A participant in building the world’s first nuclear reactor, the first president of the La Grange Women’s Club and a widowed single mother-turned-businesswoman are just a few of the remarkable women the La Grange Area Historical Society is showcasing in its latest exhibit.
The Remarkable Women of the La Grange Area exhibit was put together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The exhibit will run at the La Grange Area Historical Society, 444 S. La Grange Road, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 29 and 9:30 a.m. to noon Wednesdays through Sept. 30.
Sarah Parkes, executive director of the La Grange Area Historical Society, said the exhibit celebrates 20 local women who had an impact on the community. One of those women is Jean Cossitt Miles, who lost her husband at a young age during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. Miles was a dedicated single mother who went on to take over her husband’s role in the family business, Parkes said.
“In that time, it was not common to raise children on your own or for a woman to be working,” Parkes said. “Miles was ahead of her time, and I find her to be really inspiring.”
Parkes said the exhibit was primarily inspired by women’s fashion the group already had in storage. The fashion, she said, ranges in style with some articles dating as far back as the 1870s.
Members of the historical society knew they wanted to display the clothing, but it wasn’t until after beginning to work with the League of Women’s Voters that the society decided on the full direction of the exhibit, Parkes said.
“We really wanted to get our women’s fashion on display because we have amazing examples of clothing,” she said. “The clothing is really serving as a backdrop for the stories of these women, though, and I hope people come see it because after this it will go back in storage for some time.”
The collaboration resulted in a handful of events the historical society will host as part of the 19th Amendment celebration. One event will be a socially-distant picnic during which attendees will be able to register to vote. The picnic will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 22 on the lawn of the historical society, Parkes said.
Parkes said she hopes people will be inspired by the exhibit and the local women it highlights. She said she believes the exhibit provides a glimpse into the local community, as well as history in a broader context.
“I hope people are inspired by how far women have come and can appreciate this milestone,” Parkes said. “These women have made an impact, and they’re very inspiring.”
The historical society is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and other safety precautions to make visits safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Times to attend the exhibit should be reserved and only six people will be in the exhibit at one time. If available tour times do not work with your schedule, private tours can be scheduled.
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