Last week, Midway Village Museum unveiled 19 historical plaques in downtown Rockford. Through text and historical photos, the plaques illustrate the people who have impacted the area over the last two centuries. The plaques are part of the larger Rockford History Walks program which introduces history-curious visitors and residents to the entrepreneurs, social reformers, politicians, pioneers, immigrants, builders, veterans, religious leaders, and educators who have contributed to our city’s rich history.
Rockford History Walks is a partnership with Midway Village Museum, Go Rockford, the River District Association, Rockford Park District, and Lauren Davis Creative. The Community Foundation of Northern Illinois provided a $30,140 grant for the design, fabrication, and installation of the plaques from the Jon W. Lundin Historic Preservation Fund in Spring 2016.
“The staff of Midway Village Museum is excited to bring Rockford history to the downtown,” said David Byrnes, President, Midway Village Museum. This is the oldest, most historical part of Rockford. We hope the public will enjoy learning some of the many stories associated with downtown Rockford.”
The following subjects and sites received a plaque: 813 N. Main Street, Allen Chapel, Chick House, Clark & McKenney Hardware, Co., Zeke Giorgi Center, Emerson Resident, Jesse Barloga’s Architecture, Lathrop Law Office, Metropolitan Hall, Rockford Brewing Company, Rockford News Tower (home of the Rockford Register Star | rrstar.com), Talcott Building, the Faust Hotel, the Nelson Hotel, the Richardson Building, the Shumway Market, the William Brown Building (two sites), and Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum.
The above photograph is the Lathrop Law Office at 302 W. State Street, where William Lathrop practiced law. Lathrop was a friend of Abraham Lincoln, an early champion of women’s rights, a state legislator, and a mentor of Alta May Hulett. Hulett passed the bar exam at age 17, but was denied admission to the Illinois bar. Undeterred, she lobbied the Illinois legislature to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sex. The resulting bill, which was introduced by William Lathrop, was the first piece of legislation in the country that prohibited sex discrimination in employment. By passing the bill, Illinois became the first state to allow women to practice law. Hulett was required to take the bar exam a second time, which she passed with the highest score. She died at the age of 22, having never lost a jury trial.
William Lathrop’s daughter Julia was born in Rockford and attended the Rockford Female Seminary along with Jane Addams. After moving to Chicago, she joined Addams and other reformers at Hull House where she passionately advocated for the protection of children and the professionalization of social services. In 1912, she was named the first director of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, becoming the first woman to head a federal bureau. She served in the position until 1921. During her tenure, the Children’s Bureau fought against infant mortality and child labor. She later served as the president of the League of Women Voters of Illinois. Among her many honors is an RPS 205 elementary school that bears her name.