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Proposal to Honor Macomb Woman for Life-Saving Medical Research

Rich Egger
Detail from Facing the Storm

There is a push to gain greater recognition for Dr. Ruth Tunnicliff, who is credited with discovering the cause of measles and creating the first serum for preventing the disease.

Macomb-based author John Hallwas, who writes about local history, told the city council that Tunnicliff was born in Macomb in 1876, educated in the community’s schools, and grew up in a house that still stands. Dr. Hallwas said Tunnicliff was part of the first class of 11 female students at Rush Medical College in Chicago when the school finally admitted women in 1902.

Hallwas said in addition to her work to eradicate measles, Tunnicliff also discovered the causes of other diseases.

“Here’s a woman who saved millions of people worldwide,” Hallwas said. “It’s way over time for Ruth Tunnicliff to get some notice for doing all the things that she did, especially in regard to measles. Oh. My. God.”

He also said Tunnicliff persisted and succeeded despite encountering gender bias.

“Ruth Tunnicliff was one of the few American women engaged in this kind of medical research during the early 20th century when so many doors were still obviously closed to women,” Hallwas said.

Credit Rich Egger
Facing the Storm was dedicated in 2015. Dr. Ruth Tunnicliff is among the women honored on the statue.

Tunnicliff is one of the local women featured on the Chandler Park statue Facing the Storm, which honors the contributions of Macomb’s women activists. Hallwas said the city could gain greater recognition for Tunnicliff’s local connections and medical contributions by posting signs at its major entryways. His suggested wording:

Dr. Ruth Tunnicliff, the bacteriologist who discovered the cause of measles and made the first serum, was raised in Macomb.

Hallwas recommended the city also post signs to honor the Reverend C.T. Vivian, the civil rights leader who grew up in Macomb. His suggested wording:

Reverend C.T. Vivian, the noted civil rights crusader, ally of Reverend Martin Luther King and Black spokesman, was raised in Macomb.

Hallwas helped lead the campaign to gain state historic site designation for the location of Dr. Vivian’s boyhood home on East Adams Street in Macomb, and Hallwas gave the keynote speech during the dedication ceremony in late September.

Credit Rich Egger
The Reverend C.T. Vivian spoke to a capacity crowd at the Macomb Junior-Senior High School auditorium in 2015.

Vivian was educated in the community’s schools and attended Western Illinois University. He went on to serve as one of the key figures in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.  Vivian died in Atlanta, Georgia in July.

Hallwas considers Vivian and Tunnicliff to be the two most notable people from Macomb. He said both made significant contributions nationally.

“They’re not just great in their own fields and had national notoriety, but also they were really a product of Macomb as an education town,” Hallwas said.

Mayor Mike Inman said he sees no reason why the city wouldn’t pursue the project. He said the city will need to work with the Illinois Department of Transportation to place signs along the right-of-way on East and West Jackson Streets (Route 136) and North Lafayette Street (Route 67).

He said the proposal will be referred to the city council’s Community Development Committee.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.