Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Flora S. Cheney, 1872-1929

By Alyssa McGinn, Hannah Myers, Kashonta Dixon, and Abigail Chacon, BA students, and Monica Burney, MA Student, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL

Illinois Equal Suffrage Association member; First President of the Illinois League of Women voters; Member, Illinois House of Representatives; Women, Child, and Labor advocate

Flora S. Cheney [née Sylvester] was born March 11, 1872, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to Emily and Seth Sylvester. She married Dr. Henry W. Cheney in 1896. Together, they migrated to Chicago along with her widowed mother. Henry went on to become a prominent physician. Henry and Flora had three children, Carol, Kathryn, and Harold. Harold passed away in 1916, thirteen years before his mother. Mrs. Cheney died from Hodgkin's disease in 1929.

Mrs. H. W. Cheney, as she was often referred to in public records, was a teacher for three years in a Wisconsin school. Records show that Flora was involved in numerous women's clubs and causes throughout her adult life. She was on the revision committee for the Woodlawn Women's Club in 1915 as well as serving as the executive chairwoman of the Woodlawn Community Center for several years.

She was a member of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association. After the suffrage amendment passed, she helped form the Illinois League of Women Voters, and was elected the league's first president. After her election, Cheney and the other women became advocates for reform in several public areas. The members formed 69 separate groups, each with different focuses including: education, public and health morals, child welfare, independent citizenship for women, etc. As the League's president, Cheney oversaw and supported the various groups and legislation.

The formation of the League was based upon: “fostering education in citizenship to increase the effectiveness of women's votes, and further better government.” They fought for child labor laws and work-hour regulations. One of their major accomplishments was assisting in the Sheppard-Towner Act in 1921 which provided federal aid for maternity and child care. Throughout her activism, Cheney managed to serve as a member of the PTA for Chicago schools, which was no doubt linked to her past as a teacher and her work for children. Cheney was one of the first women to be elected to the Illinois House of Representatives as a Republican from 1928-1929. She died while in office. Before her death Cheney introduced a bill on voting regulations to the House. The bill was passed following her death and was dubbed “the Cheney bill” in her honor.

In June 1932, generous public donations funded the Cheney-Goode Memorial, which was erected in honor of Cheney and Katherine Goode, a fellow women's suffrage activist. Both women are recognized for contributing to improving the lives of Chicago women. In 2011, the Illinois League of Women voters handed out their first Flora S. Cheney award to a member that exemplifies outstanding moral character and activism.


Ida H. Harper, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 [LINK]

“Bill Providing New State Election Code Is Passed By Senate,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 24, 1929, p. 9.

“Cheney-Goode Cornerstone To Be Laid Today,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1932, p. 6.

“Flora S. Cheney, Legislator, Is Dead at 57: Funeral Services Will Be Tomorrow,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 9, 1929, p. 39.

Grossman, James R. and Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Reiff, eds. The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Bio sketch for Flora Cheney, in Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 153-55.

“Illinois Blue Book, 1929-1930: Illinois Blue Books.” pg. 196-197

Koenig-Badowski. “Cheney-Goode Memorial.” Chicago Public Art (web log), September 10,2013.#x00a0

“The League of Women Voters Through the Decades! - The 1920s.” The League of WomenVoters Through the Decades! - The 1920s | League of Women Voters.

The League of Women Voters. “LWVIL Presents its First “Flora”.” LWV Illinois Voter Spring 2011:1.

Marquis, Albert Nelson, ed. The Book of Chicagoans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Chicago, 1911. Chicago: A. N. Marquis and Company, 1911.

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