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We are creating a 60-minute documentary on the life and accomplishments of Catharine Waugh McCulloch (1862-1945).  It will debut in Evanston on June 22nd, 2024.  The film will be subsequently available for distribution to educational groups, women’s organizations, and others. 

Around the country there are events scheduled to commemorate the more than sixty years of effort and thousands of women and men who organized and advocated for full suffrage for women.  In the one hundred years since this milestone event, our country has continued to be challenged to adopt the means to include all citizens in elections, civic engagement, public policy and civil rights. 

Our target audience is young adults. Entering a new and provocative decade, Catharine would wish today that young people want to be informed, engaged, and able to effectively use, at all levels of government, the democratic institutions that were designed to promote justice, liberty and freedom for all. 

The documentary features interviews, animations, and actors performing her work.  The objective is to bring to life examples of her speeches and writing that demonstrate her courage to enter critical discussions of the rights of women. She had a lovely but strong voice, and used wit and tenacity to convert her audiences.  We want to show this to an audience unfamiliar with her extensive writings.  Several of the women we interview will discuss how Catharine inspired their lives, and you can see this in action.  Other women we interview will highlight her leadership in complex legal research of issues that extend beyond women’s rights and inform the basis of civil rights and human rights. 

Catharine’s approach was to promote incremental change, that is, step-by-step legal victories that had a big impact and would lead to further change.  Understanding her accomplishments provides an  example of a successful feminist leader  using techniques that contrast with the current commonplace acrimonious protesting by women, demanding attention and setting themselves against men. We hope that her examples will inspire and support young leaders in their efforts, regardless of their political affiliations.


Were she  alive today, we imagine that she would promote public discussion of difficult and complex issues facing our country, and would push for movement away from single-issue and identity politics. She could be a Republican or a Democrat, she would speak and act the same because she had her own ideas. We imagine Catharine would be deeply immersed in trying to move us forward.  Her strategy would be both radical and moderate; actionable and inclusive.  What better formula woud enable all to embrace reforms? The film will highlight the key ingredients of her strategy and approach - offering a guide to a constructive resolution of goals. We have been asking each other:  where would Catharine be involved today; how would she have forged consensus;  how would she have maintained her zeal, communicated her message; and what behind the scenes strategy would she have employed?  We hope that when you watch the documentary, we will have roused you expand her noble goals!

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Admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1886, Catharine brought legal and strategy skills to the efforts of Frances Willard, Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells, and other outstanding Chicago women to institute a host of social reforms and create high-impact leadership roles for women. She was one of the first 100 women lawyers in the US, and almost immediately after admission to the bar, joined a core group in creating a professional identity for women attorneys. 

She is among the second generation of women leaders after Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These women worked tirelessly for 20 years before and after ratification of the 19th amendment to forge changes for women. Catharine’s story is representative of other women attorneys and leaders who were the first to step into roles that had been off-limits to women including  public speaking, political organizing and study for admission to the bar. Admittance to the bar was a significant power-shifting change for equal rights, and resulted in legal reforms, women entering the courts, and ultimately with the 19th amendment, increasing the electoral base by 20 million citizens. It took a long time and significant work to overcome resistance to change. Yet women like Catharine were persistent and chose a path of ground-breaking leadership while working within traditional expectations of women as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. 

What makes Catharine’s biography  so interesting is her character, which she exhibits in her memoirs, and her extensive writings, speeches and correspondence. Over the last 20 years we have met several historians with a background in women’s history, the history of women in law, and Chicago history who have provided insights that help us understand  the strategies Catharine and others employed to gain support for initiatives that took time to accomplish. Viewers will be amazed at how Catharine steadfastly sought year after year in so many different ways to educate, change opinion and lead organizations of women.   

She drafted legislation to enable women to vote in Illinois.  For 20 years she lobbied at the State Capital, was on auto and train-stop tours around the state to organize support for women's rights.  After the 19th Amendment was passed (and Illinois was the first state to ratify the Amendment) she continued to work for 20 years as the legislative coordinator for the League of Women Voters. Her story provides an example of groundbreaking legal work, her role in creating awareness and changing public opinion at a pivotal time in US history.  

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The distribution plan for the film is to be determined, but we hope that the film will be of interest for years to come, and will be available to educational groups at no cost.

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Susan Hope Engel is an award-winning filmmaker with her own film company, Hope Productions. She is presently writing, directing and editing documentaries with a focus on social justice themes. Susan’s documentary about the segregated black YMCA in Evanston, IL, “Unforgettable,” was featured in the NY Times and won the 2010 Blackbaud TV’s “Inspire Award” and the Alliance for Community Media “Making a Difference Award.” Her film for Literature for All of Us about how literacy transformed the lives of 5 teen mothers was aired on “Voice of America,” in over 40 countries. Her work took her to the former Yugoslavia as part of a peace effort sponsored by the Soros Humanitarian Foundation. She has mentored young filmmakers with documentaries that have been recognized nationally at film festivals.  Susan has been honored by her community with a Leadership Evanston Award as well as the “Those Who Make a Difference Award.” She is a founding board member of Women in Film Chicago.

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Executive Director of the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation

Julia Wilson was a student at Stanford Law School and in 1997 participated in the WLH Biography Project (Women’s Legal History Project - Julia was born in Illinois and she chose Catharine Waugh McCulloch's history for her assignment. Julia was able to access CWM’s memoirs, speeches, and other key documents that were available at Stanford, through Harvard’s collection of materials at the Schlesinger Library, Mary Earnhart Dillon Collection. Julia’s paper was available online through the WLH Biography Project and that is how we met Julia and came to learn of the impact this project had on Julia’s ambitions.

In April 2020, Julia will serve as the Executive Director of the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation[1]  ( In February, Julia is combining her trip to Chicago for the CWM Project interviews with meetings at Chicago-based law schools.  We are pleased to have now two connections to Northwestern Law School, and to learn about Justice Stevens’ connection to Chicago and public justice.

For [22 years], Julia has led an important non-profit called OneJustice ( OneJustice created a statewide network in California of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools, and businesses that together provide life-changing legal assistance to over 270,000 low-income Californians each year. Julia also traveled around California providing training and consulting support to the executives and boards of the legal nonprofit organizations in OneJustice’s network. Her areas of expertise include analysis of civil justice delivery systems, designing pro bono programs, legal aid innovation practices, and best practices in nonprofit management for organizations with law at the heart of their mission.

She started her legal career in 1998 as an Equal Justice Works (then NAPIL) Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, providing free legal assistance to low-income residents with a focus on serving very young children with disabilities. She became Directing Attorney and then Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County’s first-ever Pro Bono Coordinator, developing and launching Legal Aid’s pro bono programs, which still continue to this day.

From 2005 to early 2013, she served as the shared executive director of both OneJustice and its sister organization, the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC). In this capacity, she led statewide advocacy efforts on behalf of the legal services delivery system, undertook multiple statewide strategic planning initiatives, and served as the legal services community’s liaison to key access to justice partners. She serves on the Board of Directors of BoardSource and Equal Justice Works. She also serve on the Leadership Committee of Ready California, working with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center to support immigrant-serving organizations while continuing to build the statewide infrastructure to prepare for and respond to emerging threats and opportunities.

“CIVIL JUSTICE: THE PROMISE OF AMERICA” | Julia Wilson | TEDx MountainViewHighSchool was filmed in 2/2018

[1] John Paul Stevens served as a US Supreme Court justice from 1975 to 2010.  He was born in Chicago in 1920, attended University of Chicago, and after serving in the Navy during World War II he attended Northwestern Law School.  The Foundation provides Public Interest Fellowship grants to participating law school students who work in unpaid public interest summer internships.


Arthur Stern, Jr., Professor of American History at Tufts University

Virginia is a distinguished professor at Tufts University and is the Arthur Stern, Jr., Professor of American History. Her teaching interests focus on nineteenth and twentieth century American history, specifically the history of women, the professions, medicine and society, and the rise of modern American culture. Her scholarship mirrors her teaching and focuses on women in modern America society. She is interested in the overall theme of women in male-dominated professions, particularly medicine, law, and business.
Her books include: Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business (University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History (Harvard University Press, 1998); Women Lawyers and the Origins of Professional Identity in America: The Letters of the Equity Club, 1887 to 1890 (University of Michigan Press, 1993); and Hospital with a Heart: Women Doctors and the Paradox of Separatism at the New England Hospital,1862-1969 (Cornell University Press, 1984).


Chair of the Justice and Legal Studies Department, Bay Path University

In July 2019, Dr. Gwen Hoerr Jordan relocated from Illinois to Western Massachusetts, where she is the Chair of the Justice and Legal Studies Department at Bay Path University in Longmeadow MA. It is an all-women’s undergraduate college for primarily first generation college students.  

Gwen was Chair of the Legal Department and faculty at the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) from 2010 to 2019 after two years as a visiting assistant professor at Northern Illinois University and three years as the Legal History Fellow at the Institute for Legal Studies, University of Wisconsin Law School. Gwen also had a part-time staff attorney appointment with the Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) at UIS. Her position with the IIP involved representing individuals who were wrongfully convicted, leading the policy reform initiative to reduce wrongful convictions, training police cadets on the causes of wrongful convictions at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute,  and working with UIS undergraduate and graduate students  and law school students externs from other Illinois universities participating with the Project.

Jordan’s scholarship focuses on the history of women lawyers and their local, national and international social justice activism; issues of gender, race, and law, and critical race theory. Her current work is on the transnational coalitions of women lawyers of color in shaping the new world order during the mid-twentieth century. She is additionally analyzing issues of race identity, African-American women lawyers’ civil rights activism throughout the twentieth century, and the strategies women lawyers of color developed to overcome the intersection of race and gender discrimination in the legal system.

Dr. Jordan earned her M.A. in Criminal Justice and her Ph.D. in History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her J.D. from the University of Denver College of Law. She was awarded the UIC Dean’s Scholar Award and received an American Association of University Women Educational Foundation American Dissertation Fellowship. She also won a National Award Certificate of Commendation as curator of the exhibition Bar None: 125 Years of Women Lawyers in Illinois, and was previously Co-Chair of the Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women and served on its advisory board. In addition to her academic experience, she spent years as a Deputy District Attorney in Colorado.

Gwen published a great article in 2009 in the Nevada Law Journal entitled “Agents of (Incremental) Change: From Myra Bradwell to Hillary Clinton” and this is consistent with the nature of CWM’s dedicated, comprehensive, strategic but incremental efforts to advance legal reform, and this is a central point that we are trying to describe in illustrate – how could she consistently be energetic, feisty, witty, and engaged on so many levels while at the same time raising a family and working at the law firm with her husband. 


Subject Specialist for American History, American Studies, and Journalism, University of Notre Dame

Rachel Bohlmann is the subject specialist for American history, American Studies, and journalism at University of Notre Dame. She has an undergraduate degree from Valparaiso University; an MTS in religion from Harvard Divinity School; an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and PhD in American history from the University of Iowa.


Professor emerita, biographer, book reviewer, and author most recently of Stories from Trailblazing Women: Lives in Law, Forgotten Stories of America’s First Women Lawyers

Jill taught government, law and society, and women’s studies for nearly thirty years at John Jay College and the University Graduate Center, The City University of New York. Her research has focused on various aspects of cultural pluralism and law. In two early books, Partial Justice (with P.T. Shattuck), and The Cherokee Cases, she took up questions of federal Indian law. In the textbook, Cultural Pluralism and Law (now in the 3rd ed.), anthropologist Serena Nanda and Jill explore the continual negotiation that has occurred between culturally different groups and American society through the mechanism of law. In her three most recent books, Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would be President; Belva Lockwood: Equal Rights Pioneer (for young adults); and Rebels at the Bar she has turned to biography, recovering the lives and careers of America’s first (nineteenth century) women lawyers. Her current project, a group biography of trailblazing women attorneys born in the twentieth century, brings this biographical exploration into the present moment.

Jill is a co-founder of, and researcher/writer for This site focuses upon women in the United States who ran for political office before 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Through mini-biographies and short historical essays, this unique site challenges the longstanding belief that women did not involve themselves in electoral politics. Currently, the names and short biographies of more than 3,500 women appear on this important web site.

As a book reviewer for the online cultural site,, Jill specializes in essays on memoir, biography, and U.S. politics. She has recently reviewed Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s memoir My Beloved World; David Nasaw’s The Patriarch; Carla Peterson’s Black Gotham; and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.


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