PEORIA — For decades women were expected to live in the shadow of men.
While many women were content in their roles of homemaker and caretaker, others stepped out of their comfort zones and into the light to change the course of history for generations to come.
Peoria has claim to a plethora of women who have impacted education, business, medicine and the lives of those less fortunate within the city limits and beyond.
Part of the Peoria Historical Society’s efforts to share the city’s history includes historical bus tours, including a new one this summer focusing on notable Peoria women.
Beth Johnson, the chairwoman of the history tours committee, began digging through archives to start research for the latest tour back in April. She referenced the Young Women’s Christian Association and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. After months of research she was able to narrow the list down to 24 women who made a significant impact on the lives of many in various ways.
“These women made a difference when women weren’t expected to,” said Johnson. “They were movers and shakers before their time.”
The history starts around 1819 with Rebecca Fulton-Eads and continues across time with the most recent woman, Nancy Goodman Brinker. Brinker is one of the three women mentioned on the tour that is a National Women’s Hall of Famer and is the only one who is still living today.
She was born in Peoria in 1946, attended Richwoods High School and later went on to study public relations and broadcasting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Brinker is the founder and chair of global strategy of Susan G. Komen, an organization named after her sister who died from breast cancer in 1980. At a time when there were few resources available for breast cancer patients, Brinker promised her dying sister that she would change that and has since made significant impact on a global scale.
Betty Freidan, another Hall of Famer, was a born in Peoria in 1921. She later went on to become a journalist, activist and co-founder of the National Organization for Women. She is known for being one of the early leaders of the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s.
In 1963, she wrote “The Feminine Mystique” that is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century. Because she is so widely known across the nation, Johnson said that many overlook her roots in Peoria, which makes her name a fun fact that she expects to take some by surprise.
The third most prominent name on the tour is Lydia Moss Bradley. She was born in Indiana in 1816 and left her family home at age 21 to move to Peoria. Bradley was a wealthy landowner, bank board member and philanthropist who founded Bradley Polytechnic Institute in 1897, which is now Bradley University.
Johnson believes that all of the women on the tour have remarkable history that she is excited to share with the community. Through her work on this tour and with the society in general, she has developed a new sense of pride and appreciation for Peoria.
“The more you know about the place you come from, the more you value and understand what has caused it to be what it is today,” said Johnson. “People feel that Peoria is moving in a downward spiral. Knowing its history … I believe the city’s strength will endure, just as it has in the past.”
The Notable Peoria Women Tour will be offered every Saturday in August. The tour departs at 1:30 p.m. from the Caterpillar Visitors Center and travels throughout the city to significant historical landmarks that coincide with the history being shared. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through the Peoria Historical Society’s website at www.peoriahistoricalsociety.com.