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(Photo by Mark Harrington)

Before the Equal Rights Amendment, before Roe versus Wade, and even before the suffrage movement, there was the little town of Earlville, where a group of strong-believing women met for a cause.

Today, a large boulder with tablet marks the occasion in the downtown park, insuring and holding its place in national history, all the way back to the year 1855.

Then, Susan Hoxie Richardson started the Earlville Suffrage Association in her home, the first Illinois society. Her mother was a first cousin of the famed Susan B. Anthony, who visited and lectured in Earlville occasionally, including her 1871 national tour.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of Illinois’s ratification of the US Constitution giving women the right to vote in all elections. Kris Goodbred of the Earlville Historical Society reads from a newspaper account of the 1855 Earlville event.

Goodbred reflected back on that 1855 day.

Back then only white, males above the age of 21 could vote. But the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment in 1919 changed all that. Illinois became the first state to ratify the change.

Zoom ahead to today, where Rita Garman, who graduated from Oswego High School as class valedictorian, knows all about the fight of women for rights and jobs. 

These days she continues a different fight, advocating for fairness and civility in the court system. Garman left Oswego and earned her way to the Illinois Supreme Court, once serving as the chief justice.

But are their causes for women today.  Garman had this response.

Her platform has been fairness and civility in the court system while helping citizens learn more about the Illinois judicial system.

Awarded the degree Doctor of Humane Letters at Aurora University this May.

The state’s first documented speech in favor of women’s suffrage was made by a man,  Mr. A.J. Grover, editor of the Earlville Transcript, who lined up Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as contributing editors.

Few opportunities awaited Illinois women in that era. In 1900, only 16.3 percent of all Illinois women were employed, with the exception of housekeepers. They were clustered in a handful of occupations, including teaching; 74 percent of all teachers were female.

Women could not hold earnings or income from real estate. Professions and higher education was unavailable. They also had no legal right to their children.

Garman “broke the glass ceiling” in the 1970s, the invisible barrier or obstacles that keep a person from rising beyond a certain level.  Today, Garman is the second longest serving judge in Illinois.

While on the Supreme Court, Garman also established a Special Committee on Child Custody Issues. As a circuit judge, Garman was one of the first judges to allow children to testify in court in abuse cases. She pushed for the focus on children’s needs in custody battles.

In Danville, they have honored Garman by naming the Vermillion County Courthouse after her.

NOTE: The Earlville Historical Society Museum has two floors of exhibits in an old hardware store, complete with tin ceiling, crown molding, and cornices,and wooden floors. It is open Saturday (10-2) and Sunday (12-2) in downtown. Special exhibits: rope pulled, large iron wheeled freight elevator, rope measuring devices through and along the floor, veteran’s exhibit, 1900 glass plate photo quilt featuring ornate Battenberg lace, a cane from a 7-foot tall man, side-knobbed baby cradle. This is also Alumni Weekend in Earlville, a time for class reunions, held since 1891.

Listen to Mark Harrington's full radio story, below: