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Commentary: It’s March, Kenough

It’s March, and I find myself reminiscing. Nearly a year ago to the day, I recorded a March commentary “Queens, Kings, and Zugzwang” for Tri States Public Radio. This March, my commentary celebrates women and gender in Illinois.

Starting close to home in Macomb, poet, author, and teacher Gwendolyn Brooks is a local and national icon. Brooks accolades are longer than this commentary’s time slot can cover. In 1946, Brooks was a Gugenheim Fellow in Poetry, in 1950 she won a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the first African-American to win a Pulitzer. In 1970, the Black Cultural Center at Western Illinois University was renamed and dedicated the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center.

When I moved to Macomb in 2021, the Gwendolyn Brooks Memorial Park was founded on the corner of Adams and Normal. Brooks served as the Illinois Poet Laureate for 32 years and she was the US Poet Laureate in 1985-1986. Brooks has even been on a U.S. stamp.

Which begs the question, what other women have graced U.S. stamps: astronaut Sally Ride, painters Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe, author Toni Morrison, singers Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith, actor Lucille Ball.

You know what, this list is winning me over. In addition to my magnet fishing hobby, I think a philatelic hobby is calling my name.

It takes a little more research to discern Illinois women included in the U.S. stamp legacy. I did a cursory glance down the long list on the U.S. Postal Service website and Illinoisans Jane Addams and Mahalia Jackson jumped out and I’m guessing there’s many more Illinois women connections to unearth on that list.

Many listeners know Macomb as the birthplace of Lizzie Magie, the creator of Monopoly. Magie is also the victim of another sort of “me too” moment. Her game, which she patented even before women could vote, was co-opted and sold to a game maker by a man. Unfortunately, this was all too common; women’s contributions being attributed to or taken credit for by men. To borrow a pun from a recent feminist movie, Kenough.

There are many more influential women and gender connections in Macomb. The last I’ll mention is Ginny Vida, who was raised in Macomb and was the editor of “Our Right to Love: A Lesbian Resource Book” published in 1978. An influential book in its time, this work is referenced as one of the book titles included in the narrative and drawings by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Bechdel is also the winner of five Tony awards for her musical “Fun Home,” and yes, this is the same Bechdel from “The Bechdel Test” frequently used to assess the representation of women in film and fiction.

There are a plethora of famous Chicagoans including the author of the novel “The House on Mango Street,” Sandra Cisneros, Oprah broadcasting “The Oprah Winfrey Show” from Chicago. Michelle Obama was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and later served as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago. The WNBA basketball team the Chicago Sky has been in the league since 2006 and they are coached by Teresa Weatherspoon, one of the top 15 WNBA players of all time.

Jazz trumpeter Tiny Davis and her partner of over 40 years, drummer-pianist Ruby Lucas ran a club in Chicago, “Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot.” Tiny and Ruby’s contributions to jazz and to the LGBTQ+ community are documented in the 1988 film “Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women” produced by Jezebel Productions and Channel 4 (UK).

This March also marks the one year anniversary of two measures that were signed into law safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Illinois.

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again, March is still a great month for women, queer women, to be femme, butch, androgynous, genderqueer, trans, nonbinary.

So go ahead, celebrate! Plan a giant blowout party with all Barbies—I mean with all your friends—after all, we have a lot to celebrate. It’s March.

Jade Kastel (she/her) is the Director of Library Services at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and she is the 2023 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year selected by the Illinois Library Association.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University, Tri States Public Radio, or the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.