over the country.  Musical performances could be heard, including music from the Third Regiment Band every evening.  Kindergarten classes were taught for younger children, as well as art, cooking, and elocution classes for adults.  Sundays offered church services and Sunday School.  And of course, Buffalo Bill and his Congress of Rough Riders were there to thrill and impress the crowds.

Upcoming Event!!

See for yourself Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show featuring Annie Oakley at Midway Village’s 1900 American Chautauqua! 

June 9 & 10, 2012

  • Meet Theodore Roosevelt as portrayed by nationally known Joe Weigand as he campaigns for the 1900 Republican Party ticket.
  • Chat with Mark Twain and meet famous Americans Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley
  • Thrill to demonstrations of sharp shooting, trick riding and Native American Indian demonstrations at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World on the Midway Village Green with two shows on Saturday (12:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.) and one on Sunday (2:30 p.m.) along with a wide variety of other popular activities, presentations and entertainments of the times.
  • The 1900 America event will include live period music featuring Mark Dvorak on Saturday and Rockford’s own Betsy Kaske both days in the Midway Village church.
  • Experience Dr. Balthasar’s Miracle Medicine Shows
  • Visit and learn from re-enactors depicting Spanish-American/Philippine War soldiers’ encampment
  • Rockford’s Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Veterans
  • View demonstrations of antique high-wheel bicycles by the Illinois Wheelmen and Wisconsin Wheelmen and horse drawn wagon rides.
  • Participate in classes in the art of 19th century military sabre and pugilism taught by Allen Reed, Headmaster of Gallowglass Academy and Professor of Antagonistics, Leaf River, Illinois.

For more details and admission prices, click here: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/event-registration/?ee=4


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The Illinois Andersonville Monument Commission

Guest blog entry by Noah Neiber

In 1864 during the Civil War there was a Confederate prisoner of war camp constructed near Americus, Georgia. The name of that camp was Andersonville and it became well-known as one of the harshest camps in the Civil War. Many Union soldiers died at that camp of malnutrition and heat stroke. 889 of those were from Illinois. The ones who survived were in wretched condition but at least made it out at the end of the war.

Among those survivors were five men who would not soon forget what pain they had to go through. And because of this fact they could not allow the sufferings of their brothers to go on unremembered. So that future generations would remember what they had to go through for their cause, these men decided to form a committee and erect a monument in honor of those from Illinois who died at Andersonville. These men were A.H. McCracken of Chicago who was the president, G.J. George of Springfield who was the Vice President, Lewis F. Lake of Rockford who was the secretary and treasurer, William H. Hainline, and James M. Swales. Together they formed a commission in 1907 to erect the monument.

But in order to do this they had to find a contractor to submit a good design and to erect the monument. It took them a while to find the contractor that they thought could do the monument correctly, but they finally chose the Trigg Monument Company of Rockford, Illinois.

Trigg Monument Works, c. 1880s

Now from here it was not smooth sailing. The monument should have been done within a year, but there were so many delays due to things that ranged from the health of the commission members that stalled meetings, to weather in Andersonville that cracked the foundations of the monument, to the misinterpretation of what the commission wanted the monument to look like.

Because of such delays the monument took years to build, but it was completed in December of 1912, and finally dedicated on the 20th of that month. When completed the  granite pedestal was 20 feet by 24 feet and the monument itself was 18 feet overall. The monument depicts large figures of “Columbia with Youth and Maiden” that are supposed to depict nations to come. Engraved in it are the last clause of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address and the last clause of his Gettysburg address. There are also two figures on the side of the monument that represent veterans of the Civil War as a sad reminder of what they had to go through in that war.

The dedication of the Illinois Andersonville Monument, December 1912

The men of this commission had many battles of their own during the construction of this monument. It was a long and hard process that required a lot of sacrifice from each member; however, in the end though it was all worth it, because their hard work could finally help generations to remember the sacrifice that the prisoners at Andersonville made, not just at Andersonville, but throughout the whole of the war. The monument they built is there to remind us of the cost of freedom and how it affects even the very place we live.

A close up of the Illinois Andersonville Monument

If you would like to learn more about the Illinois Andersonville Monument Commission, the records of the exploits of these men are at the Midway Village in our collections and research department. Also, if you would like to learn more about the Civil War in general, please join us on Saturday, January 21 from 10 am -2:pm for our 10th annual Civil War Symposium.

For more information about the Civil War Symposium, please visit our event page: http://www.midwayvillage.com/event_calendar.cfm?id=1048

Noah Neiber is a Midway Village Museum volunteer. In addition to being a junior interpreter, Noah also volunteers in the Collections Department. He and his mother, Michele, recently cataloged the Illinois Andersonville Monument Commission collection.


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“Well Done, Sister Suffragette!”

When many of us think of the phrase ‘votes for women,’ we may be reminded of a scene from the Disney classic Mary Poppins.  Mrs. Banks comes home from women’s rights meeting with an electric energy that swoops her, her cook, and her maid into song: “Cast off the shackles of yesterday! Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!  Our daughters’ daughters will adore us and they’ll sing in grateful chorus: ‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!’”

The word ‘suffragette’ is commonly recognized because of this song, “Sister Suffragette.” However, this term was only used in the United Kingdom.  When the name traveled to the U.S., it was used instead by the opposition to belittle American suffragists because of its feminine and delicate sound.  For instance, “She’s only a little suffragette.”  American women’s rights activists called themselves suffragists.

American women did not receive the constitutional right to vote in an election until 1920, but did you know that Rockford women did participate in the vote before then?  They had been voting since 1891!  In fact, the first woman suffrage convention in Illinois met at Rockford’s Centennial Church in 1888.

This ballot box was used by Rockford women in the 9th District between the years of about 1891 to 1921.  On June 19, 1891, Illinois Legislature passed an act that allowed Illinois women over the age of 21 to vote in school elections after July 1, 1891.  The law at that time indicated that ballots cast by women “shall be deposited in a separate ballot box.” (Laws of Illinois, Chapter 46, Section 332)

In 1913, a bill came up at the Illinois General Assembly for women’s right to vote.  For years it had been dismissed by the Assembly, but incredibly the Illinois Municipal Voting Act was passed.  Women could vote in Presidential elections and for all local offices, but still could not participate in state representative, congressman or governor elections.  Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi River to pass a bill like this.

A suffrage parade was arranged to take place in Chicago on June 6, 1916.  Marie Perry Forbes, daughter of a Rockford mayor, organized Rockford women to march.  Those women whose husbands didn’t approve of their going donated money for those who could not afford to go.  The ladies wore white dresses with yellow sashes and hats.  As they marched down the streets of Chicago, it began to rain, and the yellow ran over their dresses.  Marie commented that they were an “awful-looking outfit” when they returned home.

It wasn’t until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that Illinois Legislature declared “that it shall not be necessary at any election to provide separate ballots or ballot boxes for women” in 1921. (Illinois Revised Statues, Chapter 46, Paragraph 67)

This ballot box was used for a total of thirty years, and while it might look worse for wear, it symbolizes the struggle and transition of Winnebago women to achieve what they believed to be their greatest right of all: a voice.


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