Women got the vote in Illinois in 1913, and in 1914 Township residents elected their first woman Supervisor, Gertrude M. Thurston.

She held the office for 31 years.


One of the founders of the Winnetka Woman’s Club, she is listed in the club’s charter as Mattie G. Thurston. In a 1947 letter to Lora Townsend Dickinson, who was writing a history of the Club, Mrs. Thurston explained that her given name was Martha G. (for Gertrude). When she became Supervisor of New Trier Township, she transposed her first and middle names and became Gertrude M. Thurston. It seemed more dignified, she said.

Mrs. Thurston used her vote as well as her tongue to influence Township affairs. It is noted in the minutes of a Township Meeting that she sold a car that the Township had purchased for official use and proposed to use her own car for official business, billing the Township for expenses. She returned the price of the car to the Township treasury. During her early years in Township office, she took over the duties of the Overseer of the Poor and the stipend that went with it.

Mrs. Thurston also had a second career: She was the first woman police officer in Winnetka. She joined the force in 1917 and served until 1940. She was a juvenile officer responsible for—juvenile delinquency cases. In a report to the Village of Winnetka, she told of her work with—golf club cases. "I prosecuted one golf club for employing caddies during school hours and have had correspondence with most of the others on the North Shore, which have promised their co-operation in the future. I except from criticism the Indian Hill Club, as I believe they are setting a pace in high standards for their caddies, which the other clubs will do well to follow." In this report she notes that in four years she had had—official acquaintance with 328 children, 128 from Winnetka.

She was widowed in 1924. Her husband’s obituary noted he had been compelled to retire from public life 10 years previously due to poor health. (He was a newspaper and magazine editor, who was also very active in the civic life of Winnetka.) The fact that she had four daughters and an ailing husband may have had something to do with her pursuit of two careers and additional stipend-paying responsibilities at the Township.

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