Volume 8, No. 7 – October 2021
In this issue
• Alpha Suffrage Club Marker is Unveiled

• Background on Alpha Suffrage Club

• Timuel Black Remembered

• Interview with Susan King, Architect 

Alpha Suffrage Club Gets an Important Marker in Chicago     

by Jackie Kirley
Photo contributed by Gwen Vaughn.
The National Votes for Women Trail Marker honoring the Alpha Suffrage Club was dedicated on Friday, October 1st at 10 am at the corner of 31st and State Street. Founded in 1913 by Ida B. Wells-Barnett and several other suffragists in Chicago, the Alpha Suffrage Club played a significant role in motivating Black women to support voting rights and women’s suffrage. Club members attended the controversial National Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C, in March of that year and they maintained their activism supporting local and national African American candidates for political office. (See a “A Little More About the Club” from the event program).

Fifty attendees listened to the VanderCook College of Music Choral Choir and to the event speakers. Speakers often paused their talks as passing El trains threatened to drown them out.  Attendees did not mind; the fact that the Club was close to the El made it quintessentially “Chicago.”

Dr. Raj Echambadi, President of the Illinois Institute of Technology, opened the marker dedication ceremony.  He noted similarities in the strategies of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mahatma Gandhi in achieving representation for their people. Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells spoke, commenting that current efforts in the U.S. to deny voting rights to some people are testimony to how important they are. Lori Osborne of the National Collaborative of Women’s History Sites welcomed the marker, one of the more than 100 in Illinois alone. It was a misconception, she said, to regard Seneca Falls as the only site for women’s suffrage in the U.S. when, in fact, efforts took place all over this country, and the Alpha Suffrage Club was an important example. 

After speeches from State Representative “Kam” Buckner and a representative from Alderwoman Pat Dowell, the marker was unveiled and open for photographs. WWHP board members posed in front of the marker with Michelle Duster.
A Little More About the Club
During her remarkable career, Ida B. Wells (later Wells-Barnett) was an educator, journalist, anti-lynching crusader, civil rights activist as well as a suffragist. On January 30, 1913, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first organization to promote suffrage for Black women in Illinois . The Club met every Wednesday evening in the Reading Room of the Negro Fellowship League at 3005 S. State Street. From the outset, it provided representation for African American women, who had been largely excluded from both the existing local and national suffrage organizations and neglected by the men and churches in their own communities. The Club set out to educate Black and working-class women on civic matters and on the importance of voting rights as a path to the election of African American candidates to political office. Over the next few years, the club members developed their organizational skills, forged an effective political network, and distributed their own newsletter. By 1916, Wells could claim a membership of nearly two hundred members.  
Barely three months after its founding, the Alpha Suffrage Club and its president, Ida B. Wells-Barnett also provided representation to Black women at the national level at a parade in Washington D.C., organized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association in March 1913. Wells-Barnett encountered racism within the ranks of the state contingent and from the leadership of the NAWSA, who advised her not to join the Illinois contingent and instead march at the back of the procession to placate white women, especially those from the south. Unsupported by most in her state group, Wells begrudgingly agreed to the slight once two white members agreed to march with her in the back. She later stunned her colleagues by stepping out of the crowd of spectators to join the Illinois contingent, where she marched on, flanked by her two white allies, Belle Squire and Virginia Brooks.    
The Alpha Suffrage Club maintained an active presence in Chicago politics, registering African American women to vote in the aldermanic primaries and general election in the city’s second ward (which included today's Bronzeville neighborhood). While their mayoral candidate did not prevail in the primaries, he only lost by a few hundred votes, drawing the attention of the Republican Party. In the general elections in 1914, the Republicans endorsed Oscar De Priest in the second ward who won against two white candidates and became the first Black alderman to be elected to the Chicago City Council. News of this victory spread to black newspapers nationally who recognized the key role played by Black women in tipping the balance in De Priest’s favor.    
After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Ida B. Wells-Barnett continued to play an active role in mobilizing Black women voters and joined the ranks of African Americans and women pursuing public office when she ran for the Illinois Senate in 1930, a year before her death. Thus, in addition to all her other achievements, she played a crucial role in promoting the status of Black people and women in American political life.
Losing Tim Black: A Personal Recollection
by Jackie Kirley
I was lucky enough to have Tim Black as my colleague in the Social Science Department at Harold Washington College. We didn’t talk that much at school because we were either each teaching or Tim was running to a meeting. But our department still has and has had either one or two parties annually: a winter holiday party in a faculty member’s home and a summer party in a restaurant. Tim came to many of those parties, and for the holiday party, I sometimes gave him a ride since we lived pretty close to each other. These parties carried on into retirement so we’ve had the winter holiday party for over 50 years.  

At the parties there were opportunities to talk . . . and to listen because, of course, Tim told stories: many, many stories and they were all interesting. He was also a good listener and showed he was interested in you. The 2018 holiday party took place in Jim Heard’s house in November, but it was close enough to December 7th that colleagues hung Happy 100th Birthday decorations and we celebrated Tim’s 100th privately. It was a great party. We will miss him.

Timuel Black’s obituary in the Sun Times:

Natalie Moore’s loving obituary from WBEZ:
Meet Susan F. King, a Chicago Architect
by Jackie Kirley
Photo contributed by Susan King. 
Susan F. King is a “Fellow” at the American Institute of Architects, an honor reserved for “a model architect who has made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level.”

Consider a few of her projects:

• Wentworth Commons: a supportive housing facility for 51 at-risk and/or formerly homeless families and individuals, the first multi-unit residential building to be LEED certified.

• Lake Street Studios, an SRO (single room occupancy) building

• South Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) building using geothermal and solar thermal for heating

• Sankofa House, 58 units designed for innovative, intergenerational supportive housing for grandparents/kinship caregivers raising children and youth aging out of foster care. 
• Fifth Avenue Apartments, 72 units of affordable housing for low-income people. The complex includes a library. It was the only building selected for the Living Building Challenge of Affordable Housing. (The Living Building Challenge goes beyond LEED building standard of sustainability goals to one that makes a positive impact on its environment, such as generating its own energy or reusing water on site or growing food.) 

If you missed single family McMansions and million- dollar condominiums, you read correctly -- those emphatically do not draw Susan’s attention. Her interest is in creating sustainable (environmentally responsible) design of high-density housing for populations that rarely receive the attention of important architects. Susan’s designs have demonstrated that a building can be both environmentally responsible AND affordableWentworth Commons and Sankofa House each received the biannual Chicago Green Works Awards for “Sustainable Innovation in the Built Environment.” They helped Mayor Richard M. Daley announce his goal of making Chicago the greenest of all cities. Susan said Rahm Emanuel was much less interested in those goals, but she is cautiously optimistic that Mayor Lightfoot’s policies will reintroduce a commitment to sustainable building.

Women do not play a bigger part in social housing, Susan said, but they do in the area of sustainable design. Membership on important sustainable design committees are roughly 50/50 men and women. Why? Building with green technology is a multi-disciplinary activity and absolutely requires a collaborative approach, an approach more common among women and one Susan prefers. She is impatient with female architects who go for solo glory. “Starchitects,” she calls them.  

Surprisingly, Susan grew up in a rural, small-town area in northeastern Ohio. But city life interested her and she chose to study for her Bachelor of Architecture in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there she moved to Chicago. After two earlier jobs, Susan joined an older, very established (1908) national firm, Harvey Ellis Devereaux (HED), where in 2007 she became the third woman principal. At HED she is the Studio Leader of Housing and Community and was the firm’s National Sustainable Design Leader, developing and implementing nationwide design policies in regards to sustainability. Her leadership at HED has moved the firm to focus on the creation of special needs housing environments by incorporating environmentally friendly high performance design strategies. 

Susan has received numerous honors for her work in social housing and environmental equity, having received the Women in Sustainability Leadership Award in 2016. She also lectures widely, publishes about green technology, and has served as the Chair of the AIA Chicago Committee on the Environment.

Another strong interest of Susan’s is making architecture friendlier to women and educating the public on earlier, historical women architects. Susan joined Chicago Women in Architecture (CWA), served as president for a number of years, and served also as the first editor of Muse, a CWA publication. As editor she wrote an essay about Elizabeth Martini, the only woman licensed and practicing privately in Illinois in 1921. In 2007 the essay was published in Chicago Architecture: Histories, Revisions, Alternatives.  

In response to my questions about being female in a traditionally male profession, Susan related an early experience: a firm did not want to send her into the field because “they are not used to seeing women.” She convinced them that if you have a project out there, you need to go out. Once she did, she said they almost wouldn’t let her return. (I guess she got good results!)  

So why do females comprise less than 20% of U.S. architects? Nearly half of architecture school graduates are female, but women drop out before establishing their careers — to Susan’s dismay, even before getting their licensure -- suggesting the problem is with the way the field is structured. Professional women in many fields have attempted the strategy of “amplification,” namely, one woman in a meeting deliberately repeats and draws attention to the point made by another woman to increase the likelihood that women’s ideas are “heard.” But, as Susan said, amplification only works if there is more than one woman in the room, and Susan often finds herself as the only woman in the room!  

The problem, Susan says, are “pinch points” in a woman’s career, points when the woman is squeezed by the demands of the job as currently structured and competing pressures. Motherhood is the biggest pinch point. As the primary child caretakers, women find the squeeze too great. Paid less than male colleagues, they decide the fight isn’t worth it. “Ironically,” says Susan, “the pandemic may be helping women’s position in architecture. One good outcome!” Forcing all architects to work from home may change traditional gender roles as well as the way businesses support their employees. From Susan’s lips to God’s ears. 

View a video of Susan speaking about the Lathrop project which won the Driehaus Design Excellence Award in 2021:
Read an essay Susan King wrote about Elizabeth Martini:

Working Women's History Project

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