Josephine ‘Jo’ Baskin Minow, Chicago philanthropist and political influencer, dies at 95
Josephine “Jo” Baskin Minow left her mark on the city’s cultural institutions and took pride in her years of advocacy work during her “lifetime love affair with Chicago,” her family said.
When Josephine “Jo” Baskin Minow would return to her hometown of Chicago, she’d look down at the sprawling city beneath the plane and say, “I just want to throw my arms around the city. I love it so much.”
And the city felt her love — a prominent organizer and advocate, she served on boards at the Chicago History Museum, Northwestern University, Chicago’s Center on Halsted, Ravinia Music Festival and more during her “lifetime love affair with Chicago and Chicago history,” according to Nell Minow, her daughter.
She died Friday at 95 at her home in Lake View due to ongoing health complications.
The wife of 72 years of Newton Minow, who served as the chair of the FCC under John F. Kennedy and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2016, Ms. Baskin Minow blazed her own trail in Chicago through social and political landscapes.
She was honored with the Caroline Margaret McIlvaine Making History Award for Distinction in Creative Cultural Leadership in 2018 from the Chicago History Museum, where she served 30 years as a trustee. In 2015, The museum dedicated the Jo Baskin Minow Balcony Gallery in her honor.
“That was her greatest love,” Nell Minow said. “She would walk over there from her house on Briar Place and spend the day there.”
She also was a staunch believer in equal rights and advocacy, starting in her college days when she participated in the Quibblers — a group advocating against the exclusion of members of racial minority groups from university housing — at Northwestern University. In the mid-1970s, Ms. Baskin Minow joined a group of women pushing department stores to end racial discrimination, meeting with Marshall Fields to advocate for Black sales associates to be allowed on the floor.
“She didn’t like to see people get picked on,” Nell Minow said. “She was always somebody to stand up for anybody that was not being treated fairly.”
In 1978, Ms. Baskin Minow returned to Northwestern University, where she graduated with a B.S. in 1948, to be a founding member of the Northwestern University Women’s Board.
Her advocacy spanned the length of her life — at 85, she co-chaired an event for the Center on Halsted, an LGBTQ community center. She was elated, Nell Minow said, when they asked her to cut the ribbon.
While raising her own three children, Ms. Baskin Minow also fought to improve the lives of others. After teaching kindergarten and 5th grade at Francis W. Parker School in the late 1940s, she later became president of the Juvenile Protective Association originally founded by Jane Addams.
While she was president, the meeting space didn’t allow women to enter through the front door — leading Ms. Baskin Minow to change their location in order to ensure every member could come through the same door.
Her work with children led her to be part of the Citizens Committee of the Juvenile Court and she became a prominent member of the Jane Addams Juvenile Court Foundation.
Combined with her passion for writing, Ms. Baskin Minow funneled her advocacy for kids into children’s books — the first, published in 1992, called “Marty the Broken-Hearted Artichoke,” was distributed free to nonprofits across the country.
While Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first lady, she chose to read Ms. Baskin Minow’s book at the inauguration of the “Reach Out and Read” project at the University of Chicago Friends Children’s Clinic.
In her 80s, she received an award from Ravinia Music Festival for her work as a trustee. Her involvement in the festival, starting in her 60s, was an homage to her days in high school when she and her friends would take a streetcar and two trains to hear the music in Highland Park, Nell Minow said.
Her love for the city’s history and its iconic institutions was demonstrated through her involvement in the Women’s Boards of the University of Chicago, the Field Museum and as a governing member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When she was 80, she became a member of the Board of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
While her husband worked in government in Washington D.C., Ms. Baskin Minow left her mark in the country’s capital, too. She helped create the Hospitality and Information Service (T.H.I.S.), operating out of the Department of State, which welcomes diplomats and their families to D.C. and helps them navigate stays in the capital.
“Hilariously funny,” until the end of her life, Nell Minow said her mother would often quote Bette Davis, saying, “old age isn’t for sissies.”
“We’d say, ‘well good thing you’re not a sissy, you seem to be handling it pretty well,’” Nell Minow said.
Between board meetings and events alongside powerful political figures, Ms. Baskin Minow found time to chronicle her family’s life in scrapbooks. She had ones dedicated to each of her daughter’s lives, their family, Newton’s career and more — totaling 70 volumes that she donated to the Chicago History Museum, Nell Minow said.
“She was unbelievably meticulous,” Nell Minow said. “She updated them constantly, and they’re just treasure troves.”
Ms. Baskin Minow is survived by her husband and their three daughters, whom she dubbed “the three Portias” — Nell, Martha, and Mary. She’s also remembered by her two sons-in-law, David Apatoff and Joseph Singer, and three grandchildren, Benjamin and Rachel Apatoff and Mira Singer, and Rachel’s husband, Scott Collette.
Services will be private. In lieu of flowers, her family suggests donations to preferred charities.