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Leaders of the Quiet Campaign

by Brian Failing,
Community Services & Education

A lot began to change across the nation in 1914. We saw the beginning of World War I, and women gained the right to vote not only for president but also in local elections. It was also the year that Audubon societies, voter leagues and the County Federation of Women’s Clubs were formed in DuPage County. Materials from this period also reveal that women were involved in passing the referendum to create the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County on June 7, 1915.

Chance S. Hill, a landscape architect for the District, spoke to the Elmhurst Woman’s Club in 1940. Hill commended the women of DuPage County for their involvement in the development of the County forest preserve.1 If this was the case, then there must be information preserved in the written records of Woman’s Clubs across DuPage County.

Much to my surprise there was almost no information in the records for the Naperville, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst or Lombard Woman’s Clubs’ records. The District’s early histories refer to women’s involvement as a quiet campaign. “It was largely a quiet campaign, although there was a seeming growing feeling against the proposed forest preserve district — particularly among the men.”2

An early timeline of the Downers Grove Woman’s Club’s accomplishments stated that its Conservation Committee was instrumental in the acquisition of a forest preserve for Downers Grove sometime between 1900 and 1909. Although there were no forest preserves designated at the time, it is likely they were referring to Maple Grove Forest Preserve, a part of a tract of land purchased by civil war veteran and real estate developer A.C. Ducat in 1885.

Ducat later sold the land to Marshall Field who then sold it to W. H. Blodgett. Blodgett sold the land to the Forest Preserve District to create the fourth preserve in DuPage County in 1920. The Downers Grove Reporter stated, “Downers Grove is particularly fortunate in having on the immediate west stretch of woodland which in the abundance and variety of its flora can scarcely be equaled in Illinois.”3 Downers Grove residents were quite fond of this forested land and wanted to ensure its protection for generations to come. View the 1874 Atlas of DuPage County.

A Naperville Clarion article from May 1, 1915 stated that “women can vote on this question and they have an opportunity to show their interest in the public welfare, their good taste and forward-looking spirit by voting ‘yes’ on the proposition to make DuPage County a forest preserve.”4 

One article pasted into a scrapbook of the Lombard Woman’s Club mentions that they held a meeting on the Forest Preserve Movement for DuPage County on June 1, 1915. The meeting included presentations from Col. Plum, F.O Butler and Mr. Theo F. Hammerschmidt, among many other active residents. Plum is known in Lombard for the formation of Lilacia Park on his land, Butler for donating the land that would become Fullersburg Woods and Hammerschmidt who would become the President of the Forest Preserve District.5 

Keeping this in mind, I took a look at the voting returns and what I found shows that the women’s vote was crucial to the passing of the referendum. Had women not been allowed to vote in the election, the referendum would have narrowly lost due to the men of the county being evenly split on the issue. Overall, women voted almost 2 to 1 in favor of creating the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. 

While women played an important role in the passage of this referendum, it is important to mention that certain townships were against the referendum while others overwhelmingly supported the creation of a forest preserve agency. It suggests that geographical location also played a role in deciding how residents voted on the referendum. The referendum carried in Winfield, Milton, York, Downers Grove and Lisle townships.

The early conservation movement developed as a way to conserve our native landscape rather than create artificial parks.6 Evidence of this movement appeared throughout the county, most notably in Downers Grove Township. We owe a lot to those who showed their support for the creation of a forest preserve district and led a “quiet campaign” that was successful in preserving our natural lands for generations to come. 

  1. “Talk of Forest Preserves,” Elmhurst Press, March 28, 1940, p. 10.
  2. Short History: The DuPage County Forest Preserve District.
  3. “Save the County Woodlands,” Downers Grove Reporter, May 28, 1915.
  4. “County as Forest Preserve District,” Naperville Clarion, May 19, 1915, p. 1.
  5.  Lombard Woman’s Club Scrapbook, Lombard Historical Society. 
  6. “Elections to be Held on Monday,” Naperville Clarion, June 2, 1915, p. 1.     
The District planted 1,500 trees in the preserve in 1932.  
Downers Grove was much smaller in 1874 than it is today. Part of the Linden Heights Association’s land, located west of town, would become Maple Grove. This map shows the large amount of trees located in this part of town. 
Women had a separate ballot from men, thus the voting returns show the breakdown of men and women voters. 
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