Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragist, 1890 – 1920
Biography of Reinette M (Thompson) Lester McCrea, 1855-1916
By Julia Flynn, Researcher, Evanston History Center, Evanston, Illinois and Justyna Kubek, student, Lake Forest College
Born January 12, 1855, daughter of A.C. Thompson, Reinette McCrea was said to be the richest woman in Chicago by virtue of her second marriage in 1892 to Willey Solon McCrea, treasurer of a gas company. The McCrea household included five servants in 1900 and six in 1910. Her first marriage was to John T. Lester of Lake Geneva, Illinois. She died at age 61 on February 22, 1916 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Lake Geneva Walworth County, Wisconsin.
Widely known as Mrs. Willey Solon McCrea in suffragist circles, she led the North Side Branch of the State Association, which later became known as the Chicago Equal Suffrage Association. Mrs. McCrea entertained suffragists in her summer home during the women's suffrage tours around Illinois, which promoted the movement through a series of innovative educational outreaches. Not only was Reinette McCrea a leader who organized the North Side Branch, but she was involved in helping set up places for women to stay and discuss issues vital to the suffrage movement during the automobile tours organized by Grace Wilbur Trout.
The automobile tours were motorcades from which speakers distributed vital information about the movement at their many stops. Lake Geneva was one of those stops during the summer where Mrs. McCrea led the meetings in her summer home. The tour was vital to giving a public voice for the movement before the legislative session. Several prominent newspapers sent out reporters to go along with the women on their tour and the Tribune published an article writing: "Suffrage tour ends in triumph. With mud-bespattered ‘Votes for Women' banners still flying, Mrs. Trout and her party of orators returned late yesterday afternoon. Men and women cheered them all the way in from their last stop."
McCrea's fight for equality was critical in spreading the message that the private sphere of a woman included the public sphere of political life from which it was argued they had nothing whatsoever to do with. It was women like McCrea who led Illinois to be the first state east of the Mississippi to give women the right to vote, seven years before the national constitutional amendment gave all women that right.
1900 Federal Manuscript Census of Chicago—listing for Willey and Rennet McCrea and family.
History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, vol. 6, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper [LINK].
Chicago Sunday Tribune, 3 December 1911, Page H1, "Suffrage Twenty-one Active Organizations Wage Big Battle for Equal Suffrage in Chicago and Suburbs; Men Join in Local Fight.: Illinois Center of Strong Agitation with New Women's Organizations Entering the "Votes for Women" Field; What Is Being Done in Chicago to Forward the Cause.by Mary Isabel Brush. Pro Quest Historical Newspapers.
Chicago Daily Tribune, 16 July 1910, Page 7
"SUFFRAGIST TOUR ENDS IN TRIUMPH: Cheers Greet Crusaders Returning from Week of Speaking and Speeding. REJOICE IN THE RESULTS. Auto Tourists Point Out Clubs Are Organized and New Interest Aroused."
Twenty-Sixth Annual Announcement of the Chicago Woman's Club (1902-1903)
By Chicago Woman's Club (Chicago, Ill.), pp. 42 and 81.