Kate F. O’Connor

Kate F. O’Connor was born in Rockford, Illinois June 1, 1863 to Irish immigrants. She was the youngest of 8 children and not much is known of her younger life. After graduating from high school, Kate studied drawing and painting for a short while. After temping in the County Clerk’s office, in 1882 she was appointed deputy to the County Clerk.

Kate was well respected in Rockford’s business community and appeared often in the local newspaper for her involvement in social clubs, organizations and new groups she founded. An 1887 article described her as “…small and slight…”, wearing her hair down her back in a braid, and dresses that went to her ankles (much shorter than the long dresses worn by women at that time). Described as ‘girlish’, it was noted that the “…burly men…” who do business in her office respected her (Rockford Daily Register, 12/29/1887). The same article even noted in some amazement that it was odd that she was so popular when she had such outspoken opinions on “…questions of morality and temperance.” Though some of the article attempts to fit Kate into the mold of how a woman ‘should’ appear, she was gaining a reputation for not only her good work but for her strong opinions. She loudly advocated for equal voting rights for women, campaigned constantly alongside other activists, and in 1888 she stated for the paper quite plainly that any argument against women having the right to vote had no foundation.

Kate eventually started her own business, moving her office from Rockford to Chicago, IL. Her vacations were reported in the newspaper, and even her penchant for wearing linen suits (which she found more comfortable) were newsworthy.

After women’s voting rights were won, Kate kept fighting! She fought for equal pay for female teachers in Rockford in 1921 along with her fellow members of the Business & Professional Woman’s Club, served on the board of education, and lectured. In her post-19th amendment talks, Kate concentrated on urging women to exercise their right to vote, reminding them of the years of struggle leading to their win.

In 1929 Kate was honored by the national suffrage organization for her efforts working for equal voting rights alongside suffragist all-stars Catherine Waugh McCulloch and Jane Addams.

Kate’s years of fighting led to her appointment in 1932 by Illinois governor Henry Horner as the supervisor to the state’s new minimum wage law for women and children. While she held this position she pushed for new wage scales and regulations for women and minors and also ran the re-election campaign for Horner. In 1942 Kate was appointed assistant to Thomas F. O’Malley, regional director of the federal wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

After a long life of service and advocacy, Kate died in Chicago after a heart attack May 25, 1945. Her legacy was honored and remembered by the many groups she advocated for throughout her life, and her imprint on the lives of women across Illinois and the U.S. will always be felt.

Written for Sheroes of History by Regina Gorham. Regina is a Shero fan and works in a museum in Michigan. Kate O’Connor has been a Shero of hers since she discovered Kate while doing research in her former museum job. Kate shows that no matter the era or cultural restrictions, a Shero says ‘screw it!’ and gets done what needs to get done, no matter what!

*Photo courtesy of Midway Village Museum

Find out more…

The Midway Village Museum has two excellent downloadable resource packs all about Kate. You can download them for free here.

This blog and this article both have more information about Kate.

Memphis Minnie – “Queen of the Country Blues”

Memphis Minnie became known as ‘the queen of country blues’ for her amazing talent as a blues guitarist, singer & songwriter, who made waves amongst the mainly male-dominated blues scene of the 1930s.

Her real name was Lizzie Douglas, and she was born in 1897 in Mississippi, just south of Memphis. The oldest of 13 children, everyone in her large family called her ‘Kid’. She developed a love for music at a young age, taking up the banjo and receiving her first guitar at the age of 8 as a Christmas present.

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Book Review: Women Heroes of World War II – by Kathryn J Atwood

book cover Women-Heroes-of-WWIIWomen Heroes of World War II; 26 stories of espionage, sabotage, resistance & rescue – by Kathryn J Atwood

I was lucky enough to be contacted by Kathryn J Atwood, author of several books about the extraordinary lives of women during the First & Second World Wars. Kathyrn had come across the Sheroes of History blog, and rightly guessed that I might be interested in reading her books.

Continue reading Book Review: Women Heroes of World War II – by Kathryn J Atwood

Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi began her ascent to rule when she was only 16, during a time where female names were too insignificant to be recorded; she was known as ‘the woman of the Nala family’. She was taken in as a concubine by the Xianfeng Emperor in 1852, during a routine selection.

Cixi went down in history to some as a ruthless killer; a woman who was selfish, strict and cunning. Traits which, had they been describing a man, would not be given a second thought. Cixi was, however, a clever woman with an array of talents and who ruled the Qing Dynasty when her husband died.

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Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn (1640?-1689) was a 17th-century writer who challenged expectations of women at the time by writing plays, poetry and novels for profit.  Her most famous texts include The Rover, Oroonoko, and The Fair Jilt.   Some of her writing was notorious for its sexual themes, but she also got into trouble for writing about politics, a risk for any writer during this period but particularly for a woman.  Behn’s prose writing is seen as playing an important part in the development of the novel.

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Juana Inés de la Cruz – Scholarly Sister

Juana Inés de la Cruz was a nun with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a firm belief in womens’ right to education. She is regarded by many as the first published feminist in the New World.

Born near Mexico City in 1651 to unmarried parents, Juana, like most girls of her time, had very little access to education as a child. But this didn’t stop her; she developed a desire to learn from an early age and could be found hiding in the chapel of the hacienda where she lived, devouring her grandfather’s books.

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Katherine Harley

Katherine Harley sits at the desk
Katherine Harley sits at the desk

Katherine Mary Harley nee French, sister of Sir John French, (leader of the British army at the outbreak of World War 1,) and Charlotte Despard, was born on May 3rd 1855, less than three months after the death of her father. Her childhood was blighted by her mother’s ill health and by the age of ten she was an orphan. Katherine was sent to boarding school and then travelled to India to stay with her sister Maggie. There she met and married George Ernest Harley, a soldier. A little over a year later still in India she gave birth to her first child Florence.[i]

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