On Oct. 26, 1876, in the lecture room of the First Methodist Church in Evanston, 150 people assembled to listen to Sojourner Truth. According to the local newspaper, the Inter-Ocean, a “large number of the ladies of Evanston” attended and “a very happy time” was “experienced.” Truth, who was visiting Evanston from her home in Battle Creek, Mich., also spoke to a Sunday school class and held other meetings during her weeklong visit to the city. As she “scatter[ed] her goodly sayings to the people of this place,” she also brought along her autobiography, which told her incredible life story: born enslaved in New York, she became a revered civil rights and women’s rights leader.
The news made national headlines: A woman (!), Leah White (1873-1945), had designed an “automatic home.” The house (still extant) is located at 1002 Judson Ave., at Lee Street, in Evanston. White explained that she designed the home to eliminate housework, janitors and maids. The ultra-modern design featured a gas furnace, with heat regulated by thermostats “scattered” throughout; an automatic clothes washer; lots of large glass windows (for maximum light and warmth); waxed Italian stone and linoleum floors; a rooftop sleeping area; and an open floor plan, among other highlights. “I’m just trying out a few ideas,” White said. The house, which cost $12,000, was not White’s last design. A few years later, White was still fascinated by designing homes that “reduce the labor in a home to a minimum,” as she said. From 1926 to 1927, White designed five homes on Sheridan Road in Winnetka, using the same principles.
“Housewives! Brides! Prospective Brides! Mothers! . . . Everybody interested in the inner workings of the kitchen, even mere men.” This was the opening of a 1924 announcement for a free cooking school held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The teacher, Vera Megowen, was returning to the school for a third year. Megowen, born in Alton, Ill., graduated from Shurtleff College in 1918. She studied at Columbia University and taught cooking for several years before opening her first restaurant in Evanston in 1926.
Soon she opened another. At 501 Davis St., the menu was “Early American” and at 512 Main Street, it was “French Provencal.” Megowen called these restaurants “tea shops” and advertised their “quaint charm,” with service at lunchtime, teatime and her specialty, Sunday “chicken dinner.”
She was particularly attuned to meeting the needs of her female customers. (She provided a compartment at each table for a guest to store her handbag.) She would later open more restaurants and earn a national reputation. In 1932, Megowen married August Daro, a physician. They had two children (twins, Karl and Sylvia, born 1933.) In 1935, the family rented a home at 1742 Judson Ave., the former home of Cornelia Gray Lunt (see below). In 1943, Karl tragically drowned while swimming in Lake Michigan. Megowen and Daro later divorced. In 1950, Megowen married John L. Markham. From 1951 to 1957, they lived at 1622 Forest Place.
In the 1960s, after she retired from the restaurant business, Megowen, a longtime world traveler, went to France and Switzerland to study the culinary arts. She returned to Evanston to share her newfound knowledge in a series of lectures at the Evanston Woman’s Club. Megowen was involved in several philanthropic projects in Evanston, including raising funds to restore the original fountain from Evanston’s Fountain Square, and also contributed to the creation of the Merrick Rose Garden.
In 1970, Megowen purchased the Belvedere, a historic mansion in Galena, Ill., and ran the house as a tourist destination and restaurant. An Evanston playground, located on Hinman Avenue just north of South Boulevard, is named in Megowen’s honor.
Cornelia Gray Lunt called her house at 1742 Judson Ave. “Anchorfast.” Lunt was part of a social circle in – and beyond – Evanston. Lunt often entertained at her home. It is rumored that among her many distinguished guests was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Friend of the world-famous actor, Edwin Booth (whose reputation was tarnished by his brother John Wilkes Booth), Lunt was also pals with the actor and director Orson Welles, who called her one of the “most fascinating storytellers” he had ever met.
Lunt’s father, Orrington Lunt, was a founder of Northwestern University, and her uncle, John Evans, eponym of the city, was the controversial territorial governor of Colorado who played a role in the 1864 Sand Creek massacre. Cornelia Lunt attended several private boarding schools, including a finishing school in Manhattan, the Van Norman Institute.
After the 1871 fire destroyed the Lunts’ Chicago home, they moved to Evanston and purchased Anchorfast (built c. 1864). Lunt would live for the rest of her long life in Evanston. She was a member of Northwestern University’s Board of Trustees, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and many other clubs. In 1925, she privately published a memoir, Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood. After her death in 1934, Evanston restaurateur Vera McGowen (see above) and her husband rented Anchorfast. In February 1949, the house was razed. The site of the former home is located just across from Cornelia Lunt Gardens on Sheridan Road.
Liu-Wang Liming was known for a time as “Frances Willard Wang.” In fact, while she was a student at Northwestern, from 1917-1920, she went strictly by that name. Liu-Wang was born in Anqing, China. Her mother was president of a Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) chapter there. At the age of 12, Liu-Wang refused to have her feet bound, reportedly the first girl in her district to jettison the ancient tradition.
She converted to Christianity, went to school, and won a scholarship to Northwestern. In 1916, she arrived in the United States with plans to earn her degree and then return to China to fight for women’s rights, democracy and temperance. Through her contacts with WCTU, Liu-Wang lived at Frances Willard’s former home on Chicago Avenue while she was in Evanston. At Northwestern she was a member of the Chinese Christian Association and the YWCA. She also served as secretary for the Chinese Students’ Club and assistant editor of the Chinese Students Monthly (the first magazine published by Chinese students in the United States, founded in 1906). Liu-Wang earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology at Northwestern.
Liu-Wang met Herman Liu (Liu Zhan’en; 1886–1938) while he was working on his master’s degree at University of Chicago. (Liu later went on to earn a PhD at Columbia University.) Married in 1922, the couple returned to China to witness the tumultuous changes their country was undergoing – revolution, war, counter-revolution and upheaval. Liu-Wangheld several posts in various organizations and worked to expand women’s rights and political representation. She organized WCTU chapters and lectured widely. She founded the Shanghai Women’s Suffrage Association and published the magazine The Women’s Voice. In 1934, her book, The Chinese Women’s Movement, was issued.
For many years she was persecuted by the Chinese government for her pro-democratic views. In 1966, the Chinese government jailed her on the accusation that she was a U.S. spy. She was later sent to a labor camp where she died in 1970. Years later, the Chinese government paid tribute to Liu-Wang, recognizing the breadth of her accomplishments and her tireless fight for women’s rights.
An early proponent of animal rights, Lillian Lundahl was once known as Evanston’s “foremost dog patron.” In January 1930, Lundahl was appointed the city’s “dog catcher,” the first woman to hold that job. A woman holding such a position was so rare at the time that the story was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in newspapers all over the country. Unfortunately, Lundahl was appointed to work without compensation, a fact she accepted since she was satisfied to see “that the dogs are properly cared for.”
As custodian of the city’s dog pound, she was soon bringing in an average of 10 homeless dogs a day with the goal of caring for them and placing them with kind caretakers. She successfully lobbied the Evanston City Council to provide funds to buy food for the animals, install a heating system in the facility, establish an animal hospital and create a “home finding bureau for runaways.”
In April 1931, Lundahl organized the first Anti-Cruelty Society chapter in Evanston and “pledged to improve conditions for small animals.” (Rosa Fay Thomas founded the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago in 1899.) Lundahl also lobbied on behalf of animals who were slated to be killed. Take “Buddy,” for instance, a “militant” wire-haired terrier whose life was spared after Lundahl spoke on his behalf after he had bitten five people. Buddy had only bitten people who trespassed in his yard, she explained. Lundahl argued that clearly he had only been protecting his property. Buddy was granted a reprieve and sent to live in the country.
Born in Evanston, Dr. Elizabeth Webb Hill grew up at 1822 Darrow Ave. Her mother, Helen Webb Hill, was born in Virginia in 1867; her father, James Preston Hill, was born in Mississippi the same year. The Hills moved to Evanston, where they raised three children: James, Anna and Elizabeth.
In 1892, a few years before the children were born, Hill’s father was hired by the Evanston Postal Service and became one of the first Black mail carriers in the city. Elizabeth Hill graduated from Evanston Township High School and later took a job as an office assistant to a physician, a position that inspired her to pursue a career in medicine.
Hill attended Northwestern University for a brief period before transferring to the University of Illinois. In 1925, she earned a BA and in 1927 she earned a BS (pre-med) from the University of Illinois, College of Medicine. In 1930, Hill served as senior intern at Chicago’s Provident Hospital, the first woman to hold that position. In June 1931, after Dr. Hill graduated with her medical degree from the University of Illinois, College of Medicine, she set up a private practice in her Evanston home.
In 1931, she was hired by the newly opened Community Hospital, located at 2026 Brown Ave. Dr. Hill worked alongside Dr. Isabella Garnett, who founded the hospital’s precursor, the Evanston Sanitorium, with her husband, Dr. Arthur Butler. Both the Evanston Sanitorium and the Community Hospital were the only Evanston hospitals that treated Black patients and were run by Black physicians and staff. (Both St. Francis and Evanston hospitals were segregated.) The Community Hospital had only 18 beds, and in 1939, Dr. Hill headed a fundraising effort to build a new hospital.
In 1943, Dr. Hill was appointed hospital chief of staff, becoming the first Black woman to do so in Illinois. In 1952, a new Community Hospital facility opened at 2040 Brown Ave., with Dr. Hill serving as chief of staff. The new, larger and integrated hospital had 56 beds and a pediatric ward. Northwestern appointed Dr. Hill as a lecturer in community health In 1972, and she was also appointed as an attending physician at the Evanston Hospital. Dr. Hill continued to practice medicine in Evanston, living in the same house on Darrow Street until she passed away in 1978. The Community Hospital closed in 1980. The building is now home to the Hill Arboretum Apartments, an independent living residence for individuals with physical disabilities.
Born in Danville, Ohio, Yvonne Morris Crute came to Evanston in fall 1940 to enroll at Northwestern University, where she became actively involved in the campus YWCA chapter.
This was no surprise, as her father, Ottaway Owens Morris (1893-1985), worked for five decades for the YMCA, eventually becoming the Chicago metropolitan YMCA’s very first Black executive when he was appointed Assistant General Secretary in 1957.
Crute was the granddaughter of William W. Morris. Born a free person of color in Ohio, William enlisted in the Union Army during the American Civil War and fought with his unit in Virginia. There, he helped liberate enslaved people, including a woman whom he later married.
After the war, Eliza and William Morris settled in Danville, where Ottaway grew up, eventually attending Wilberforce University. Ottaway later studied social work at Northwestern University. Soon, his daughter followed in his footsteps. In fall 1943, Yvonne Morris, one of only a very small number of Black students at Northwestern, co-founded the Inter-Racial Group, which brought students together to discuss “racial problems and try to find their solutions.”
Born in Evanston in 1922, Anne Noggle was age 16 when she succeeded in convincing her mother to allow her to learn to fly. (Noggle had been inspired by seeing Amelia Earhart fly in Chicago.) At the time, Noggle was living with her mother, Agnes, who worked as a clerk in a bookstore, and her older sister, Mary, who was a clerk in a department store.
Noggle’s father was absent, and the three women lived in a rooming house at 725 Noyes St. Noggle started flying lessons while attending Evanston Township High School and soon she was flying solo. In 1942, Noggle left Evanston for Sweetwater, Texas. She had signed up with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), a volunteer group of more than 1,000 highly skilled female pilots who tested and ferried U.S. military aircraft, trained pilots and “freed” male pilots for combat duty during World War II.
The WASPs’ work was difficult and dangerous, and 38 of them died in service. But it was not until 1977 that the women were finally granted veteran status. Noggle continued to fly after the war and enlisted with the U.S. Airforce during the Korean War. She was later promoted to captain. After the war, she went to college and earned a BA and MFA in fine art at the University of New Mexico. She became a successful photographer and later taught art at the University of New Mexico.
Noggle was the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship grants and a Guggenheim fellowship. In 1990, she published For God, Country, and the Thrill of It: Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II, and in 1994, she published, A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II. Noggle passed away in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2005. You can view an online exhibit of Noggle’s portraits of women pilots from World War II from the Air and Space Museum here.
Just 16 tables, a choice of three entrees (chicken, steak and spaghetti), and fresh salad with a famous (mystery) dressing. That, in a nutshell, was Fanny’s Restaurant at 1601 Simpson St. when it opened in 1946. Fanny Bachechi Lazzar (1906-1991) would soon become world famous, welcoming locals and notables such as Dwight Eisenhower and Tallulah Bankhead.
Born in Evanston to parents who had immigrated from Italy, Lazzar had learned the food business at an early age. Her parents ran a confectionery at 821 Davis St. before opening a lunch counter at 1601 Simpson St., the future site of Fanny’s Restaurant. As her business flourished, Lazzar expanded her restaurant to offer a seating capacity of 275. She always served everything “fresh, fresh, fresh” and decried any restaurant that put profits in front of serving “perfect food . . . of the highest quality.”
In 1948, Kraft Foods offered her $75,000 for her famous salad dressing recipe. She declined and marketed it herself, selling it at locations including Marshall Fields. She also turned down a lucrative deal to turn her restaurant into a chain. For many years, Lazzar’s weekly column appeared in the Evanston Review and other papers; her book, Fanny’s Way of Life, was published in 1967. She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1955 International Epicurean Award, which honored Fanny’s Restaurant as one of the “seven most famous restaurants in America.” Fanny’s Restaurant closed its doors in 1987. Today, the building at 1601 Simpson St. is called “Fanny’s Loft.”
In the tumultuous summer of 1968, Dorothy Magett-Fiddmont (1932- ) went on a recruiting trip. As head of the new human relations program at Evanston Township High School, she was looking to hire Black teachers.
When she left for her trip, ETHS counted only one Black teacher among its faculty. One year later, the number of Black ETHS faculty increased to 11, a 100% increase. And that number would continue to grow. Magett-Fiddmont was committed to promoting “a school atmosphere conducive to maximum learning for all students through equal educational opportunity.”
Thanks to the work of Magett-Fiddmont and other administrators and faculty members, many changes were instituted at ETHS during her tenure, including the launch of an in-service faculty education program, development of Black studies courses in literature and history, recruitment of Black staff members and maintenance of “human relations communication” among faculty, students and parents.
Magett-Fiddmont grew up one of eight children in Spring Creek, Ark.; her father was a farmer. She graduated from AM&N (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1953 and went on to earn an MA from the University of Pittsburgh. She moved to 2425 Davis St. and started a new position at ETHS as a counselor. She was later promoted to lead the high school’s new human relations program. Under Dr. Gregory Coffin, District 65 superintendent, schools were undergoing the process of desegregation, and Magett-Fiddmont was integral to that process, designing and implementing training materials for faculty and staff, such as “Sensitivity to Interpersonal Relationships” (1968).
In 1972, Magett-Fiddmont graduated with a PhD in education from Northwestern and was awarded the State of Illinois Human Relations Award in 1975. From 1982 to 1985, she served as superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, in Tucson, Arizona. In 1991, she was appointed associate superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education.
“If we’re ever going to get the attention of [an] institution,” she said, “change needs to start from the bottom up, simply because we’ve tried so much of the other and it’s been so meaningless.” Today, the Dorothy Magett-Fiddmont New Millennium Leaders Fund at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff supports scholarships for students in need.
In 1963, two Evanston residents decided to take environmental action. Longtime Evanston residents June Rose Yuhasz Koch (1901-2001) and her husband John Koch (1889-1973) suspected that the city’s use of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was “injurious to birds, plants, and human beings.”
At the time, both the city and residents used DDT widely, as did many people across the country and the world. Twice a year, city trucks traveled from street to street, spraying DDT on trees and other vegetation all over the city, largely to combat Dutch Elm disease. The Kochs, who operated a landscaping business, lived at 1206 Elmwood Ave.
June Koch told the press that Evanston’s bird population was “dwindling because the spraying is killing off the birds.” She also noted that people were reporting that “it was difficult to breathe after the spray trucks had passed through their neighborhoods.”
The Kochs launched a grassroots movement. In 1963, they circulated a petition, amassed over 2,000 signatures and, with many others who joined in the effort, pressured the Evanston City Council to outlaw the use of DDT. Rachel Carson’s seminal Silent Spring (see below) had just been published the year before. As a result of their efforts, Evanston ultimately banned the dangerous pesticide in 1967, long before the United States officially banned its use in 1972. After her husband died, June Koch moved to Mt. Prospect. In 2001, she died at the age of 100.
Marine biologist and bestselling author Rachel Carson is hailed as one of the most significant figures in the modern environmental movement. Her 1962 book, Silent Spring, offered an in-depth look at the sources of environmental problems caused by chemicals.
Her groundbreaking work paved the way for a ban on numerous pesticides, including DDT, and laid the foundation for the Environmental Protection Agency, created in 1970. From August 1942 until 1943, Carson lived in Evanston while working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior.
It was wartime, and Carson qualified as an air raid warden. She and her mother rented a small house with a backyard, where Carson, an avid bird lover, set up a feeder. She later lamented that “our Evanston backyard was too full of squirrels to give the birds a chance at our feeder.”
Eva Jefferson Paterson was Northwestern University’s first Black president of the student government. Dubbed the “peaceful warrior,” Paterson served from 1970 to 1971, a time of upheaval on campus.
Amid student strikes and anti-war protests, she helped maintain the peace. She became internationally known in her role as student leader and famously debated U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew on David Frost’s national television show.
After graduating from Northwestern, Paterson earned a law degree from University of California at Berkeley. She served as executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights for more than a decade. In 2003, Paterson founded the Equal Justice Society, a national legal organization focused on restoring Constitutional safeguards against discrimination. She currently serves as president of the organization.
In April 2021, Stephanie Mendoza was elected Evanston City Clerk, the first Latinx resident to do so. Mendoza came to the office with years of experience as a political organizer, campaign manager and field director. Mendoza moved to Evanston in 2010.
As the daughter of immigrants from Monterrey, Mexico, she is the first person in her family to earn a college degree. When she came to Evanston, she volunteered as Policy Council President for Evanston Childcare Network and Board President of the Reba Early Learning Center. She also worked as Director of Community Outreach for Evanston Latinos, Prevention Specialist for Connections for the Homeless and an interpreter for Department of Human Services Early Intervention Program.
As City Clerk, Mendoza is committed to providing interpretation and translation services for city documents. “English is my second language,” Mendoza told The Evanstonian, “and I understand the struggle of not only myself trying to interact as a child with organizations that don’t have Spanish speakers, but also as the daughter of immigrants.” Mendoza is also working to digitize records and to create workforce development opportunities within the office of the Evanston City Clerk.