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Janet Duitsman Cornelius
Historical Research and Narrative

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.

A medium-sized town located on a bluff overlooking the Vermilion River, Danville was growing into a small city in the 1890s as a railroad junction, and mining center, and the location of brick manufacturers and a plethora of small industries. Danville's elite women began to take public roles in the 1890s, first in their churches and then in literary studies in chautauqua circles. Some of them, spearheaded by a group of energetic young women, including educator Frances Pearson Meeks and socially prominent Kate Webster and Jane Fithian, brought Danville into the woman's club movement, which combined literary studies, philanthropy, and political action. The club members were motivated by Progressivism—the political and social movement that began at the grassroots level in response to the human suffering, environmental damage, and corruption fed by the rapid growth of industries and cities in the late 1800s. Progressives demanded action— from individuals and governmental bodies— on a variety of fronts, including child welfare and public health. In Chicago, Progressive leader Jane Addams and other Hull House women had a profound influence on women in small cities like Danville. One of the major accomplishments of the Hull House women was to carve out a frontier in public health. From Hull House, Addams, Dr. Alice Hamilton, and others investigated the causes of typhoid outbreaks in the city due to defective plumbing, tuberculosis from infected milk, and the effects on young people of using cocaine, which was sold in pharmacies in the poor areas of the city. Danville women looked to Addams as a role model. The Woman's Club sponsored a public lecture by Addams in Danville in 1897, where she reminded her listeners of the social obligations of citizenship and encouraged them to reach beyond their individual concerns to the needs of the community.

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



school district, club members worked with Slocum to identify more than four hundred children in need. Their ultimate goal was to teach these children skills to "help themselves," but the "immediate physical wants and suffering" had to be alleviated first. The women made clothes for the children and, finding that many children could not go to school because they had no footwear, began a Shoe and Stocking Fund. The chair of the Shoe and Stocking committee in 1904 pointed out that "there is so much sickness among children, during the winter months, caused by wet and cold feet." Club members solicited funds from other organizations and distributed them through the teachers and the truant officer. More than one hundred pairs of shoes and dozens of pairs of stockings were given to needy children each year through the 1900s to 1920s, with the greatest number given during the early 1930s at the peak of the Depression. By the 1930s the Woman's Club was also participating in another poignant program called the "Open Window Room." Located in Douglas School, the room could hold up to twenty-five students who were at least 15 percent underweight. There they were given special feeding and rest. When they reached normal weight, they were returned to regular classes and their place taken by some other child needing the special care.

Concern with nutrition led the Woman's Club members to another health concern-cleanliness. First, women determined to do something about the unsanitary male habit of spitting on the sidewalks. To accomplish their goal, the Woman's Club promised "not to do aggressive work, but to co-operate with the powers that be." Their tools were petitions, private lobbying, and trying "to create public sentiment" for improvements. But the women found that these were not enough. After their mildly worded petitions in 1905 to the city council requesting that "the expectorating ordinance be more rigidly enforced" got no results, the women became more assertive, and club members called individually on the mayor to enforce the anti-spitting law. When they turned to the garbage problem, women also learned the effectiveness of numbers; they collected 1,000 signatures on a petition "for the early consideration of collecting and disposing of the city garbage." Impressed, the mayor and council appropriated $1,500 to take some action on garbage collection.

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




health needs, specifically "medical inspection in our schools, a proper regulation of minor contagious diseases among children, sanitation, social hygiene, and a visiting nurse." Due to the women's persistence, the mayor and city council finally agreed in 1916 to hire both a public health nurse and a social welfare nurse. Nationally, women's clubs launched a fight in 1910 against tuberculosis, which they labeled "the capstone of the entire arch of preventable, infectious filthy diseases" requiring the mobilization of "all social forces, public and private, official and voluntary." Tuberculosis reached epidemic proportions in Danville in 1918, when twenty-seven died of the disease. The Woman's Club gathered statistics on tuberculosis care, expanded the public health nursing staff, and worked with Dr. W. C. Dixon, the new and active City Health Commissioner. The club petitioned the city to pay for a city tuberculosis nurse as well and worked with Dr. Dixon to stock the county dispensary and aim for a "cleaner Danville." Impure milk was a serious factor in the spread of tuberculosis. In I923, with the introduction of milk in Danville's public schools, the Woman's Club worked quickly to get state money to test all the cattle in Vermilion County. This action served a real need: the tester, who took two years to cover the entire county, found that about 8 percent of the herds were tubercular. Anna Christman, chair of the club's Pure Food committee, was proud that women had pushed the issue, concluding that "it is surely a relief to know that the children of our public schools are being supplied with tuberculin tested milk."

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


hygiene" campaign, sponsoring lectures by doctors and distributing literature on venereal diseases to public school teachers. Women perceived the rapid increase of commercial, large-scale prostitution in the late nineteenth century as a dehumanizing evil and a form of slavery. This "social purity" movement developed out of the temperance movement. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) organized against excessive use of liquor and as a response to the devastating impact on women and children of the rapid expansion of the liquor industry in industrial America. Danville WCTU women held appeals and distributed literature in churches and union halls. Advocates wore "white ribbons" to indicate their abstinence from liquor and their "social purity." Neither the "social purity" nor the "social hygiene" crusades demonized women prostitutes. Danville women also launched a Traveler's Aid program and a YWCA, both providing protection for young working women against sexual predators.

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.

"Day Saved by the Women/ Their Votes Made Danville Dry Cause Win."



Kristin Camp


Main Ideas

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.

Connection with the Curriculum

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.

Teaching Level

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."
• For Activity 2 the students will need a copy of the narrative section of the article, a copy of the completed Activity 1 worksheet, "Woman's Club of Danville - Taking a Stand on Public Health," and a copy of Activity 2 - "Danville in the Progressive Era and Public Health Today."
• For Activity 3 the students will need a copy of Activity 3 - "Taking a Stand on Temperance."

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.
• Students will compare and contrast public health issues from Danville in the early 1900s with their community today.
• Students will analyze why some public health problems are still issues today, even though clubs and organizations have been "taking a stand" to deal with them for more than one hundred years.
• Students will present debates providing opposing viewpoints on lowering the legal drinking age or for more strict penalties for drunk driving. Following the debates, each student will judge the value of the arguments and "take a stand" by a roll call vote.


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


include Lions Club, which provides eyeglasses for needy school children, or Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for needy families.)

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

Activity 1

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.

Activity 2

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.

When the students have completed their Venn Diagram, have each group share one of the problems they identified as a significant problem for both Danville in the early 1900s and their community today. List these on an overhead of the Activity 2 worksheet. With the exception of alcoholism, which is discussed in Activity 3, discuss with the students why they think each public health issue is still a problem. Identify any clubs or organizations in their community that are taking a stand to deal with the problem. Next, identify the public health issues that were a problem in the past, and discuss why these are not a large issue today. Finally, discuss what new public health issues are we dealing with and explore why these issues are now a problem. (One of the most critical new public health issues is that of obesity and the health complications that accompany it.)


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:
(Mothers Against Drunk Driving)
(Students Against Destructive Decisions)
(from Potsdam University)

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

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.



iht1310617-17.jpgWoman's Club of Danville -Taking a Stand on Public Health

Public Health Issue

How did the women accomplish their goal?

Physical and Social Health of Danville's children:

1. Identifying needy children


2. Clothing for school


3. Shoes and Stockings


4. Underweight children


Community Health

1. Spitting on the sidewalk


2. Garbage in the streets


3. Unsanitary food displays


Contagious Diseases

1. Inspection and Regulation


2. Tuberculosis A. Countywide B. School milk


"Social Hygiene"

Alcoholism and Prostitution

1. 2. 3.


iht1310617-19.jpgDanville in the Progressive Era and Public Health Today

Part 1

List all of the public health issues that affect your school and community today.

Part 2

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."




Debate Proposal #1

The legal drinking age in Illinois should be lowered to age 18.
Pros                                                                                        Cons

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.
Pros                                                                                        Cons


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