Self-Improvement in Moline
This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, seeking to build the kingdom of God in the New World, Americans have been divided on how to achieve that goal. Should one try to change society, by law, if necessary, or should one concentrate on self-improvement, hoping to be a model for others? Toward the end of the 19th century, the women of Moline were not about to take chances. They took both options.
On the self-improvement side was The Fortnightly, whose members were prominent Moline women. After 25 years of lectures and dramatic programs, this club claimed "to have studied everything pertaining to the peoples of the earth, their cities, customs, and literature, their productions and crafts, oriental rugs, lace and book making, the history and art of painting, the modern novel, punishments and reform."
In the forefront of the groups who wanted to change society was the Women's Christian Temperance Union who frequently shut down Moline taverns and influenced the Illinois legislature to pass a law providing for mandatory scientific temperance instruction in the public schools. Here also was the Moline Woman's Suffrage Association organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton during a visit to a John Deere relative.
A few women's clubs tried to do it all. The Women's Club of Moline had five departments to study music, art, literature, civics, and philanthropy. But the club also opened and operated the Women's Club Lunch and Rest Rooms where working women could get a subsidized hot lunch.
By 1900, there were so many women's clubs in Moline that trying to list them all, said a local historian, would be akin to trying to enumerate the stars in the sky.
There is no record of the women of Moline ever coming to blows over the best way to improve society. I suspect that's because they all would have agreed with the anonymous tribute to the Ladies Aid societies of all the churches in town. Here, said the writer, "the Ladies Aid societies are often, if not always, the real motive power behind the minister."
If there are any of you men out there still in need of improvement, be warned. In Moline, the hand that rocks the cradle never stops.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.