Women’s History Month: Mary Salome Ott Brand

Happy Women’s History Month. At the IDHH, we’d like to introduce Mary Salome Ott Brand –a childhood immigrant from France and an early settler of the North Shore of Chicago who cast her first ballot to vote at the age of 91. 

In 1913, Illinois became the first state in the nation to grant women the right to the presidential vote. Women’s suffrage had slowly evolved since the 15th amendment in 1870 leading to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The right to vote was won in large part by the organizing and lobbying of woman’s clubs in communities across the nation. The diversity of materials in Highland Park Public Library’s Highland Park History Collection shows different elements of women’s history, both at the collective and political while also in the lives of individuals. The collections include women’s club minutes, photographs, and biographies constructed of newspaper clippings and stories transcribed by local historians and family members.

On Election Day 1916, Mary Salome Ott Brand left her house on N. Second Street in Highland Park to vote for the first time. At 91, she was accompanied by her son Orson, who documented his mother’s first time to the polls. 


Mary Salome Ott Brand, 1825-1921. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

Grandma Brand, Age 91. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library. 

The fight for women to vote had been long fought. With Suffragette figures such as Susan B. Anthony well known, the struggle to vote was also fought by women in local communities through woman’s clubs and federations of woman’s clubs. Women in Lake County had been active in the conversation and activism of women’s right to vote. In 1916, The Woman’s Civic Club  –later renamed the Ravina Women’s Club joined forces and merged with the Highland Park Woman’s club in in the 1960s –wrote they were “in favor of full suffrage for the women of Illinois as speedily as possible, therefore favor the adoption of an amendment to the constitution to that end” –meaning presidential suffrage –that would eventually become the 19th ammendment. Highland Park Public Library has several collections from Highland Park area womans’ clubs dating back to the early 20th century, including the Ravina Woman’s Club Records and Highland Park Woman’s Club Records.

Living in the North Shore during the civil war, the great migration, the fight for unions, and the fight for women’s vote, Brand’s life was certainly impacted by the changing political landscape and political awareness. The right to vote, at 91, was certainly reason enough to document.

Here is Brand at the polls.

Grandma Brand, Age 91. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

In the obituaries that were included in Ms. Brand’s biographical file- along with stories she told a local historian, they universally describe Brand as a life-long resident of Lake County –which she was, after moving there. Photographs of her home continue to document  what life in Lake County was like in the earliest part of the 20th century. For example, this picture taken by George D. Rice –another local documentarian I mentioned in a post in January.


Mary Salome Ott Brand and Children in Front of a House. n.d. Highland Park History. Photograph by George D. Rice. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

Compared with her stories of the prairie as it was in the 1840s-60s, the rapid change from prairie to the north Chicago suburbs is immediately apparent.The Highland Park History Collection is definitely unique among the collections within the IDHH  for having so many different forms of historical documentation. Meeting minutes, written local histories, and, of course, photographs build a well-rounded picture of subjects at the micro-local. The biographical files created by local historians in Highland Park and more broadly Lake County cover the lives of women during the early 20th century.  Here is Mary Salome Ott Brand’s assembled biography.


Biography of Mary Salome Ott Brand. C.1925.Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History.  Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

Lastly, here’s a picture of her and her son together: 


Orson Brand and His Mother, Mary Salome Ott Brand. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library. 

For more of any of these kinds of documents please visit the IDHH. The papers of women’s social and political organizations are linked above, but here are more of the local biographies created by historians and more photographs by Orson Brand. 

March 15th 1959: The Photography of Irene Gillette

61 years ago yesterday, it snowed 25.5 inches in Galena Illinois. Irene Gillette set out with her camera to document the snowfall and show its impact on the streets of Galena.

The Galena Public Library District’s Galena Area Historic Photos Collection includes 1,100 photos of Galena from the late-19th to mid-20th centuries. Of the photos in the IDHH, 370 of them are Gillette’s photos of the everyday. From cocker-spaniels laying in the grass, and self portraits with quippy captions written on the reverse, Gillette’s attention to her surroundings seems to come from an intense familiarity with them, where mapping her town is less the point than showing its eccentricities; documenting unique and noteworthy moments, such as a historic snowfall, her photographs historicize everyday life.

Here are five photos from her walk around Galena on March 15th, 1959:

Big Snow of March 15th, 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Public Library District. Galena Area Historic Photos.  Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.
Snow on a mailbox at the intersection of Main Street and Washington Street in Galena, Ill. 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Public Library District. Galenea Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

Snow on Green Street Steps. 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette.Galena Public Library District. Galene Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

Snow in the alley off HIll Street Between Main and Bench Streets. 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Public Library District. Galena Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

The Big Snow. 1959. Galena Public Library District. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

The rest of the Galena Area Historic Photos can be found at this page and all of Irene Gillete’s photos in the IDHH here. She’s one of my personal favorite photographs on the IDHH site. It’s always exciting to find a new photographer in the IDHH whose work in some way creates an image about the culture of their town. The entire Galena Area Historic Photos Collection is particularly unique, containing the photography of multiple amateur community documentarians.

Mining Rescue and First Aid Champions 1930

A few months ago, we highlighted Mother Jones at Mount Olive collection. That look at coal mining was just a crack into the history of coal in Illinois.

Two Coal Miners working in a Glen Carbon Mine. C 1930.  Glen Carbon Heritage Museum via Madison Historical –Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection. Permission to display given by Madison Historical.

Coal mines and mining, since the 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster, have been progressively more regulated. Regulation, often brought forth from union organizing, has decreased the number of deaths while increasing the standard of living for miners and their families. The history of mining and miners’ unionization and regulation are intimately tied to the labor and workers’ rights movements. But what are the other lenses with which to look at mining, miners, and mining safety with? Or how can we open the borders of Illinois history and discover its connections across the region, to create a deeper history of mining communities and miners lives? If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection at the Madison Historical from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville may be a good place to start.

Outside View of Coal Mine #2 in Glen Carbon Illinois. C. 1930. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum via Madison Historical –Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection. Permission to display given by Madison Historical.

In 1911, the first Mine Rescue and First Aid Contest was held in Pittsburgh. Four Mine Rescue Teams from around the nation competed. Eight years later, again in Pittsburgh, 24 mine rescue teams and 83 first aid teams competed against one another in a series of tests and emergency situations, judged, and scored as first responders. Coal mining rescue was already developing its own scientific discourse, with manuals and books such as “Mine Fires: A Preliminary Study” and “Outline of Mine Rescue Maneuvers”, published by the United States Bureau of Mines as early as 1912. In 1910, the Illinois Mine Rescue Station Commission was at work establishing three permanent mine rescue stations in Springfield, Benton, and LaSalle, meanwhile testing U.S.-made “oxygen helmets” which were new in the Americas but were already being used and manufactured in Europe. Standards for mine rescue were published by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1920 that describes different procedures for entering mines, for evaluating conditions, and for testing rescue tools including their portable oxygen breathing apparatuses. 

In 1930, a mine rescue team from Glen Carbon, Illinois traveled to Lexington, Kentucky to compete in the Nation Mine Rescue Competition, and did quite well, collecting accolades in mine rescue and first aid –including winning the Highest Honor in the Combination-Mine Rescue and First Aid category. 

Coal Miners Rescue Squad 1930 Louisville, KY competition Winners. 1930. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum via Madison Historical –Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection. Permission to display given by Madison Historical.
Glen Carbon Coal Miners Rescue Awards. 1930.Glen Carbon Heritage Museum via Madison Historical –Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection. Permission to display given by Madison Historical.

Glen Carbon was developed by the Madison Coal Company with the intention of turning it into a company town similar to Pullman or Granite City. Madison Coal operated four mines that remained resilient at the outbreak of the Great Depression, but struggled and gradually closed their mines as the Depression progressed. In 1932, as the demand for coal shrank to what it was at its peak– a mere 320 tons, as compared to 680 in 1918 –Mine #2, Glen Carbon’s most productive mine was closed. Perhaps because of the depression, 1930 was the last year of Coal Miners Rescue and First Aid Competition until it resumed a decade later.  
These images of the Glen Carbon Mine Rescue and First Aid teams, especially in their rescue uniforms, depict a change in mining that was fueled by advances made in rescue technology– particularly the “breathing apparatus”. The safety and safety training publications by the U.S. Bureau of Mines, created guidelines for miners and mining rescue that established a baseline notion of safety and rescue procedures relying heavily on the use of portable oxygen even before the breathing masks were widely used in the United States.

Coal Miners Rescue Squad. 1930. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum via Madison
Historical –Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection. Permission to display given by Madison Historical.
Coal Miners Rescue Squad. 1930. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum via Madison
Historical –Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection. Permission to display given by Madison Historical.

Here the champions are in their day clothes:

Caption: Coal Miners Rescue Squad from coal mine #2 out of uniform. 1930. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum via Madison Historical –Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection. Permission to display given by Madison Historical.

The IDHH has an abundance of images of mining and mining communities in Illinois, spanning the late 19th century to the 1980’s. The number of materials on mining in Illinois also shows a broad range of issues that surrounded mining including the fight for the power of the union, and other advances in mining. For more on mining from Glen Carbon and Madison Historical visit the IDHH, and to see the entire Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection visit Madison Historical’s website.