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Lottie Holman O'Neill

Margaret Mary Moran
Brookwood Junior High School, Glenwood

Lottie Holman O'Neill was born on November 7, 1878, in Barry, Illinois. She had a business education and moved to Chicago to find work. There she met William Joseph O'Neill, an Irishman who had immigrated from Australia. They were married in 1904 and moved to Downers Grove. There the O'Neill family lived for over sixty years.

In 1922, when her two sons were teenagers, a Congresswoman from Montana inspired Lottie to get involved with politics and run for the Illinois House of Representatives. She believed that women had the ability to hold office, that they should bring a woman's viewpoint to government, and that it is a fundamental principle of democracy that all people be represented.

Many women volunteered and were appointed as judges or clerks for the 1922 elections because of a petition Mrs. H. S. Paine and Mrs. O'Neill presented. O'Neill traveled throughout Will and DuPage counties campaigning and contradicting, in her own words, the belief of most men that, "women do not know what they want;. . . they are unable to concentrate and realize the vital issues of politics; .... their ideas are vague and indefinite, and, in short, their mentality is not quite up to the standard of the masculine vote and officeholder." O'Neill told them, "All that DuPage County women have to do in the Forty-first District and elsewhere is to hang together and show the masculine citizen that they do know what they want, and, furthermore, that they intend to have it."

She became the first woman from DuPage County to be elected to the Illinois legislature and the first woman to serve there. William O'Neill worked for and backed all of Lottie's political activities. He was ecstatic about her victory and thought women should have an active voice in government, and should be recognized as wholly capable people. He died in 1925, three years after her first election and five years after women were given the right to vote.

O'Neill developed a very distinguished voting record. She said that in nearly forty years, she never voted against a school bill. Parks, recreation, and

70 ILLINOIS HISTORY / APRIL 1994


civil rights, particularly women's rights, were her special interests. She sponsored a bill in her first term to educate crippled children. One of her most famous bills established the eight-hour work day for Illinois women.

She campaigned for votes based on her record. She commented, "If you approve of me as a legislator, return me .... Know your candidates .... know for what men and women stand before you send them to Springfield." Lottie was reelected in 1924, 1926, and 1928. She ran for the state senate in 1930 but lost to Richard A. Barr. She returned to the state legislature in 1932. After Barr's retirement, she was elected a state senator in 1950, 1954.and l958. Thus, O'Neill served in the General Assembly from 1922 to 1963 except for 1930 and 1931. She won her last election when she was 79 even though her opponent was 29 years old. She retired in 1963.

Lottie O'Neil
Lottie O'Neill, a voice for women's rights, education, and civil rights, served in the Illinois legislature for nearly forty years.

Senator O'Neill's Forty-first District, which spread from Elgin on the south and Indiana on the east, covered Will and DuPage counties and had a population of 500,000 by 1960. She tirelessly served the needs of the suburban communities, the industrial areas of Joliet, the coalminers of Coal City, and the farming communities.

O'Neill was deeply interested in civil rights. She was a conservative, a firm Republican, and was adverse to the United Nations in its present form. She opposed the federal income tax and what she regarded as the invasion of government into private business.

Senator O'Neill was respected and feared for her integrity and independence. She was often called "the Conscience of the Senate." She told the legislators when they were being hypocritical or selfish in their actions. She defeated the regular Republican candidates to become a delegate to the 1956 Republican National Convention where she challenged President Eisenhower to tell the National Convention whether he was recovered from his heart attack in 1955 before they nominated him.

Robert P. Howard, the legislative correspondent of the Chicago Tribune, recalled her as "very conservative, but influential. If there was something she wanted, she'd get right in there and battle for it." Although she was a Republican, many Democratic legislators appreciated and honored her. Mrs. Paul Simon, wife of the senator and herself a member of the General Assembly in the late 1950s remembered Lottie O'Neill as "the 'Grande Dame' of the Legislature" and said that all members "had tremendous admiration and respect for her. She was an example for all of us." Mayor Richard J. Daley thought she was a very fair person and often sent her flowers. The love for exotic hats and having a fresh rose on her desk every morning were her feminine trademarks.

Lottie often spoke on the subject of women's interests in government. She instituted the legislative committee of the Downers Grove Woman's Club of which she was a charter member. Senator O'Neill was the guest of honor at Downers Grove's O'Neill Junior High when it was named for her in November 1957. On Friday, March 25, 1964, Lottie O'Neill was given a scroll by the Business and Professional Woman's Club of Downers Grove. The scroll listed her many fine qualities and honored her for starting the club. Her picture was dedicated at the O'Neill Junior High School in 1966. The picture now hangs in the library of the school. On January 14, 1976, a statue was dedicated to her and is located in the capitol rotunda in Springfield. On February 17, 1967, Mrs. Lottie Holman O'Neill died. She was buried with her family in Oak Crest Cemetery in Downers Grove.

She is remembered as the first woman in Illinois to have served in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly, and for having held office longer than any woman in the nation.[From David R. Collins and Evelyn Witter, Illinois Women; David R. Collins and Evelyn Witter, Notable Illinois Women; Downers Grove Reporter, July 10, 1925, Oct. .10, 1935, July 20, 1960, Mar. 25, 1964, June 8, 1966, Jan. 14, 1976, and Jan. 12, 1981; Montrew Dunham and Pauline Wandschneider, Downers Grove 1832-1982; Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State; "Lottie Holman O'Neill, Legislator Warmly Welcomed Political Leader," Illinois National Republican (Mar. 15, 1950); Mrs. A. H. Seaton, "Women of DuPage," Weekly News Digest (June 24, 1922); Adade M. Wheeler and Marlene S. Wortman, The Roads They Made.]

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