From Evanston’s earliest years, women were active locally and nationally in advocating for women’s suffrage. As early as 1876, Evanston was home to the Pro and Con Club, organized by Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, author and suffrage activist, for the purpose of discussing women’s suffrage. Harbert had participated in the founding of the American Woman’s Suffrage Association and was a close associate of Susan B. Anthony.
World renowned social reformer Frances E. Willard was an active suffrage supporter throughout her life. When she became the second president of the WCTU in 1879, she gradually convinced its members that women’s suffrage was an important way to advance the organization’s temperance reform. The WCTU was the largest organization of women in the U.S. in the 19th century and as such its support of suffrage was key to advancing the movement during that time.
Most prominent among 20th-century suffragists was Catharine Waugh McCulloch. McCulloch began her legal career in 1886 and was the first woman in the U.S. to serve as a Justice of the Peace. She was legal advisor to the National WCTU and the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. When the campaign for Illinois suffrage ended successfully in 1913 (largely through McCulloch’s tireless efforts), there was a torchlight parade of happy supporters to greet her when she arrived home in Evanston.
The Evanston Political Equality League (EPEL) was founded in 1903 with Avis Grant as president and both Elizabeth Harbert and Catharine McCulloch as founding members. The EPEL was the Evanston affiliate of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association and organized local support for suffrage through collecting dues for the IESA and distributing information to Evanstonians about the cause through pamphlets and lectures. Like many local suffrage organizations in the U.S., after the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 the EPEL became the Evanston League of Women Voters. The League was officially founded in February of 1922.