Most likely you’ve heard of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two women who fought for women’s rights and helped paved the way 21st century women.
But do you know the names Susan Gratiot, Adele Gratiot Washburne, Elizabeth Armstrong or Clarissa Emely Gear Hobbs?
To help area residents learn more about these women and others, Women of Courage and Commitment, a historical theatrical troupe based in Galena, Ill., originated in the spring of 2008.
“We initially began as a fundraiser for the Galena library,” said director Lee Adami. “From the fundraiser, a connection was made with the Galena Historical Society, which in turn led to historical performances at the DeSoto House Hotel.”
The performances take place at 3 p.m. the third Saturday of each month, May through December, at the venue.
“The DeSoto has been our base for over 10 years and we owe them a great debt of gratitude,” Adami said.
The group performs for evening bus tour groups which pre-choose the show of their choice. Performers also travel upon request.
Women of Courage and Commitment was founded by Debbie Pausz and Roberta Grenz, who now serve as producers. The two meet with Adami to determine the shows, venues, fees, charity performances, arrange rehearsals, auditions and more.
The mission of the group is to tell the unknown stories of courageous women who dared to step out from the norms of society, to change history and further women’s rights, and to keep history alive in today’s changing world. There is no membership fee to join.
In addition to the performances at the DeSoto, Women of Courage and Commitment hosts fundraising events, including a Mother’s Day show called, “Scandalous Grandmothers.” Each cast member tells the story of their grandmother or mother.
A Halloween dinner show shares the stories and history of Galena’s famous ghosts and haunts. And a Christmas show involves 19th century traditions, recipes and beverages conveyed by several characters.
The group aims to bring history to life, and the women featured in the performances show how the women of Galena didn’t just sit around embroidering samplers. They were involved in helping others and making history.
Susan Gratiot gave birth to the first female child born in Galena in 1826, and as an adult, she created a friendly relationship with the Indian tribes of the area.
Susan’s daughter, Adele Gratiot Washburne, became a celebrated European socialite after her marriage to Elihu B. Washburne. Washburne, who became one of the most powerful men in the nation, was elected to his first term in the U.S. Congress in 1852, served in President Ulysses S. Grant’s cabinet and was an ambassador in Paris.
In June, 1832, Black Hawk’s British Band closed in on the Apple River Fort, located in what is now Elizabeth, Ill. There were approximately 30 armed militia and civilians inside the fort at the time of the attack. An additional 40 women, children and infants sought protection at the stockade.
Elizabeth Armstrong was among those in the stockade. A firefight raged for an hour with heavy gunfire from both sides. Armstrong and other women rallied the young women, boys and girls to provide support to the soldiers. Armstrong assigned tasks including rolling cartridges, molding rifle balls and reloading the weapons while the soldiers tried to keep up the stream of gunfire.
Armstrong was praised as a heroine for her actions during the battle, displaying courage under fire. Her actions helped to give Black Hawk the impression the Apple River Fort was heavily defended and a frontal attack would prove unwise. It’s been suggested that Armstrong was the namesake for the Village of Elizabeth.
Clarissa Emely Gear Hobbs was born in a Galena log cabin in 1829 when Illinois was “the West.” In 1849, she married Dr. Hobbs and decided to travel with him to care for the sick on the Civil War battlefront. In her book, “The Civil War, “I Am Going Too!” Gear Hobbs recounts her adventures traveling on troop ships, begging food for her patients, setting up temporary hospitals and nursing the soldiers’ battle wounds, combat fatigue, typhoid and smallpox.
In 1869, the Women’s Suffrage Convention was held in Galena, guest speakers included suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two of the women featured in Women of Courage and Commitment presentations.
“Thanks to women like these, today, women can be professionals, wear trousers, vote, own property, travel unescorted, have custody of their own children and get divorced, all of which were not possible over a hundred years ago,” Adami said.
Jill Carlson is a freelance writer from Madison, Wis.