Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lou May (Mrs. J.W.) McGraw, 1862-1936
By Justyna Kubeck, student, Lake Forest College
Legislative Chairman of the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs
Lou May Williams was born in Indiana in May 1861 to Matilda Williams and married Jeremiah W. McGraw in 1881-1883. The couple resided in Chicago in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses. Jeremiah was a lumber dealer in 1900 and an apartment manager in 1930. The couple's home was valued at $165,000 in 1930, suggesting they owned an apartment building at that time.
Lou M. McGraw became a leader for the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs where she spent her time promoting educational outreach programs throughout the state concerning the vital need women played in the voting process. However, before becoming elected Chairman of the Federation, she was equally important in the final ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment, when Illinois was one of the first states to ratify the 19th Amendment.
Leading up to the final debate about suffrage, there was a political consensus of opinion that the only way to gain and secure full women's suffrage would be through a new Illinois state constitution rather than participating in an arduous process amending the current Illinois constitution. When the legislature voted overwhelmingly to have a constitutional convention, the Chicago and state leaders sent for McGraw along with Grace Wilbur Trout to go down to Springfield in the beginning of the 1917 session. Both women were leaders of the State Equal Suffrage Association at the time.
McGraw spent eight years on the Board of Directors and six years Legislative Chairman of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association. McGraw also participated in the 1913 campaign to elect Grace Wilbur Trout as State President for seven years. McGraw conducted the "educational and organizational work of the Association". McGraw was vital in making sure the Constitutional Convention Resolution would be adopted at the polls. McGraw was also able to gather the cooperation of Mrs. Reed, Legislative Chairman of the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs.
McGraw was significant in the drafting of a leaflet titled "Why Illinois Needs a New Constitution," which was distributed to women's and men's organizations. McGraw was the Vice Chairman of the Committee during the ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment for the State Board. Because of McGraw's tireless work in education about women's suffrage the first act the delegates of the convention proceeded with was to give full suffrage to women. Through her work, she changed public opinion on the controversial question of women's suffrage and helped Illinois become one of the first states to allow for women's suffrage east of the Mississippi.
Lou May McGraw passed away in Chicago in June 1936.
Grace Wilbur Trout,"Side Lights on Illinois Suffrage History," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) Vol. 13, No. 2 (Jul., 1920), pp. 145-179
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Volume 13, Part 1
Papers in Illinois History and Transactions for the Year ..., Volume 27
Federal Manuscript Censuses for household of Jeremiah and Lou M. McGraw, Chicago, 1900. 1910, and 1930. Accessed online with Ancestry Library Edition.
Death record, Lou May McGraw, 26 June 1936, Chicago. Accessed online with Ancestry Library Edition.