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:
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:
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:
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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:
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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.
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:
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Visit the IDHH to view even more items related to the environmental observances of Earth Day and Arbor Day.
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:
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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:
The IDHH contains some content that may be harmful or difficult to view. Our cultural heritage partners collect materials from history, as well as artifacts from many cultures and time periods, to preserve and make available the historical record. Please view the Digital Public Library of America’s (DPLA) Statement on Potentially Harmful Content for further information.
In recognition of Black History Month, the IDHH would like to highlight the vibrant history of the black musicians of the historic Maxwell Street Market, the birthplace of Chicago blues. Between 1916 and 1970, six million African Americans moved from the rural Southern United States to the more urban Northeast, Midwest, and West in the Great Migration. Bringing new life to industrial cities like Chicago, one of the many areas in which these new Chicagoans landed was that of Maxwell Street, part of the Near West Side of the city. A bustling residential district, Maxwell Street first appeared on a city map in 1847 and over the next 75 years would become an increasingly diverse neighborhood, earning itself the nickname “Ellis Island of the Midwest”. By the 1920s, the area’s residents were predominantly African American, and these new migrants brought with them the sound of blues music.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, Maxwell Street became known as a place where black musicians could be heard by the greatest number of people as shoppers browsed the wares in the open-air market or inside stores. These street musicians played the acoustic blues of the South, but soon realized that amplification was needed so that they could be heard above the din of the noisy market. Setting up near storefronts, they began to play a blues music using electric guitar and the harmonica, both heavily amplified, often to the point of distortion. Over several decades, the featuring of these instruments and the blending of musical genres gave birth to an electrified, industrial blues, later coined, “Chicago Blues.” Made famous by black musicians on Maxwell Street such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley, Chicago blues would find mass appeal through Chicago blues record labels like Chess Records and have a significant influence on early rock musicians like The Rolling Stones.
Here are a few of our favorite items from IDHH collections featuring the music of the famous Maxwell Street Market:
Nestled along the picturesque Rock River in northwestern Illinois, the city of Dixon bears a fascinating history in the early nineteenth century as a fledgling outpost in the newly incorporated state of Illinois. Established in 1828 by Joseph Ogee, who operated a ferry along the banks of the Rock River, the city would take its name from a “Father” John Dixon after coming to the area in 1830 and purchasing the ferry operation from Ogee. With its advantageous position on the Rock River for trade and commerce, the settlement prospered from the abundance of the significant waterway and quickly grew into a thriving community.
Fifty years later, the thriving city of Dixon saw the creation of Dixon College, a private college that operated with a teacher-training institution, the Northern Illinois Normal School. Dixon College advertised itself as an institution that taught “practically everything” and offered courses in such subjects as civil and electrical engineering, typewriting, and law. Though Dixon College closed around 1914 after only 35 years, the city of Dixon has a number of attractions that keep visitors coming to the area year after year. Designated the “Petunia Capital of Illinois” by the Illinois General Assembly in 1999, the city holds an annual Petunia Festival every summer featuring a parade, carnival, and fireworks show. In preparation for the festival, volunteers and citizens plant thousands of pink petunias along main streets, such as Galena Avenue with its iconic Dixon Arch.
The IDHH is pleased to welcome the Dixon Public Library to the IDHH and feature their collections with this Highlights post. Here are a few of our favorite items:
As another year comes to a close and 2022 looms large on the horizon, the IDHH would like to devote a post to the ways in which we reconnect, recharge, and renew ourselves during these busy holiday weeks. As a nod to the ways in which we all might choose to close out this year, we have featured a few forms of togetherness and entertainment from years past.
Invented by American Thomas Edison in 1877, the phonograph was the first sound machine that could both record and reproduce sound. The earliest “record player”, these devices consisted of a stylus or needle which traced the grooves etched upon a rotating cylinder and then amplified the sound waves through a flared horn. By 1890, record manufacturers had begun to mass-produce their product, allowing consumers to assemble their own record collections and share their favorite music with friends and family.
While previous generations may not have had the ability to binge-watch an entire season of TV together over the course of a weekend, they could enjoy dazzling depictions of scenes and far-off places from the comfort of their very own homes using a magic lantern. Widely accepted to have been invented by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century, the magic lantern created large-scale projections from images on transparent glass plates by manipulating one or more lenses and a light source. With these larger images, a magic lantern was preferable for large groups of viewers and was commonly used for entertainment purposes from the 18th century until the mid-20th century.
However we choose to spend these last moments of 2021 together – whether that’s listening to music, dancing with our favorite dance partner, or watching a feel-good movie – the IDHH wishes everyone a joyous holiday season and a wonderful New Year!