Grace Wilbur Trout

Lived:March 18, 1864—October 21, 1955 (aged 91)

A Maquoketa-born woman led the way to women’s suffrage in the state of Illinois and later across the United States. Her name is Grace Wilbur Trout and she was born in 1864 in Maquoketa. She became known as “The Woman Who Never Fails.”

That may be because Grace Trout never gave up on her fight to gain the vote for women. On June 11, 1913, after going so far as to block the way of any legislators who might be tempted to leave the capitol before a vote was taken, Grace Trout was rewarded with the passage of the Illinois Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Act. At that point, women in Illinois became the first women east of the Mississippi River eligible to vote in national elections.

Grace was born in 1864 to Thomas and Anne Belden Wilbur in Maquoketa, IA. Luckily her father, an attorney, supported education for women, and her mother taught her to believe in a good greater than herself. Grace graduated from Maquoketa High School in 1881 and was an active member of the local Congregational church.

She married a local boy, George W. Trout, who joined with his brother-in-law George Sackett to form Trout and Sackett, a successful hardware store in town. Grace and George moved in 1892 to Oak Park, IL and opened a new firm, Trout Hardware Company. They had six children by this time.

When her year-old son John died of croup, Grace looked for a way to express herself. She found it by writing a novel called, A Mormon Wife. The book became an instant success, as this was the time of debate over accepting Utah as a state, and the controversial Mormon practice of polygamy.

In the early 20th century, Grace became active in the suffrage movement. She worked within progressive women’s organizations, and organized suffrage groups throughout Illinois. She was an entertaining lecturer, blending political and common sense, personal anecdotes and gentle humor in her speeches. It was written in 1927, “Mrs. Trout’s unusual gifts made her successful on the lecture platform, where she spoke without manuscript or notes. Her study of a theme was exhaustive, her preparation painstaking and the finished product sparkled with wit and humor.”

She was criticized by some, however, for her designer clothes and love of hats, the bigger the better!

Grace was a non-stop campaigner and cajoler of legislators. She used a card catalog system to study and categorize legislators, and build a nonpartisan coalition of support for her cause. On the day of the vote, Trout hired a cab to provide transportation for congressmen to the Illinois state house. On June 11, 1913, the Illinois Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Act passed, and women of Illinois became the first women east of the Mississippi River eligible to vote in national elections.

Grace continued to speak across the nation, working with Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. When prominent African American Ida B. Wells wanted to join NAWSA in a march in support of ratification of the 19th Amendment, Trout was opposed. She demanded, along with Alice Paul, that segregation be preserved to avoid offending Southern marchers who might boycott the event. She wanted Black suffragists to march in their own group. Wells ignored the directions and marched with her Illinois cohort anyway.

Finally in 1920, the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified.

Grace Wilbur Trout died Oct. 21, 1955 in Jacksonville, FL. She was a suffragist, author, wife and mother, and it all began in Maquoketa, Iowa!

Author: Barbara Pestka, Maquoketa, IA