Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragist, 1890 – 1920

Biography of Janet Kellogg Fairbanks, 1878 - 1951

By Lori Osborne, Director Evanston Women's History Project, Evanston History Center and Julia Flynn, Researcher, Evanston History Center, Evanston, Illinois.

Democratic National Committee, National Liberty Loan Committee, Illinois Committee of the Woman's Division of the Council for National Defense, America First Committee, Chicago Lying-in Hospital.

Janet Ayers was born 7 June 1878 in Cook County, Illinois to Benjamin Franklin Ayer of New Hampshire and Janet A Hopkins of New York. In Chicago on 29 May 1900, she married Kellogg Fairbanks, a lawyer from Chicago and part of the Chicago Lard and Soap Empire. They had three children; Janet (1903-1947), Kellogg Jr. (1907 – 1963, and Benjamin Ayer (1909 – 1986) and made their home in a house built by Charles Palmer at 1244 North State Street, Chicago, Illinois where they lived for the majority of their lives. She died in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin 28 December 1951.

Born into a family of wealth and privilege, Ayers received a private school education in Chicago and at the prominent Miss Ely's School in New York City. Although not enrolled in a formal course of study, she attended the University of Chicago as an unclassified student in courses that appealed to her. During the early years of her marriage and while raising her three children, Fairbanks was involved in many social and civic organizations in Chicago and New York and she became known as a distinguished fundraiser and manager, gaining the reputation as a woman who could both garner immense attention to issues and raise large amounts of money.

In 1908 she became the head of the Board of Directors for the Chicago Lying In Hospital, a position she held for more than twenty years. The hospital, founded in 1895 gave mothers a sanitary, obstetrical alternative to home and hospital births and her tireless campaigning and fundraising saw the alliance between the hospital and the University of Chicago Complex.

Although Janet Fairbanks had been writing and selling column-long romance stories to newspapers for many years, in 1910 she started writing conversation pieces in a weekly column called “The Tea Table” in the Sunday Record-Herald. It brought attention, in a fictional manner, to social and cultural issues of the time. The conversations were published in a book titled In Town and Other Conversations which is still heralded as a culturally and historically significant body of work today. Fairbanks continued to author stories and books making central to the main theme, issues of gender inequality, social injustice and the often misunderstood, underestimated strengths of women.

Throughout her life, Fairbanks did not hold steadfastly to any one particular political party, rather she followed the progressive candidate, working diligently to secure voting rights for women. In 1913 she joined the Democratic Party's National Committee and was a member of the finance committee of the Progressive Party's national organization supporting Theodore Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Campaign.

Fairbanks served as Grand Marshall for the Chicago Suffrage Parade held June 7, 1916 where more than five thousand suffragists marched to the Republican National Convention. Women who wanted to march were encouraged to wear a white skirt and blouse with black shoes and a black hat with yellow ribbon made especially for the parade. The parade formed at the rear of the Art Institute in heavy rain, the line moving north to Randolph Street where the parade met a band and started walking south on Michigan Avenue. At the rear of the procession, an automobile division provided transport for the pioneers of the suffrage movement and those unable to walk. The marchers disbanded between 18th and 22nd Street.

Fairbanks served on five Woman's National Liberty Loan Committees, travelling all across the United States raising awareness and securing bonds to support the allied cause during World War One. She was responsible for the production, printing and distribution of leaflets and reports for all five campaigns, which ran from May 1917 to May 1919.

She served as the Illinois Democratic National Committeewoman from 1924 to 1928 and travelled throughout Northern Illinois delivering speeches about how to make politics vital to women. She was gravely concerned the political climate in Chicago had become violent and racist, ostracizing women from wanting involvement in such issues. She wrote articles in the Woman Citizen publication and brought awareness to the ethnic isolation and racial mistrust Chicago citizens were experiencing at the time.


Evanston History Centre Archives, Collection 214 – Women Suffrage 1885-1936.

Evanston History Centre Clipping File Biographical – Fairbanks

Evanston History Centre Library – The History of Woman Suffrage edited by Ida Husted Harper, Vol V 1900 – 1920

Evanston History Centre Library - Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary edited by Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast

Evanston History Centre Microfilm Archives #59A– The Evanston News Index, Evanston Illinois from 17 April 1916 to 30 September 1916

Evanston History Center | 225 Greenwood Street | Evanston IL 60201 | (847) 475-3410 – Dictionary of Midwestern Literature Volume One, The Authors edited by Philip A. Greasley – The Annual Register of The University of Chicago Illinois 1916 – 1917 – Register of The University of Chicago 1898 – 1899 – Treasury Department Report of the National Woman's Liberty Loan Committee First and Second Campaigns. – Treasury Department Report of the National Woman's Liberty Loan Committee Third Campaign. – Treasury Department Report of the National Woman's Liberty Loan Committee Fourth Campaign. – Treasury Department Report of the National Woman's Liberty Loan Committee for the Victory Loan Campaign.

Newspaper Archives:

Janet Ayer Fairbank, of Chicago, center, was a prominent suffragist who had the honor of being the grand marshall for the suffrage parade held on a rainy June 7, 1916. More than 5,000 suffragists marched in Chicago to the Republican National Convention in a heavy rainstorm to push for woman to have the right to vote. Undated photo.
Chicago Tribune historical photo


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