Janet Duitsman Cornelius
Educated and energetic women, filled with the Progressive spirit and determined to bring the best of its potential to their hometown, began the Woman's Club of Danville in 1895. The Woman's Club took a stand for "municipal housekeeping" in its broadest sense, targeting the need for a cleaner, more healthful city and fighting to control disease. Despite their lack of the vote, Danville women vigorously pursued the universal woman activist's goal: applying the cleanliness, efficiency, order, and usefulness of a well-run home to the needs of the community. As the women of the Danville Woman's Club took a stand, their enemies were apathy and inertia, a disinclination of the privileged to share their resources with the less fortunate, and the vested interests that benefited from the status quo and saw the women as interlopers beyond their proper domestic sphere.
Danville's Woman's Club was part of a national federation of 495 clubs counting 100,000 members, including Illinois branches in Chicago, Naperville, Rockford, Sterling, Galesburg, Peoria, Springfield, Bloomington, Jacksonville, Champaign, Urbana, and elsewhere. The national and state federations urged members to become involved in activities such as nurseries and kindergartens, tighter school attendance laws, and child nutrition.
Thus inspired, the Woman's Club members began their social action with a focus on the physical and social welfare of Danville's children, a direction that historians termed "political motherhood." They succeeded in getting a woman elected to the school board and persuaded the city council to appoint a woman truant officer, Franc Slocum, who was a club member. Dividing the city systematically by
The Woman's Club's concern with sanitation continued as club women cooperated with men's civic groups "to prevent the scattering of waste paper on streets and sidewalks, also in yards." In 1906 club members participated in Danville's first clean-up day, during which eighty teams worked for two days to remove 1,700 loads of rubbish from the city streets. The Woman's Club and the City Council followed up the cleanup by purchasing eighteen public wastepaper cans. The women found that persuasion and public exposure were effective in tackling the city's diseases and dirt. Reflecting the national concern with unsafe food, which had led to the passage in 1906 of the Pure Food and Drug Act, the club in 1909 petitioned local grocers, "asking them to use more sanitary methods in displaying fresh fruits and vegetables in front of their stores" (the flies can only be imagined). The grocers used the women's petition to get the city council to pass an ordinance imposing sanitation in displays. In 1913 the Woman's Club sponsored a visit by the state Pure Food inspector to go through all the groceries and bakeries in the city.
In 1912 Josephine Snyder, President of the Woman's Club, recommended that the club and the city pay greater attention to public
The Woman's Club was deeply involved in these matters of tuberculin testing and public grants, functions which would be fulfilled by local and state bureaucracies in our era. This was typical of pre-welfare state conditions, when either private agencies did it or it did not get done, but Danville in particular seemed to rely on volunteerism for its social welfare. A 1926 survey of public health in Illinois towns indicated that out of 15 cities, "Danville and one other city were the only two ... that spent so little for public health service." Another disturbing issue was the death rate in Danville, which in 1926 "averaged considerably higher than that for the State," according to a report written by the public health physician. The reasons for this high death rate related to the industrial working conditions, the alcohol and prostitution endemic to the city, and the economic and physical deprivation of many of its residents. Danville women did not tackle the latter question; they examined only superficially why so many of Danville's children lacked adequate shoes and nutrition. Most club members, wives of businessmen, did not study wage inequality, patterns of hiring and layoffs, or unions. They did, however, tackle the problems of alcoholism and prostitution.
Danville's notoriety as a "sin city" was well established by 1900. Newspaper accounts of arrests for public drunkenness and prostitution centered around two "red light districts" in the city in the early 1900s, one near Danville Junction, where passengers and freight changed trains, and the other south of Main Street. The results for public health were obvious in disease statistics: In 1903 St. Elizabeth's Hospital, near the south red light district, treated 15 patients for syphilis, one for opium addiction, and 28 for alcoholism, more than for any other disease. These numbers were supported by anecdotal evidence about "Emma," who drank herself to death at the age of 45, "Martha," who attempted suicide after being arrested in a house of prostitution, and numerous other men and women whose arrests for drunkenness and "loitering" made the newspapers.
There was considerable money to be made in the combination of sins—prostitution, alcohol, and gambling—which led to alliances between the businesses of vice and local government. Owners of bars, according to a local Prohibition Party newspaper, fought enforcement of Danville's ordinance against saloons operating houses of prostitution on their premises because "the two evils are inseparable, and if the ... women are compelled to vacate their haunts over the saloons it will decrease the saloonkeepers' income to a considerable amount." Despite several reform campaigns that exposed the bribery of elected officials by liquor dealers, an unholy alliance persisted between liquor, prostitution, and gambling interests and Danville's political system.
Club women supported these political reforms because, as Progressives, they tried to bring about morality and efficiency in government. The Danville Woman's Club also saw the public health dangers in prostitution. Following national Federation of Woman's Clubs leadership, they launched a "social
The two groups, Danville Woman's Club and the Danville Women's Christian Temperance Movement, found common ground in advocating woman suffrage. Club women were frustrated at having to depend on the good humor of male voters and legislators in their hard work for public health and other social reforms. After a crucial debate and decision at their 1904 Danville meeting, Illinois woman's clubs began to work for votes for women. The Danville WCTU had long supported the suffrage campaign with the expectation that voting women would rid the community of liquor sales and therefore remove support for other social evils, including prostitution and gambling. Both the Woman's Club and the WCTU, therefore, supported the successful effort by the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association to gain votes for Illinois women in presidential and municipal elections in 1913. In Danville, as well as in other cities in Illinois, the fact that women were able to vote in 1913 made a real difference. With a new bloc of empowered women voters, reformers renewed efforts to make Danville a "dry" city where liquor could not be sold. In 1917 the temperance voters succeeded in voting Danville dry, and the deciding votes were cast by women. As a newspaper headline trumpeted, "Day Saved by the Women/Their Votes Made Danville Dry Cause Win," Danville women had proven that they were not afraid to use the political system to try to create a healthier, cleaner city, first through persuasion and public information and then by becoming part of the political system themselves.
During the Progressive Era, Jane Addams and other Hull House women had a tremendous influence on women in small cities such as Danville. These Progressives demanded action from both individuals and government bodies on a variety of fronts, including public health. The middle-class women of Danville heeded the call and began the Woman's Club of Danville in 1895.
The women took a stand for creating a cleaner, more healthful city and fighting to control disease. The Woman's Club began its social action with a focus on the physical and social welfare of Danville's children by providing clothing, shoes and stockings, as well as better nutrition, for needy children in the public schools. Their involvement with the schools led to action at the community level. This required the women to use persuasive methods-petitions, private lobbying, and public information campaigns-to stop unsanitary habits such as spitting on the sidewalks and cleaning up garbage from city streets. The Woman's Club of Danville joined the national campaign in 1910 to fight tuberculosis and was successful in ensuring a safe milk supply for the public schools.
Having discovered their ability to effect change by using the political system, the Woman's Club decided to tackle the associated problems of alcoholism and prostitution, which were endemic to the city of Danville. Even though alcoholism was not considered a disease, removal of prostitution and liquor were part of the "social hygiene" campaign launched by the Danville Woman's Club. However, it took more than persuasive methods alone to deal with these problems. Women gained the vote in Illinois in 1913, and in 1917 the temperance voters succeeded in voting Danville dry, with the deciding votes cast by women. The women discovered that they could indeed change their community by taking a stand.
This material may be used to complement and enrich the teaching of Illinois or United States government and Illinois or United States history. The narrative and activities may be appropriate for Illinois Learning Standards 14.C.4,14.D.4, and 16B.4 in social sciences.
This material may also be used to complement the teaching of health, particularly Illinois Learning Standard 22.B.4.
These activities are designed for junior high and early high school students, but can easily be modified for use with older high school students.
Materials for Each Student
• For Activity 1 the students will need a copy of the narrative section of this article and a copy of the Activity 1 worksheet, "Woman's Club of Danville - Taking a Stand on Public Health."
Objectives for Each Student
• Students will recognize the public health issues identified by the Woman's Club of Danville, and describe how the women accomplished their goal of "taking a stand" on these issues.
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING THE LESSON
Opening the Lesson
Put the following questions on the board, and have the students briefly write down their thoughts about these questions on a sheet of paper. Do you belong to any clubs or organizations? If so, what is the purpose of the club or organization? Are there any social concerns that you feel need attention in your community, town, or city? (It may help to give students a short list of possible concerns, such as homelessness, environmental issues, or inadequate health care.) Do your parents belong to any clubs or organizations that address any social concerns of your community? (Some examples
Have a brief discussion with the class about their thoughts on these questions. Introduce the idea that if you actively participate in an organization that has a social agenda, you are, in effect, taking a stand on that social issue. Inform the students that they will be reading an article about a women's club in Danville, Illinois, that took a stand on a number of social issues regarding public health during the Progressive Era of history in the early 1900s.
Developing the Lesson
Distribute the Activity 1 — "Woman's Club of Danville - Taking A Stand" worksheet to each student. Have the students look at the list of public health issues. Explain that the Woman's Club identified broad areas of concern with regard to public health, and then took action on specific issues under each area of concern. Tell the students that they are to read the article, find each public health issue, and briefly describe how the women accomplished their goal of improving public health for that issue. To help students with reading difficulties, it is advised that students do this activity in pairs. Each student should fill in a copy of Activity 1 to ensure that all students are accountable for the materials.
When the students have completed the worksheet, have a class discussion about the information the students found from their reading. Emphasize the importance of the Danville women gaining representation in the local political system: getting a woman elected to the school board, appointing a woman truant officer to identify children in need, and hiring a public health nurse and a social welfare nurse. Have the students circle these points on their worksheet as you discuss them. In addition, stress the importance of the various methods of persuasion and spreading public information that the Woman's Club employed, such as petitions, private lobbying, public exposure, soliciting funding, sponsoring lectures, and launching the YWCA. Have the students star these methods as you discuss them. Finally, discuss the significance of women obtaining the right to vote and the impact this had on their ability to take a stand on temperance.
Distribute Activity 2 - "Danville in the Progressive Era and Public Health Today"-to each student, and divide the students into groups of three or four. Have the students do Part 1 on Activity 2, listing all the public health concerns they can think of in their school and community today. These may include, but are not limited to alcoholism, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, smoking, drinking and driving, physical and/or mental abuse from one person to another, numerous communicable diseases, lice, obesity, poor eyesight (needing glasses), poverty leading to unsanitary living conditions, inadequate health care, prostitution, etc. After the students have completed Part 1, have them do Part 2 on Activity 2. In this Venn Diagram activity, the students are to compare and contrast public health concerns today with those identified by the Woman's Club of Danville in the early 1900s. If any of the concerns are identified as a significant problem for both eras, they should be listed in the junction of the circles, identified as "Both." Some students may question the degree to which some issues are a concern, such as garbage. We have a small problem with garbage today, but it is not as significant a problem as it was in the past. In this case, the teacher should direct the students to list the issue in the separate circles, with a qualifying descriptor.
It is suggested that the teacher assign one student in each group to be the recorder and fill in the Venn diagram. Another student in the group should share the list of health problems from the past from Activity 1, leading the discussion to decide in which part of the Venn diagram to place these items. A third student should share the list of health problems today from Part 1 of Activity 2, leading the discussion to decide in which part of the Venn diagram to place these items. If there is a fourth student in the group, that student should act as facilitator, keeping the group on task, and be the spokesperson for the group.
Activity 3 - Taking A Stand on Temperance
Inform the students that now it is their turn to take a stand. Divide the students into two groups. One group will debate whether to lower the drinking age in Illinois to age 18. The other group will debate whether the Illinois law should be changed so that a person who is convicted of drunk driving and who has caused a fatal accident should have their license permanently revoked, in addition to serving jail time. Once the two groups are formed, divide them further into two more groups, one to present the pros and the other to present the cons of each issue. The groups should brainstorm all the reasons they can think of to promote their argument and have some students prepared to give testimony from personal experience, if appropriate. The teacher may want to have the groups do further research on the topics. Some good Internet sites include:
Depending on the size of the groups, the teacher may wish to assign specific roles to various group members. These may include a facilitator to keep the group on task and working in a timely fashion, a recorder to list all the ideas from brainstorming, one or two students to share and prepare testimonials for the debate, several students to summarize and articulate the arguments during the debate, and several students to research additional information on the topic and share it with the group.
When the students are ready, set up the debate. Let one group act as the audience, while the other group presents their issue. Distribute the Activity 3 "Taking a Stand on Temperance" sheet to each student. Have the students fill in the pro and con arguments presented for each issue during the debate.
After both sides have been heard, inform the students that they will now take a public stand on each issue. The teacher should have a roll call vote on each issue, noting whether each student votes for or against the propositions. If the teacher is concerned about the effect of peer pressure the voting procedure, the roll call vote can be done privately so only the teacher knows how a particular student voted. The teacher should announce the outcome of the vote, breaking down the totals to show how females versus males voted on each issue. The results can be compared to the women's vote on temperance in Danville in 1917. Is there still a difference in the female and male vote in the area of temperance today?
Concluding the Lesson
The Woman's Club of Danville has been in existence since its organization in 1895 and is still involved in community matters.
Students may be interested to know that as of November 5, 2004, Danville had a population of 33,904 and had 22 taverns with liquor licenses. According to the Danville City Clerk's office, prostitution is no longer directly connected with taverns. (Sources: Danville City Clerk's office and www.cityofdanville.org.)
Extending the Lesson
1. Have the students research when Prohibition became part of the United States Constitution and when it was repealed. Students should then investigate the reasons for repealing this amendment to the Constitution.
2. Is the temperance movement dead? Have the students research and discover towns around their community that are "dry" and find out why the town continues to ban alcohol sales.
3. Have the students research various women's clubs or organizations in their community, and report on any issues on which those clubs "take a stand." Then have the students determine what issues are not being addressed by any clubs or organizations and ask them how they might generate interest within one of these groups to tackle the issues.
4. Is there an issue on which you feel strongly enough to "take a stand"? Have the students make a poster to promote their views on an issue relevant to their community.
Assessing the Lesson
Have the students write a one-page paper reflecting on the methods the Woman's Club of Danville used to "take a stand" from Activity 1 and whether these methods are still effective in persuading others today. Teachers can also collect Activity sheets 2 and 3 to assess the level of student involvement and participation in the activities.
Woman's Club of Danville -Taking a Stand on Public Health
Danville in the Progressive Era and Public Health Today
List all of the public health issues that affect your school and community today.
Using the list in Part 1 of Activity 2 and the Activity 1 "Woman's Club of Danville - Taking a Stand on Public Health" worksheet, fill in the Venn Diagram below. If any of the concerns are identified as a significant problem for both eras, they should be listed in the junction of the circles, identified as "Both."
The legal drinking age in Illinois should be lowered to age 18.
Debate Proposal #2
If a person is convicted of drunk driving which resulted in a fatal accident, that person's driving license shall be permanently revoked.