This book offers an inspirational study of the role of women's groups in taming and reclaiming a small midwestern city.A case study in the evolution and influence of women's groups as they moved from the private to public spheres, ""Women of Conscience"" documents the means by which church groups, literary study groups, and benevolent societies empowered women in a small, midwestern town to enact progressive community reforms and achieve suffrage. In their appraisal of the efforts and actions of the clubwomen of Danville, Illinois, Cornelius and Kay illustrate the potential of women united in purpose to address social injustices.Situated on the Vermilion River and linked by rail to Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, the city of Danville, Illinois, faced the stresses of modernization and population growth that affected many such moderately sized cities at the end of the nineteenth century. Moving beyond the safe confines of their churches and reading groups, the women's clubs of Danville championed improvements to public health and the welfare of women, children, and the poor in these increasingly industrialized environs.Changes in labor and population in the early twentieth century brought with them racially charged lynchings and outbreaks of mob violence coupled with illegal gambling and a growing sex industry, all of which turned Danville into a veritably Sin City - rife with corruption and ripe for reform. These circumstances further unified and energized reform-minded women's groups, eager to redeem their home through outspoken calls for morality and reason. The self-confidence, sisterhood, and oratory and leadership skills that blossomed from these social crusades were subsequently tested in movements for temperance and suffrage.
Janet Duitsman Cornelius is a professor emerita of history at Danville Area Community College and the author of When I Can Read My Title Clear: Literacy, Slavery, and Religion in the Antebellum South and Slave Missions and the Black Church in the Antebellum South. Martha LaFrenz Kay is a retired literature and humanities instructor with the Danville Area Community College.