History found on former club that installed veterans plaque
by BRIAN NADIG
A small plaque in the shape of a soldier’s helmet has been on display in front of the Jefferson Park fieldhouse since a women’s organization dedicated it some 80 years ago in honor of World War I veterans.
About the size of a hand, the plaque can easily be missed by visitors to the fieldhouse. It is mounted on a concrete base that is located in the landscaped island that runs in front of the fieldhouse.
It is suspected that the Altrui Club dedicated the plaque around 1930 when the fieldhouse opened. Presumably made prior to World War II, the plaque states "World War Veterans of Jefferson Park dedicated by Altrui Club."
Until recently the Northwest Chicago Historical Society had little information about the Altrui Club, which operated in the Jefferson Park neighborhood from 1898 through the 1970s.
A local resident recently provided the society club documents, including membership lists that go back to the club’s origins, and additional information was gathered from newspaper accounts, including a 1964 article in Nadig Newspapers’ Jefferson Park Press
"This club was a social, civil, educational and philanthropic association, started at a time when women could not run for political office or vote for that matter," researcher Frank Suerth wrote in the society’s January newsletter. "This was an organized society on their terms."
The club started with 24 members, and dues were $1. "Why they picked the name Altrui is not known but the word ‘altruism’ does mean a concern for the welfare of others," Suerth wrote.
By 1910 the club had 98 members and had delegates to the Juvenile Protection Association and the Illinois Industrial Home for Girls. Over the years the club met at a variety of places, including the park fieldhouse, Beaubien School, the Jefferson Park Masonic Temple and the former Jefferson Club House, which was located at the northwest corner of Giddings Street and Long Avenue.
The club’s activities included picnics at Whealan Pool in Caldwell Woods, book discussions and an annual Christmas party. Its committees included international relations, public health and welfare, civil service and music.
In 1930 club members formed Altrui Juniors for their daughters, and in 1938 the club had a 25-member chorus.
The club held its last meeting about 40 years ago, according to Suerth.
"Why did it close after almost 80 years of history? Did it merge with another women’s organization? It is not known why. Other neighborhood women’s clubs were still in existence. But most likely, there were fewer women willing to step up to a leadership role. The club ran its course and was soon forgotten," Suerth said.
The historical society’s Web site can be reached at www.nwchicagohistory.org.