This week in history: Grace Wilbur Trout hits the road for women’s suffrage

Trout, who became the president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, was born on March 18, 1864. In July 1910, she took her fight for women’s suffrage on the road.

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Grace Wilbur Trout, president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, sits at table doing her nails in Chicago.

Grace Wilbur Trout, president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, probably in Chicago on July 18, 1914.

Chicago Daily News

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

In October 1908, the Ford Motor Company released the Model T, bringing automobile travel to the masses for the first time. Two years later, one suffragette in Illinois prepared to use the automobile to take her fight for the right to vote across the state.

The July 11, 1910, edition of the Chicago Daily News detailed the launch of a motorcar tour for women’s suffrage, organized by one of Illinois’ most famous and relentless suffragists, Grace Wilbur Trout. The newspaper staff even sent a photographer to capture the moment.

In one photo, Trout, born March 18, 1864, sits behind the wheel of the automobile. In a separate, wide-shot photo below her close-up, fellow suffragists Grace S. Nichols, president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, and Ella F. Stewart, secretary of IESA, smile beside Trout in the car decked out in bunting with a banner that reads, “VOTES FOR WOMEN.” Trout would later become president of IESA herself, but at the time, she simply led the tour.

Grace Wilbur Trout sitting in an automobile on July 11, 1910.

Grace Wilbur Trout sitting in an automobile on July 11, 1910. She is about to lead a motorcar tour to promote women’s suffrage in northeastern Illinois.

Chicago Daily News

The 16-city motorcar tour kicked off that July morning in front of the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue. For four days and roughly 600 miles, the suffragists would be speaking at pre-arranged receptions, many on public streets where their message could be broadly heard, and they launched a public relations campaign ahead of time to ensure maximum exposure.

In her comments to the press, Trout focused on the support she and other suffragettes had received from men. Perhaps she wanted to convince the anti-suffrage crowd to support their cause by showing how many men already offered their help. By framing the tour as “not an attack upon the ‘arch enemy,’ man,” Trout may have sought to stress equality over dominance.

“It was only through men that our trip was made possible,” she told reporters. “Not only was our automobile furnished by men and not only are men upon the reception committees in the various towns we will visit, but men also have furnished us with our best arguments on behalf of equal suffrage.

“Men came to us when they learned of our contemplated trip and said, ‘Now if they try to trip you in your arguments this way, answer them so and so.’ Most of our statistics and facts were furnished by men and some of our best points were suggested by them. We look upon men as our friends. This is a tour of education, not an attack.”

If that was her plan, it appeared to have worked. In an article about women’s suffrage, the newspaper still managed to put men first with the headline: “Men aid suffragists.”

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