Visionary Women – Champions of Peace and Nonviolence is the theme of the 2019 Women’s History Month. Illinois Woman’s Press Association advocacy has roots in the 19th-century suffrage movement. Throughout the past century, IWPA rights advocates worked both inside and outside of the political system to promote women’s and children’s rights not only in Illinois but throughout the United States.
Since our early beginnings, the members of IWPA emphasized the need for respect, justice, and equality. Our founders and members were brave, bold, visionary women. They gave voice to those who were unrepresented and hope to those who dreamt for a better life.
Anna Byford Leonard, one of the original forty-seven founders of IWPA is an example of women who worked along with other IWPA founders including Caroline Alden Huling, Frances E. Owens, and Antoinette V. H. Wakeman to expose in the daily papers of the time the abuses to which many working girls and children were subjected. Through their work in the Illinois Woman’s Alliance the Woman’s Labor Union No. 2703 issued a general call to the various clubs and societies of the city of Chicago to send delegates with the power to act and consult to the best plans to remedy the abuses uncovered.
The January 1890 Journal of Industrial Education, included a report by the Committee on Factory Inspections stating a petition had been presented to the Chicago City Council on June 26, 1889, asking that the Illinois Woman’s Alliance “ be given badges with authority to investigate factories, shops, and stores where women and children were employed.” On August 1 of the same year “the Council authorized the Mayor to appoint five women as sanitary police with a salary of $50 a month.” This was the first instance of women being appointed to fill such positions, and “Mrs. Byford Leonard being the first woman appointed as one of sanitary police.” Her position enabled her to carry out much-needed reforms for children in the workplace. Through her efforts along with the support of five other women who aided her work, an eight-hour workday was enforced for children under fourteen years of age. Through her efforts seats were placed in stores and factories for the relief of employed girls. Her energies also led to establishing schools in some of the stores providing children two hours of instruction each workday for many of these girls employed as “cash-girls” were unable to write their names.
In 1891, Mrs. Leonard was elected president of the Chicago “Woman’s Canning and Preserving Company,” with working capital of $1,000,000. The Saint Paul Globe reported “company stock could only be sold to women” with stockholders throughout “America, Japan, and Africa.”
Mrs. Leonard was born, Anna Byford in Mount Vernon, Indiana, in 1843. Her father was William H. Byford, a prominent physician, and surgeon devoted to the advancement of women in medicine. He was the founder and president of the Women’s Medical College of Chicago. Founded in 1870, for many years the medical school remained the first of its kind in the West. Its graduates were the first women interns at Cook County Hospital.