A Publication of WTVP

Five women from the pages of Peoria history will visit fourth graders in eight Peoria schools during Women’s History Month this March. 

Wearing costumes developed and modeled last November during the Peoria Historical Society’s Salute to Women, the five will engage the fourth graders with a discussion of their activities and descriptions of Peoria during their time.

Following their presentation, teachers will receive a CD-Rom featuring a Jeopardy-style quiz involving facts presented during the assembly.

Entitled "A Step Back Into Peoria," the program reflects the inspiration of three teachers: Amy Treder Kelly, who co-chaired the Salute; Linda McMullen, a retired District 150 teacher; and Alice Brophy, Peoria District 150’s staff developer for technology.

Although all three women have taught gifted students, they designed the presentation to be appropriate for 10-year-olds. They also correlated it with Illinois Learning Standards for Social Studies. They hope students will be able to identify the five women as leaders in the Peoria community, recognize the important role women played in the development of the United States social history, describe the Peoria community during the 1800s and early 1900s, and explain differences between life in Peoria in the past and present.

No doubt the most recognizable name among the group is Lydia Moss Bradley. She cheers on her beloved school that she founded as Bradley Polytechnic Institute in 1897. She also reminds today’s children that her donation of land for Bradley Park was given in memory of her daughter, Laura. She tells of her desire to settle in Peoria because Illinois was a non-slave state. Unfortunately, all six of her children died as youngsters. When her husband, Tobias, was killed in a carriage accident, Mrs. Bradley managed to turn a $500,000 inheritance into a $2 million fortune. Her shrewd investments allowed her to benefit future generations.

Julia Lindsay Gibson, a daughter in one of Peoria’s first black families, was born here in 1858. Her older sister, Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, became a teacher, writer, and social activist and authored Lifting As They Climb, the history of Black women’s clubs. Elizabeth graduated from high school in Princeton with Henry Clay Gibson. Henry and Julia married. Julia became Peoria’s first chiropodist, or foot doctor, and a charter member of the Peoria Negro Women’s Mutual Aid Club, organized in 1899 by her sister, Elizabeth. He became Peoria’s first black elected official in Peoria.

Emma Abbott, whose singing debut came before a group of coal miners in Edwards, became a famous opera singer with her own company. She appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, as well as in Italy and France. Her philanthropy funded a hospital ship that served 900,000 sick children and their mothers in its 27 years of service. Whenever she undertook a project, whether washing dishes or singing, she always resolved to do it better than anyone else, she counsels her audience.

One of Peoria’s earliest French settlers was Catherine LaCroix. Her home in the New French Village, near today’s main Post Office, was burned in 1812. She and her children fled downriver to Alton and never saw her husband, Michael, again. Five years later, she married John Reynolds, who became governor of Illinois in 1831.

Bertha Boutin introduces children to the early days of bicycling in Peoria, including the bicycle racing clubs and parades, and bicycle manufacturing in Peoria Heights. In 1894, Boutin replaced her long skirt with a baggy, divided garment-bloomers-that proved superior for riding a bicycle.

Channy Lyons’ book, Women of Peoria 1670 to 1920, chronicles these five women, among others who contributed during that time.

"We picked a variety that kids would find enjoyable," Kelly said. "We developed original scripts and will pilot the program on four Tuesdays in March with our costumed volunteers. At some point, we might even take it to community groups."

Showcasing these role models also gives boys the opportunity to develop an appreciation of women’s role in history, according to McMullen.

"Any time you get kids involved in what Peoria was like in olden days, you spark interest," Brophy said. Several years ago she and McMullen, a teaching colleague, developed a walking tour of historic Peoria for their Washington School students.

On March 20, Peoria again hosts the regional history fair on Bradley’s campus. Sponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the fair brings middle and high school entrants from the 32 counties in Region 2. Members of Peoria Historical Society are among those judging the student projects. AA!