Past Event

The Women's Suffrage Movement and The Good Roads Movement in Illinois

A Road Scholar Program by Kay Shelton

Is it a coincidence that the freedom to travel offered by the automobile expanded during the time when the Women’s Suffrage movement finally became more successful? The automobile freed women from the constraints of train timetables and the physical labor involved in hitching up a team of horses.

Improved roads further facilitated the spread of the automobile and thus increased women’s freedoms. Before there were interstates, two of the most historically significant roads in the American experience led from Illinois to Washington, D.C.: the National Road in central Illinois and the Lincoln Highway in northern Illinois, which had an auxiliary route that ran from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to our nation’s capital.

For the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade held in Washington, D.C., many women drove automobiles to participate. Driving an automobile became a political statement and an act of defiance of society’s norms to those women of that time. Illinois was a national leader in both the Good Roads movement and the Women’s Suffrage movement. Many Illinoisans advocated road improvements early in the history of automobile travel. As a result, Illinois was the first state to have its segment of the Lincoln Highway paved in its entirety.

Furthermore, the League of Women Voters was founded in Chicago in 1920. This presentation will link those firsts in Illinois history and will explore how residents of other states looked to Illinois for inspiration in their own efforts. It will also investigate the intertwined histories of the abolition movement, President Lincoln’s role in emancipation, and the Women’s Suffrage movement.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Bruce Harmel at