The physical exhibit is closed, but its online counterpart is always open! http://progressivewinnetka.wordpress.com/
Loosen Your Corset, Roll Up Your Sleeves: The Progressive Era in Winnetka: 1890-1920 examines the transformation of a sleepy rural village into a forward-looking, modern suburb.
Running parallel to these changes were severe social dislocations across the country as impoverished populations, from here and abroad, flooded cities in search of the economic opportunity offered by factory jobs. The consequent overcrowding of neighborhoods, outstripping urban infrastructure, led to disease, deeper poverty and social unrest.
This was a time when Americans recognized the need to fix problems created by urbanization and industrialization. Social reformers actively addressed urban troubles through government and private efforts so as to alleviate suffering and provide better access to the opportunities offered by a free and open society.
Among the injustices to be addressed? Votes for women. Women had been denied the vote, despite the active roles they had taken across society. Their labors resulted in passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. Winnetka embraced the spirit of reform in this era both in Chicago, a hotbed of Progressivism, and at home via infrastructure improvement and social experimentation.
Social reform in Winnetka included dramatic change in village governance, schools, and organized children’s activities. The creation of the Winnetka Community House was part of this effort, offering scouting, sports activities and clubs for girls and boys, as well as providing a gathering place for all. The Winnetka Caucus was organized to provide clear communication between residents and their elected leaders. Prominent Winnetkans such as Henry Demarest Lloyd (a close friend of Jane Addams, founder of Hull House) offered direct assistance to the settlement house movement in Chicago.
Via the Winnetka Woman’s Club and the Village Improvement Association, Winnetkans lobbied for garbage pickup, a water plant, sewer system and electric street lights. Governmental ownership of utilities was a hot topic of the day – Winnetka took the unique position that our local government should control our utilities by building – and retaining – our own power plant. A decision made one hundred years ago provides us with cost-efficient electricity today.
The Progressive Era was a time of direct engagement, active problem solving and willingness to experiment across social classes for the greater good. The era introduced Winnetka to new concepts that have become the social bedrock of the Village that we know today.