After more than a year of delays, McCulloch Park is open once again.
The 1.7-acre park, located between Livingston and Jenks streets in northwest Evanston, is named for Catharine Waugh McCulloch, an Evanston attorney and leading suffragist who died in 1945 at the age of 82.
The park, which was named for McCulloch in 1975, had been closed to replace aging playground equipment and renovate play areas, said City Engineer Lara Biggs. It was originally scheduled to reopen in August 2020, but was delayed by pandemic-related financial issues and equipment supply constraints.
“It’s a really well-used park,” said City Council member Eleanor Revelle, in whose 7th Ward the park is located. “It’s a focus for the neighborhood, really the heart of the whole community.”
McCulloch’s great-granddaughter Ann, who grew up in Evanston, is spearheading a celebration of her ancestor’s life, including her key role in enabling Illinois women to vote for presidential electors in the 1916 election, four years before the 19th Amendment was ratified.
Ann has retained Evanston filmmaker Susan Hope Engel to make a film about her great-grandmother. The documentary was originally scheduled to be completed in time to celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26, 2020, but COVID-19 put a damper on the project. “But the silver lining with the delay is that we get to include so much more about Catharine’s life and work, such as her groundbreaking work as an attorney and all her writing, including plays, pamphlets, essays and editorials,” Engel said.
As part of the park’s reopening, a historic marker will be officially unveiled in a ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 30. The National Votes for Women Trail marker is one of several hundred in the U.S. but only four in Illinois, said Lori Osborne, Director of the Evanston Women’s History Project at the Evanston History Center.
The marker, which has already been installed at the south end of the park, reads in part: “National Votes for Women Trail. Road to the 19th Amendment. Votes for women. Catharine Waugh McCulloch, political activist and legal strategist for IL women’s suffrage gained in 1913. Park named in her honor.”
“She was one of the first women to push the boundaries and establish new opportunities for women,” Osborne told the RoundTable.
McCulloch graduated from law school and passed the bar in 1886, according to Wikipedia, but after facing gender hiring discrimination elected to start her own law firm in 1892.
“While a Justice of the Peace,” her Wikipedia entry reads, “she made national headlines by agreeing to conduct egalitarian marriage ceremonies in which she omitted the word ‘obey’ from the ritualized words the woman was supposed to say; at that time, the man pledged to ‘love, honor and cherish’ while the woman pledged to ‘love, honor and obey.’
“In 1917, she was appointed as a master in chancery of the Cook County Superior Court. She became known for her advocacy in working to eliminate or modify marriage and divorce laws that discriminated against women, and she worked to create uniformity of such laws in all states.
“She was the legal adviser for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (which became the League of Women Voters in 1920 after passage of the 19th Amendment) and was its first vice president. She also served as the legal adviser for the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union.”
In a video on YouTube, Osborne points out that McCulloch’s legal strategy to gain “partial suffrage” for female voters in 1913 “propelled the women’s suffrage movement into passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.” McCulloch was one of the first female justices of the peace in the U.S. and ran her legal practice in an office out of her home on Orrington Street in Evanston.
Biggs noted that there are a number of other Evanston parks named after women, including Harbert Payne Park for author and reformer Elizabeth Boynton Harbert (1843-1925) and Betty Jean Payne, a neighborhood activist who died in 2017. Butler Park is named for Isabella Garnett Butler, who helped found the Evanston Sanitarium, a precursor to Community Hospital, which served Evanston’s Black community at a time when Evanston Hospital was segregated.
“It was good to work with the residents on improvements at McCulloch Park,” Biggs said, adding that there were several neighborhood meetings to ensure the redesigned park “met the needs of the community.”