In this post, we’ll look at a few of the remarkable women from the archives of the Northside Neighborhood History Collection (NNHC) at Sulzer Regional Library. Women are often underrepresented in the historical record, and it is worth it to do a bit of extra work to learn more about their experiences. These stories are also great reminders that archives do not only offer insight in to the lives of famous and well-known individuals – they also document the lives of ordinary people, which are often quite fascinating!
Looking through the NNHC’s Ravenswood-Lake View Community Collection, I was intrigued to find a “Vote for Nellie Carlin” card from 1914. After some research in the Historic Chicago Tribune, I learned that Carlin was an attorney in private practice for twenty years and served five years as the Public Guardian of Cook County. In 1918 she was appointed Assistant State's Attorney , which made her the first woman appointed to the staff of the Cook County State's Attorney’s office. She was active in both the women’s suffrage movement and the Democratic Party in Chicago in the 1910s.
Another woman with a unique story is Mattie Vickers Rogers, a comedian and actress in Chicago in the late 19th century. She won acclaim for her skills as an impersonator and use of accents.The Ravenswood-Lake View Community Collection has a scrapbook, letters, programs, stage bills, photographs, and clippings related to her work.
During this same era, Fredericka Baker was a doctor in the Ravenswood neighborhood. She began practicing in Chicago around 1895, and the back of her photograph identifies her as an obstetrician and pediatrician. In the 1900 census, available through Ancestry.com, she is listed as a physician, born in 1867, living on North Paulina Street.
Today, we know very little about Mrs. Placidus P. Porter, beside the fact that she was a member of the “Century Club,” meaning she had ridden 100 miles on a bicycle, an impressive achievement, especially considering the long skirt she is pictured riding in. On our photograph she is identified only by her husband’s name, which is not unusual for nineteenth century images of women in our collection, but some searching on Ancestry.com indicates that her first name might have been Ida.
Lydia Newcomb was one of the early principals of Ravenswood School, previously known as Sulzer School. While we don't know many details about her life, the NNHC has a small collection of programs, fliers, clippings, and photographs that document the school’s history to as far back as 1888.
These are just a few women who made an impact on Chicago – we always hope to discover more! Who are some Chicago women whose stories are important to you?
For more stories of unsung women in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Chicago, check out these books from our circulating collection: