This week in Illinois history: Feb. 11-18
Feb. 11, 1869 - Chicago. Efforts begin in Illinois to secure voting rights for women. Although it would be more than a half-century before women’s suffrage became a constitutional right, this convention lay the important early groundwork. Organizer Mary Livermore enlisted help from New Yorkers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, as well as Chicago Legal News publisher Myra Bradwell, according to Illinois Periodicals Online. Although many at the time limited women’s influence to domestic matters, by 1920 the sparks from this early effort had been fanned into flames that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Feb. 12, 1905 - Hillsboro. Birthdate of actor Harry Bellaver. By the time of his death in 1993, Bellaver had risen from humble means as the child of Italian immigrants to become a performer on Broadway and television, according to his New York Times obituary. His four-year stint as a police officer on the 1960s drama “Naked City” was eclipsed by roles on the daytime soap “Another World,” as well as parts in “From Here to Eternity” and “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Feb. 13, 1920 - Chicago. First African-American baseball league formed. To meet growing clamor for an official league for African-Americans, Hall of Fame pitcher Andrew “Rube” Foster worked with his partners in the Chicago American Giants team to launch the Negro National League, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website.
Feb. 14, 1894 - Chicago. Birthdate of comedian Jack Benny. Born at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital to a Waukegan couple, Benny’s prowess on the violin led to an offer as a teenager to tour with The Marx Brothers, the Waukegan Historical Society reports. Foregoing the offer didn’t hamper Benny’s career. By the next year, he was performing in a musical duo and went on to complete a career as a vaudeville, radio, film and film comedian.
Feb. 14, 2008 - DeKalb. Fourth-worst mass shooting at a college occurs at Northern Illinois University. The tragic shooting deaths of five classmates by former student Steven Kazmierczak, who also killed himself, placed the school on lockdown and prompted officials to cancel classes for two weeks, according to Wikipedia.org. Though the perpetrator had a history of mental illness, and some said his behavior had become erratic, as reported by ABC News.
Feb. 15, 1933 - Miami. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak assassinated. In an eerie forerunner of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy some 30 years later, a gunman who fired bullets meant for President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt missed, instead taking the life of Chicago’s mayor as he visited Roosevelt. As Franklin whisked Cermak to a nearby hospital, the mayor reportedly told Roosevelt “I’m glad it was me instead of you,” according to Chicagology.com. Perpetrator Giuseppi Zangara, captured by angry bystanders, was later cleared of any gangster ties but was executed a month later.
Feb. 15, 1954 - Chicago. Celebrity kiss touches off media firestorm, costs host his job. In a stunt that today could possibly cause someone to bat an eye, TV host Jack Eigen asked visiting actress Cleo Moore to demonstrate a Hollywood-style kiss, according to Chicago History Today. Whether it lasted 2, 3 or 5 minutes is the stuff of legend, but the closed-mouth kiss outraged viewers and led to radio-veteran Eigen being let go from his TV gig. Eigen claimed his wife approved the kiss ahead of time.
Feb. 16, 1931 - Frankfort. Birthdate of Rep. George Edward Sangmeister. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Sangmeister earned a law degree from the John Marshall Law School before rising through the political ranks of Illinois state government. The Democrat’s service in the Illinois House and Senate preceded his six years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Feb. 16, 1903 - Chicago. Birthdate of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. The Washington Post characterized Bergen as a “celebrated entertainer and master ventriloquist” who advanced his career from vaudeville to radio. His wooden sidekick for many years was a marionette known as Charlie McCarthy, with whom he ended his career in a series of standing-ovation-worthy performances at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, according to his obituary in the Post.
Feb. 17, 1967 - Downers Grove. Death of state’s first female lawmaker. Though she was educated at a time when women lacked voting rights, Lottie Holman O’Neill nevertheless remained a political junkie who seized opportunities to advance in a male-dominated system. A champion of parks, schools, women’s rights and the disabled, her swearing-in as the state’s first female member of the Illinois House drew 1,000 women in attendance.
Feb. 18, 1934 - Springfield. State arsenal opens in castle-like structure. The Illinois State Arsenal opened to great fanfare in 1903 with then-President Theodore Roosevelt attending its dedication, according to the Sangamon County History website. Though it was modeled after a classic European castle by architects Bullard & Bullard and cost $150,000 to construct, it was brought down when a young boy accidentally ignited a destructive blaze, the website reports. A much less ornate replacement opened in 1937.