Catharine Waugh McCulloch was born in 1862 in Ransomville, New York to Susan Gouger and Abraham Waugh. She married Frank McCulloch in 1890 and had four children, Hugh Waugh (1891), Hawthorn Waugh (1899), Catharine Waugh (1901) and Frank Waugh (1905). She died in 1945 in Evanston, Illinois.
In 1878 Catharine entered Rockford College Female Seminary, Rockford, Illinois (now Rockford University) and graduated first in her class with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1882. She stayed on in Rockford to earn her Master of Arts degree. Ambitiously, McCulloch continued her impressive educational pursuits and received a Degree of Bachelor of law in 1886 from Union College of Law (now Northwestern University Law School) and was admitted to the Illinois Bar that same year. In 1936 she received a Doctorate of Law from Rockford College, Rockford, Illinois.
After her graduation, it was a challenge for Catharine to find a position at an established law firm and in 1887 she returned to Rockford and opened her own law practice with support from members of the Equity Club, the first association of women lawyers in the country which Catharine was instrumental in establishing while she was a law student. Her client base consisted of women tormented by problems relating to lack of legal status; wage discrimination, divorce, probate, child custody, abuse. By virtue of her representation of women on these issues, she emerged as a leading figure among fellow advocates for the women’s movement and a leader for women’s suffrage in Illinois.
In addition to their matrimonial union, Frank and Catharine opened a law partnership in Chicago where they continued to work on women’s rights and in 1889, Catharine practiced before the United States Supreme court.
She effected change in the city of Evanston, the state of Illinois and the entire country through her involvement with the Legislative Committee of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) which she was part of for 22 years. She devised a strategy to allow women to vote for president and in other elections not constitutionally limited to men. A bill to this effect was introduced in Illinois in 1893 and every year thereafter.
She framed the legislation so it neatly sidestepped the state Constitution, allowing women to vote for presidential electors and other government officers not mentioned in the Constitution. Illinois was the first state east of the Mississippi River to pass such a law. Others soon followed, leading to the universal suffrage amendment in 1920. From 1917 to 1925 Catharine was President of the Women’s Democratic Club of Illinois, nominated as their first president, working for the enactment of women’s suffrage and prohibition.
In addition, Catharine wrote a bill that strengthened rape laws and raised the age of consent in Illinois from fourteen to sixteen. She co-authored a book with Frank McCulloch called A Manual of the Law of Will Contests in Illinois (1929) and wrote several plays including Mr. Lex (1899), which called attention to a woman’s need for greater protection against abusive or alcoholic husbands, and Bridget’s Sister (1911) a suffragist comedy play highlighting the need for women to join forces and campaign for tighter laws protecting women and the laws relating to mother and child.
This Bio was written by Lori Osborne and Julia Flynn for the Women and Social Movements NAWSA research project.