Oral history project is underwritten by an Illinois Humanities Council grant
SPRINGFIELD – A dozen women who changed their community for the better will be recognized in "Skirting Convention: 12 Women Who Changed Springfield," a new oral history series produced by public radio WUIS 91.9 FM. Underwritten by a $10,000 grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the series will begin March 8, International Women's Day.
Programs will air in eight-minute segments at 8:20 a.m. and again at 4:50 p.m. on alternate Thursdays through August.
"This is an opportunity for us to capture these important stories for posterity and put these women's accomplishments into context," said WUIS Station Manager Bill Wheelhouse. "We would not have been able to undertake this project without the funding from the IHC."
Wheelhouse continued, "From spearheading downtown revitalization to ending housing discrimination to opening a men's-only club to women, these groundbreaking women with different backgrounds, economic levels, and skin colors have one thing in common: they changed Springfield forever. And while these milestones were celebrated at the time, their achievements are perhaps now taken for granted. It is WUIS' goal to capture these stories in oral history form and share them with the entire community. It's a lesson for today and future generations."
Judy Everson, IHC board member and UIS professor emerita, noted, "This oral history and media project will highlight the path-breaking contributions of these women whose activism truly changed our community. The Council is delighted to support this project."
The individuals to be profiled were chosen by Cullom Davis, oral historian and UIS professor emeritus, and Edward J. Russo, retired city historian. Davis and Russo served as the project's humanities scholars and selected the 12 women for the impact they made. "When you step back and look at the accomplishments of these women, it is really overwhelming," said Russo.
The women selected are:
Betty Allen, who helped enforce civil rights in the area of hiring. Allen was the first full-time director of the Human Relations Commission and, as a board member of the YWCA, traveled to Kenya to train young Africans to run YWCA hostels. She was also instrumental in helping form the People's Bank, which was the first bank on the east side of Springfield.
Velma Carey, a longtime civil rights activist and a historian of the Springfield Race Riot of 1908. During her career, Carey broke many hiring barriers; she was the first black salesclerk at Myers Brothers Department Store and served for many years as personnel director at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She also was co-owner of Springfield's first ethnic bookstore.
Barbara "Babs" Dickerman, who fought to integrate the city's housing market. In her position as chair of the Housing Committee of the League of Women Voters, Dickerman spearheaded a campaign to investigate the city's fair housing ordinance and led a public outcry when it was discovered that discrimination was still rampant. Her efforts led to tighter enforcement of the law and eventually brought about the city's move from a commissioner to an aldermanic form of government.
Carolyn Oxtoby, preservationist, civic leader, and entrepreneur. Oxtoby pioneered the restoration and redevelopment of the downtown district and served as president of Downtown Springfield, Inc. She helped found the Springfield Children's Museum in the 1970s and served as its first president.
Ethel Gingold worked to open the Sangamo Club to female members after being told her membership was no longer valid following her divorce. She has served on several boards connected to the criminal justice system, and has heard arguments in hundreds of cases involving parole and inmate grievances.
Alice Kaige, who worked to preserve Springfield's historic neighborhoods. Kaige helped found the West Side Neighborhood Association in 1977 and was active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom for over 50 years.
Peggy Knoepfle, writer, poet, and well-known peace activist. As manager of the Heartland Peace Center, Knoepfle organized numerous letter-writing campaigns and rallies. She has made six trips to Central America in an effort to understand the effects of U.S. military policy on daily life there. She also helped found "Brainchild," a women's writing cooperative.
Theresa Cummings, a small business owner who served as president of Springfield Business and Professional Women. Cummings helped found Planned Parenthood of Springfield and chaired the State Advisory Committee for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission for many years.
Mary Lee Leahy, an attorney whose primary area of practice is civil rights. Leahy argued the Rutan case before the U.S. Supreme Court and the outcome changed state government patronage rules. She also served as the director of the Department of Children and Family Services.
Caryl Moy, who has been called the "Doctor Ruth of Springfield." Moy was one of the first counselors certified to work in the area of social work/human sexuality. She is also an author and helped found the local Planned Parenthood office.
Sister Anne Carlino was instrumental in planning the Open Heart Surgery Unit, Intensive Care Coronary Unit, and the Pulmonary Unit at St. John's Hospital and in facilitating a new building for the St. John's Breadline. Sr. Anne's interest in the larger world led her to start the immigration ministry at Springfield Catholic Charities and also to open a clinic in Tanzania, Africa, where she currently works.
Karen Hasara was the first woman to be elected mayor of Springfield, serving from 1995 to 2003. Before that, Hasara was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1986 and to the State Senate in 1993.
WUIS Springfield Bureau Chief Kavitha Cardoza is the series producer, and she is assisted by UIS graduate student Julie Perino. Later this year the station plans to release an audio CD of the series, which will also be made available to local schools and student organizations.
A half-hour special intertwining the stories of all 12 women will air in September. That month WUIS will also host a public reception at The Pasfield House to bring all the honorees together and to celebrate the culmination of the series.
Pasfield House proprietor Tony Leone is donating the use of this historic home during the project. "Through my whole career, I've certainly relied on a strong woman, my mother, to guide me," noted Leone. "Though I do not know all the ladies who have been selected, I've worked directly with two of them: Carolyn Oxtoby, who happens to be the granddaughter of the gentleman who built Pasfield House, and Karen Hasara, with whom I worked during most of her political career. I'm happy to help recognize all of these women's historic achievements in this home."
The Illinois Humanities Council is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities. Organized in 1973 as the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the IHC funds other nonprofit organizations that are developing programs for Illinois audiences. The IHC makes approximately 90 grants per year, ranging in amount from $2,000 to $10,000.91.9FM WUIS-89.3FM WIPA is a listener-supported public radio service of the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield. WUIS' mission is to satisfy a curious, societally engaged audience through programming and community outreach. It can be found online at www.wuis.org.