Welcome to the Madison County Historical Society

Along the Mississippi River, across from St. Louis, Missouri, lies Madison County, Illinois. Part of the Metro-East region comprising various counties on both sides of the Mississippi River, Madison County is home to a number of cities, villages, and townships that speak to the larger history of the state of Illinois and the land on which it stands. Established on September 14, 1812, the county was named for President James Madison and initially included the modern state of Illinois north of St. Louis as well as all of Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Over time, this enormous jurisdiction would be reduced to its present size of 741 square miles. An industrial region since the late 1800s, the area was first populated by the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Native American Mississippian culture – Cahokia. Containing about 80 humanmade earthen mounds near Collinsville, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is now a National Historic Landmark and one of the 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.

In the last 250 years, Madison County’s advantageous position next to the Mississippi River has allowed it to bear witness to a variety of notable people and events in United States history. Camp Dubois, the winter camp and launch-point for the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, lies within the county, as did the original City Hall in Alton, which hosted the last of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates on October 15, 1858. The Madison County Historical Society seeks to preserve the wonderful history of the county through their mission of “Opening Doors to Madison County History.” The digital collections shared with the IDHH certainly fulfill this mission, as they provide insight into the lives of 19th-century women through a series of private letters (Private and Real), the experiences of an American nurse serving in France during World War I (In Her Own Words), and the ways in which Madison County has changed over the years (Picturing the History of Madison County).

Join us in offering a warm welcome to the Madison County Historical Society, and enjoy a few of our favorite items from their collections below:

Alton City Hall. n.d. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Madison County’s Tallest Man. 1940. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Catsup Bottle. July 17, 1995. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Mrs. Mary Lusk. September 14, 1912. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Madison County Centennial Arch. 1912. Published by the Edwardsville Intelligencer. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Horse Thief Detective Society. 1873. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Excursion Steamer. n.d. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items from the Madison County Historical Society.

Sirius-ly Scorching Dog Days of Summer

As the weather and humidity in central Illinois make it feel more and more like the temperature is over 100°F outside, the IDHH is highlighting the proverbial “dog days” of summer. While the phrase “dog days” or “dog days of summer” might be somewhat familiar, just what are these days and how did this expression enter our cultural lexicon? From an astronomical point of view, the phrase refers to the annual phenomenon in which the bright star Sirius rises into the sky at the same time as the Sun. This heliacal rising allows viewers to see both the Sun and the Sirius star simultaneously, leading to the belief that Sirius intensified or added to the Sun’s heat. In the Northern Hemisphere, this simultaneous rising may be seen during the hottest months of the year, in July and August. 

Hellenistic astrologers in the Mediterranean were aware of the star Sirius, calling it the “Dog Star” due to the way it followed the constellation Orion into the night sky. The sweltering and humid weather in the Mediterranean during these months would often cause people to fall ill, and so the connection was made between Sirius’ heliacal rising and its effect on the populations below. A variety of detrimental effects to human activities were attributed with Sirius’ rising such as lethargy, fever, and bad luck, as well as the belief that this hot period brought out madness in dogs, further reinforcing the notion of the “dog days”. While we may no longer blame a summer fever on the “dog days of summer”, there is no denying the potent influence of a heat wave in July to inspire lazy dreams of a nice afternoon spent on the water. Between numerous lakes and ponds, miles of river, and spots like Navy Pier on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinoisians have plenty of ways to cool down during the hot summer. 

Below are a few of our favorite items highlighting ways to enjoy the “dog days of summer” and beat the heat:

A Summer Afternoon – Long Lake, Illinois, P.O. Ingleside. M86.1.426. 1938. Created by C.R. Childs. Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County. Lake County History in Postcards. Courtesy of the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County.
Drinks on the Quad – 1936. June 1936. University of St. Francis. Sharing Our Past, A Visual History. Courtesy of the University of St. Francis.
Men and Women swimming in Lamoine River early 1900s. n.d. Western Illinois University. Digital Image Collection. Courtesy of Western Illinois University.
Fire Department Early Water Fights. circa 1915. Huntley Area Public Library. Huntley Area History. Courtesy of the Huntley Area Public Library.
Looking south on Quiver Beach Summer Resort, Havana, Ill. n.d. Published by Tarbill and Ermeling. Eastern Illinois University. Booth Library Postcard Collection. Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University.
Fine Arts Summer Concerts. n.d. Park Ridge Public Library. Pieces of Park Ridge. Courtesy of the Park Ridge Public Library.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items related to the dog days of summer.

Bees and Butterflies and Bats, Oh My!

As temperatures warm and days get ever longer, the sounds of bees buzzing past and birds chirping in the trees indicate not only the arrival of summer, but also the height of the plant pollination period. June 1st marked the beginning of National Pollinators Month, recognizing these creatures and the crucial role they play in the larger system of plant reproduction and proliferation. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, encompassing such diverse animals as insects, birds, and even some mammals. These animals travel from one flower or plant to another, carrying pollen as they go, and fertilizing flora with each new plant they visit. The symbiotic dynamic between these plants and pollinators is vital to both groups, as pollinators eat the pollen or nectar for its nutritional content, while the plants rely on the pollinators to spread their pollen, aiding in reproduction.  

The importance of this intricate process and the players within it has captivated human populations for centuries as butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators have been ascribed cultural significance and symbolism in various communities around the world. Such cultural significance persists today as we create entertainment like The Bee Movie that foregrounds pollinators, hold events such as the Aurora Pollinator Festival that highlight the role of pollinators, and design outdoor environments that offer ideal conditions for these animals. Indeed, as our climate changes there is a greater need than ever to create pollinator-friendly landscapes using pollinator-friendly practices. By providing habitats conducive to pollinator animals, we can simultaneously safeguard this essential process and beautify the natural world around us. 

Below are a few of our favorite items featuring one of the most popular pollinators – the honey bee:

Governor Green at Bee Exhibit — State Fair. August 1946. Illinois State Archives. Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm Photograph Collection. Courtesy of the Illinois State Archives.
Honey bees, Chenoa, IL 1948. April 1, 1948. Photographed by Stanley Lantz. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection, 1946 – 1949. Courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.
Young, Benjamin Percy; Young, Nola Ayers. 1949. Designed by F. Botel. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. John Starr Stewart Ex Libris Collection. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
Margaret M. McPherson. n.d. Designed by Julius J. Lankes. West Chicago Public Library District. Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank D. Anthony Book Plate Collection. Courtesy of the West Chicago Public Library District.
Roberts, IL beekeeper, 1941. September 10, 1941. Photographed by Charles Menees. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negatives Collection 1940 – 1945. Courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items related to bees.

Start Near, Go Far: the Prairie State College Archive Collection

With summer just around the corner, the IDHH is pleased to feature the Archive Collection from one of our newest contributors, Prairie State College. A two-year community college founded in 1957 as Bloom Township Junior College, the college offered its first classes in 1958 in the basement of the First Christian Church in Chicago Heights. From these humble beginnings, Prairie State College has emerged as a vital part of the Chicago Heights community, now spanning 130 acres and serving over 20 different communities in the diverse area once known as “the Crossroads of the Nation”. The first community college in Illinois to guarantee that all credits would transfer to other colleges and universities in the state, Prairie State College now offers degrees and certificates in more than 100 fields of study, from liberal arts subject areas to technical and career disciplines. 

The extensive Archive Collection at Prairie State College provides a look at the rich history of the community college, from its earliest days as Bloom Township Junior College and into the 21st century. Of particular note are items in the collection that focus on the various technical and career programs available at the college. Images of students working under car hoods, on dental patients’ mouths, and with nursing equipment reflect the practical experiences of students in the Automotive Technology, Dental Hygiene, and Nursing programs respectively. In addition to these photographs, the Archive Collection contains items featuring the expansion of the campus and construction of campus buildings, the day-to-day events and happenings of the college, and the achievements and recognition of Prairie State College students. 

The IDHH warmly welcomes Prairie State College, and we hope you enjoy perusing their collection as much as we do! Here are a few of our favorite items:

Prairie State College Welding Students Working at the Welding Shop 1981. 1981. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College EMT students are performing CPR in class, ca. 1987. 1987. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College Student Working in autoshop 80’s. 1984. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College Dental Hygiene student is working on a patient. 2004. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College Mechanical technology and manufacturing program, ca. 1987. 1987. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
PSC Main Campus Fall 1998. September 1, 1998. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items from Prairie State College.

Continued Growth: the IDHH Passes Half a Million Items!

With our latest harvest, the IDHH now has 510,614 items from 548 collections. Thanks to our 150 Illinois partners and contributing institutions for making this possible!

Some of our newest collections and contributors include:

Keep checking back here at Illinois Highlights as we promote new collections, highlight older ones, and feature materials relevant to Illinois and national history.

Don’t forget to check out the IDHH Exhibits site as well!

Want to see more in the IDHH?

Browse the collections by select topics and people

Search all items or Browse by select facets

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Introducing the IDHH Exhibits Site

The Illinois Digital Heritage Hub is proud to announce the launch of a new Digital Exhibits site! Curated from items in the IDHH collections, these digital exhibits highlight and contextualize the unique collections in the IDHH and provide insight into topics relevant to Illinois and national history.

IDHH Exhibits Landing Page. Screen capture taken May 2022.

We invite viewers to explore these exhibits and learn more about the materials and topics in the IDHH collections. Viewers can use the navigation links at the bottom of the Exhibit pages to read through the narration, as well as click on the images within the Exhibits to see a larger version and learn more about the item.

IDHH Exhibits: Mayor Harold Washington Exhibit Landing Page. Screen capture taken May 2022.

Our current exhibits include Architecture in Chicago and Harold Washington, the First Black Mayor of Chicago; forthcoming exhibits will feature Rachel Crothers, Writers of Illinois and the Midwest, and the World’s Columbian Exposition, so check the IDHH Exhibits site regularly!

A special thanks to our providers, whose contributions make the IDHH possible; to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, for hosting the Omeka S platform for the Exhibits site; and to the IDHH Graduate Students Holly Peterson and Caleb Britton, whose work on the exhibits is fantastic and essential!

A Full Dance Card at Monmouth College

With spring coming into full bloom, the IDHH would like to feature one of our earliest contributors, Monmouth College, and their unique collection of Greek life dance cards. Located in Western Illinois in the city of Monmouth, the college was founded in 1853 by Scotch-Irish pioneers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Notably, the College accepted women and students of color from its earliest days, being one of the first U.S. higher education institutions to do so. In fact, the College found itself with a primarily female student body shortly after its establishment, as virtually the entire male student body left for military service in the Civil War. Not to be outdone by the campus societies formed by male veterans returning to the College after the war, Monmouth College is home to Pi Beta Phi, the nation’s first “women’s fraternity” (what we would now call a sorority). 

Spanning nearly 30 years, the Dance Card Collection is a testament to the vibrant Greek life at Monmouth College and the rich social history of groups like Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma, two early sororities known as the “Monmouth Duo”. Popular in European ballrooms during the 18th century, dance cards were originally used by women to record the names of dance partners at formal balls. They typically consisted of a booklet with a decorative cover and a decorative cord by which it could be attached to the wrist or clothing. The booklet might include sections providing details about the event menu and music, patrons and other featured guests, and most importantly, blank lines where dance partners’ names could be “penciled in”. In the hands of young college students, the dance cards reflect their owner’s individual personality as well as the variety and playfulness of the dance cards created for specific dances in campus Greek life such as the Rose Formal or the Holly Hop. 

Below are a few of our favorite items from the Dance Card Collection at Monmouth College:

Kappa Alpha Sigma. May 23, 1931. Monmouth College. Dance Card Collection. Courtesy of Monmouth College.
Tau Kappa Epsilon 1933. December 9, 1933. Monmouth College. Dance Card Collection. Courtesy of Monmouth College.
Sigma Tau Omega 1934. November 28, 1934. Monmouth College. Dance Card Collection. Courtesy of Monmouth College.
Sigma Tau Omega 1935b. April 12, 1935. Monmouth College. Dance Card Collection. Courtesy of Monmouth College.
Kappa Delta 1947a. December 12, 1947. Monmouth College. Dance Card Collection. Courtesy of Monmouth College.
Alpha Xi Delta 1958. May 31, 1958. Monmouth College. Dance Card Collection. Courtesy of Monmouth College.
Kappa Kappa Gamma 1959. May 23, 1959. Monmouth College. Dance Card Collection. Courtesy of Monmouth College.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items in the Dance Card Collection from Monmouth College, as well as items related to the pastime and art of dancing.

Unearthing the Roots of Earth Day

On January 28, 1969, an underwater oil well drilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California suffered a blowout six miles from the coastline. Oil seeped out of the ocean floor bedrock at a rapid rate, creating an oil slick that would extend across dozens of square miles. The largest oil spill in American waters at the time, an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel over the course of the next month. The impact on the local marine environment was extreme as thousands of sea birds and marine animals were killed, and the clean-up efforts took months to address the damage of the spill. The enormity of this environmental disaster, and the increased awareness among Americans in the 60’s of environmental concerns generally, would prompt President Nixon to sign the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 and inspire the creation of an annual Earth Day. 

Held on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was conceived as an “environmental teach-in” that would educate citizens about the importance of environmental conservation. The product of collaboration between Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelsen and activist Denis Hayes, the day eventually abandoned the “teach-in” model and saw numerous demonstrations and protests across the United States as more than 20 million people organized in city streets, which is still the largest organized demonstration in American history today. Over fifty years later, Earth Day is an annual reminder on April 22 to support efforts protecting our ever-changing environment and to contribute to a more sustainable world. 

Below are a few of our favorite items featuring early Earth Day celebrations in Illinois as well as the beautiful nature of Illinois:

Student Life, Protests and activism. April 21, 1970. Illinois Wesleyan University. IWU Historical Collections. Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Des Plaines River, Libertyville, Ill. n.d. Cook Memorial Public Library District. Libertyville History. Courtesy of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.
The Wishing Tree – Round Lake Beach, Round Lake, Illinois. 1933. Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County. Lake County History in Postcards. Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves, Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County.
Lincoln School, Sterling, Illinois. 1970. Sterling Public Library. Sterling and Rock Falls Local History Collection. Courtesy of the Sterling Public Library.
Analyzing Nature. circa 1981. University of St. Francis. Sharing Our Past, A Visual History. Courtesy of the University of St. Francis.
Spoon feeding bird. n.d. Photographed by George Day. Bradley University. The Jack Bradley Photojournalism Collection. George Day of the Peoria Journal Star and Jack L. Bradley Photojournalism Collection, Virginius H. Chase Special Collections Center, Bradley University, Peoria, IL.
Pond, flowers, trees. 1916. Photographed by John H. Hauberg. Augustana College. From MSS 27 John Henry Hauberg papers, Special Collections, Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items related to the environmental observances of Earth Day and Arbor Day.

Beware the Ides of March – Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

For the ancient Romans, the Ides functioned as one of three fixed points occurring each month that helped them keep track of the current date in the Roman calendar. The Ides landed around the 13th day in most months, but took place on the 15th day in a few months of the year such as March. The Ides of March is particularly infamous due to its association with the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE by Roman senators. Marking the end of the Roman Republic, Caesar’s downfall during the Ides of March would be chronicled by Greek-Roman writer Plutarch in his work Parallel Lives, eventually inspiring a number of adaptations and artworks over the centuries depicting this historical event.

One of the more well-known adaptations of Plutarch’s writing on Julius Caesar is William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. First produced in 1599, perhaps for the opening of the Globe Theatre that same year, Shakespeare dramatizes the events surrounding Caesar’s assassination to pose questions about authority, political power, and fate. The tragedy play has had a varied production history over the last 423 years, as political regimes and movements have found the work’s themes sympathetic or contrary to their cause. Illinois theatres have hosted a number of historic productions of the piece, including a three-week run in 1888 at the Chicago Opera House featuring in the lead role of Brutus the actor Edwin Booth, brother of actor John Wilkes Booth infamous for assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Though during his attack John Wilkes Booth credits himself as shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!” — a phrase which his brother Edwin would cry in his role as Brutus — it is the words the soothsayer character uses to warn Caesar that we repeat today: “Beware the Ides of March.”

Below are a few of our favorite items featuring Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

Chicago Opera House, Julius Caesar (September 24, 1888). September 24, 1888. Chicago Public Library. Chicago Theater Collection-Historic Programs. Courtesy of the Chicago Public Library.
Grand Opera House, Julius Caesar (February 28, 1892). February 28, 1892. Chicago Public Library. Chicago Theater Collection-Historic Programs. Courtesy of the Chicago Public Library.
Scene from ‘Julius Caesar’. March 18, 1937. Photographed by Harold E. Way. Knox College. Harold Way Photograph Collection. Courtesy of Knox College.
James Prescott Warde as Brutus in a scene from “Julius Caesar”. n.d. Engraved by [George Henry] Adcock. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Portraits of Actors, 1720-1920. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
Robert Downing as Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar”. 1889. Created by Gebbie & Husson. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Portraits of Actors, 1720-1920. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
Caesar. n.d. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design. Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Murder of Caesar. n.d. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design. Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items related to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

The Enduring Legacy of Jane Addams – Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month and March 8th marks International Women’s Day. The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28, 1909 by the Socialist Party of America in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York. While this was the first official observance of any kind, the movement for women’s rights was born much earlier in 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott held the first women’s rights convention in the US. From that convention in 1848, this celebration of the vital role of women in American history would progress over the next 139 years from an official day to an official week, to finally being a federally designated month in 1987. In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the IDHH is featuring Jane Addams, an agent of change in Illinois history. 

Born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860, Jane Addams was an influential social reformer and activist who established the historic Chicago settlement house Hull House in 1889 with Ellen Gates Starr. Jane Addams would build Hull House into a hub of social and cultural opportunities for the largely immigrant residents on the Near West side of the city. In addition to her efforts with Hull House, Jane Addams worked with reform groups towards creating the first juvenile-court law, establishing an eight-hour working day for women, and advancing the cause of women’s suffrage. She would eventually help form the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919, serving as the inaugural president of the international organization. In recognition of her unwavering dedication to the ideal and objective of world peace, Jane Addams was the co-winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, the second woman to ever receive the Prize. 

Below are a few of our favorite items featuring Jane Addams and her pioneering work with Hull House:

Jane Addams. 1922. I. P. E. U. [International Photo-Engravers Union of North America 371]. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Picture Chicago. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
Ellen Gates Starr. 1922. I. P. E. U. [International Photo-Engravers Union of North America 371]. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Picture Chicago. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
Hull House, Chicago. June 1, 1915. Eastern Illinois University. Booth Library Postcard Collection. Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University.
Courtyard of Hull House. 1920. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Picture Chicago. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
Hull House Kindergarten. circa 1906. National Louis University. Elizabeth Harrison-Chicago Kindergarten Movement. Courtesy of National Louis University.
The Textile Room. May 1902. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Picture Chicago. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items related to Jane Addams and Hull House, as well as other notable women of Illinois, such as Gwendolyn BrooksMary G. Harris Jones, and Jane Byrne.