Frances Willard Historical Association to upgrade Administration Building


David Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Frances Willard House, 1730 Chicago Ave. After her death, Willard donated the house to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

Madison Daum, Assistant City Editor

The Center for Women’s History and Leadership has started to upgrade the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s Administration Building, aiming to make the center a hub for women empowerment and innovation.

Located at 1730 Chicago Ave., the WCTU Administration Building made the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, according to a news release from the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives. The WCTU and the Frances Willard Historical Association will work together to upgrade the building.

FWHA executive director Glen Madeja said the WCTU started as an organization mainly focused on the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 and also worked on childhood education and the wage gap for women. He described the FWHA as a “huge women’s organization dedicated to making women equal in society.”

As technology transformed the workplace, Madeja said employees no longer needed the office space, and no one took care of the building. When Madeja was a volunteer gardener in 2011, he said he realized that some parts of the building were rotting and falling apart.

“I said, ‘This is crazy — we should be able to use this building for something,’” Madeja said. “I’m looking at this place, and I’m thinking we could use this for exhibits, for holding events. We could rent out part of it eventually.”

According to the release, the improvement project received grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmarks Illinois.

Madeja said he has started cleaning out the building with volunteers, and the new funding will go to solving infrastructure issues.

“We have to start addressing some of issues internally and get it to a point where it can be used and people are comfortable and safe,” Madeja said. “Then we can move forward and start working on actual renovation.”

Madeja said the upgrades will address fire safety, temperature systems and electrical components. The building currently has a WCTU historical exhibit, staged office space and potential room for archival storage.

Madeja said he would eventually like to turn the building into an incubator for women’s businesses.

Vickie Burke, the president of the FWHA, also said she hopes the building center will become a hub for women entrepreneurs. She described Evanston as a “hotbed” for women starting businesses and grassroots organizations to address social issues.

Burke emphasized the archival aspect of the building, because looking to research and knowledge from the past helps inform current social movements.

“It’s our hope that the whole property and building will become an active hive of making a difference and women making change happen for the better of their community,” Burke said.

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