Project to showcase Evanston women in history

Grace Johnson

A two-year effort to research and display the history of influential women in Evanston is ready to be unveiled at the Evanston History Center next year.

The Evanston Women’s History Project is a collaborative, multifaceted endeavor to build curriculum, increase tourism and receive a federal designation as a women’s historical district, said Rebecca Cacayuran, Evanston Community Foundation’s director of development and communications.

“The designation would … put it on the map so tourists can know that Evanston is a great historical destination,” Cacayuran said.

The project will debut in March – Women’s History Month- and will include an exhibition at the Evanston History Center, tours, a women’s history trail and a lecture series, said Lori Osborne, the project’s archivist and coordinator.

Organizers said they want to make the project a long-term success.

“We are hoping it’s not just a one-time thing,” Osborne said. “We are hoping to develop curriculum for schools to use with these women’s stories and a girls’ leadership project. We hope it has a life after the main research is done.”

The project is a collaborative effort involving the Evanston History Center, the Frances Willard Historical Association, the Evanston Public Library, the Young Women’s Christian Association and the Woman’s Club of Evanston.

Much of the project’s funding came from the Evanston Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls, Cacayuran said.

Vickie Burke, a former president of the Woman’s Club and one of the donors and fundraisers for the project, said she had toyed with the idea of a women’s history project for some time.

“It’s important to not lose the history,” she said. “It’s an incredible women’s history in that Evanston seems to always have attracted strong, proactive women, and it continues today and that’s something that should be celebrated, noted and used to establish leaders for the future.”

Female Northwestern students have long been a part of the history of Evanston, Osborne said. For example, three NU sorority sisters who graduated in the 1930s and lived in Evanston started the first radio soap opera, called “Clara, Lu and Em.” The program featured the women playing gossiping housewives.

Project organizers said they hope to commemorate this and other pieces of Evanston women’s history.

“What will have the biggest impact is the large number of women who will be documented,” Burke said. “It will be unbelievable when that mass of information is made available.”

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