By Hazel Kirchhoefer, State Historian 1999
Two hundred and twelve women met in St. Louis in July 1919 to organize the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. There was a plaque in the wall of the old Gateway Hotel in St. Louis to commemorate that event.
Article of Incorporation was submitted to the state of Illinois on December 24, 1919. Joanna Downes as President, Anna Ranes as Executive Secretary and Mary Gallagher as Vice President.
The Illinois Federation was organized in Elgin in 1921 as a result of the inspiration Mrs. Beatrice Cowlin of Elgin received when she attended that meeting. Miss Ida Patterson, Rockford, served as the first president of the Illinois Federation. It is interesting to note that the President of the Illinois Federation during the 50th Anniversary year was the late Doris Marks from Rockford, and the President during the 60th anniversary year was Colleen Forry, also from Rockford. Of the seven local organizations at the 1921 organizational meeting, Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin and Springfield still belong to the Illinois Federation.
The first annual convention of the Illinois Federation was held in the Senate Chambers of the State House in Springfield April 14 and 15, 1922. There were 10 clubs with a membership of 775 at that time. The peak number of clubs was 170 in 1968-69. The peak number of members was 11,232 in 1967-68.
Mrs. Vera Huber, State President in 1930, headed the Illinois delegation which joined other members of the National Federation to organize the International Federation in Geneva, Switzerland.
In 1947, the first statewide Leadership Conference was held in Bloomington. Since that time, conferences are held each year to train or instruct officers, chairpersons, etc., in the responsibilities of their positions. The state officers and standing committee chairpersons usually conduct workshops or round table discussions, and frequently there is a motivational speaker.
Perhaps one of the most outstanding achievements of the Illinois Federation occurred in 1948 with the institution of a Fellowship to train qualified women for policy-making posts in government and diplomatic fields. The Fellowship, a first on the national level, was named in honor of Celia M. Howard, tenth President of the Illinois Federation. It originated as a $1,000 scholarship and was changed in 1949 to a Fellowship with a goal of $100,000 Trust Fund. The Fletcher School of law and Diplomacy was selected as the school for training the awardees, but the American Graduate School of International Management, Southern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois have been added. Selections are made on the basis of need as well as previous graduate study or practical experience in business, government, economics and history. In the very beginning, each member contributed two cents at each meeting to finance the Celia M. Howard program, but now the interest from investments pays for the awards.
The Illinois Federation continues to support the national Foundation - our largest contribution was $19,707.48 in 1981-82.
At the 1967 State Convention a project was adopted for the purpose of raising funds for a State Headquarters. A reserve fund of $150,000 was to be established to finance a permanent headquarters in Springfield. A State headquarters was established in 1969-70 and a secretary employed. The $150,000 goal was reached in 1973, and in 1983 the headquarters moved to a larger facility at 528 South Fifth Street where it remains today, a well equipped modern business office.
Action to share the Federation objectives through the media of television, radio, and cassettes was initiated in 1976. Members appeared on radio and television, represented Illinois in the Soviet Union as a part of the people to people program, had information booths at the Illinois Center in Chicago for national Women’s History Week, and at the Illinois State Fair.
Illinois members participated in the passage of the Illinois Spousal Health Insurance Rights Act (SHIRA) through presentation of the bill at a Legislative Conference and by lobbying General Assembly members.
Illinois took an active part in working to finance the renovation of the national Headquarters. A skylight window was purchased to honor Past National President Jean McCarrey.
Illinois has supported BPW/PAC by contributing to funding for candidates who support issues of concern to BPW. They also continue to work for the passage of the ERA.
Bylaws was established as a State Standing Committee in 1990-91. The Choices Project, women helping girls with choices, was adopted that year, too.
Illinois continues to provide the national Federation women to serve in many capacities. Jean L. McCarrey was National President 1973-74. Dr. Frances Whitehead and Mary Lou Koonce each served as National Recording Secretary. In addition, many members have served as committee chairpersons or as committee members.
Though the membership of the Illinois Federation has declined in recent years, the Federation is still a strong organization.