Ickes, Anna Thompson (1873–1935)

views updated

Ickes, Anna Thompson (1873–1935)

American politician and reformer. Name variations: Anna Wilmarth Ickes. Born Anna Wilmarth on January 27, 1873, in Chicago, Illinois; died on August 31, 1935, in Velarde, New Mexico; daughter of Henry Martin Wilmarth (a manufacturer and organizer of the First National Bank) and Mary Jane (Hawes) Wilmarth (1837–1919, a civic and reform leader); educated at private schools, including one in Paris and Miss Hersey's School in Boston, and at the University of Chicago; married historian James Westfall Thompson, in 1879 (divorced 1909); married Harold LeClaire Ickes (a lawyer and later Secretary of the Interior), on September 16, 1911; children (first marriage) Wilmarth Thompson and (adopted) Frances Thompson; children (second marriage): Raymond Wilmarth Ickes and (adopted) Robert Ickes.

Anna Wilmarth was born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 27, 1873, to Henry Martin Wilmarth, an organizer of the First National Bank, and Mary Jane Hawes Wilmarth . The youngest of three daughters, Anna had a strong example for her later reformist endeavors in her mother, who was active in the suffrage movement and charitable organizations. Mary Jane was one of the original trustees of Hull House and, along with Jane Addams , served as a delegate-at-large from Illinois at the 1912 Progressive National Convention.

In 1893, Anna started classes at the year-old University of Chicago, attending for three years before marrying a young instructor there, James Westfall Thompson, in 1897. They had one son and adopted a daughter before divorcing in 1909. At age 38, Anna married Chicago lawyer Harold LeClaire Ickes, a man she had known since her days at the university; together they had one son and adopted another.

Anna Ickes was involved with the Women's Trade Union League, for which her husband was legal counsel, and often posted bail for young women arrested during Chicago strikes. In 1910, she was part of the picket line, with Ellen Gates Starr of Hull House, during the garment workers' strike against Hart, Schaffner, and Marx. Anna and Harold helped form the Progressive Party in Illinois in 1912. After this nascent political party dissolved, they rejoined the Republicans. Neither of the Ickeses were willing to sacrifice their opinions to tow the party line, however; both rebelled at the Republican nomination of Warren G. Harding for president, and Anna campaigned for James M. Cox, the Democratic governor from Ohio.

Anna Ickes' public career took off in 1924 when she was appointed by Governor Len Small to fill a vacancy on the board of trustees for the University of Illinois. Later that year, she ran in the election for the position and won, serving on the board until January of 1929. She also served on boards for the Chicago Home for the Friendless and the Chicago Regional Planning Association during the 1920s.

In 1928, with Harold as her campaign manager, Anna Ickes successfully ran for the state legislature as a Republican. She was reelected handily in 1930 and 1932. During her time in office, she sat on several committees in the lower house, including those on civil service, education, charities and corrections, and industrial affairs. A civic organization that yearly evaluated how well legislators were doing their jobs gave her high ratings.

In 1932, while Anna was running as a Republican, Harold publicly supported Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt for president instead of Republican Herbert Hoover. This difference in the couple's politics brought some comments from the press. However, Anna, while maintaining her allegiance to the Republican Party, commented that she and her husband had always been independents in politics and that she was "tremendously interested in and enthusiastic over the things that are now being done." Harold Ickes was appointed Secretary of the Interior by Roosevelt in 1933.

Anna spent her days at the family home in Winnetka and in the state capital of Springfield during this period, paying only brief visits to Washington in the role of a Cabinet wife. By 1934, this arrangement had become "too complicated," and Anna did not run for reelection, reportedly at the request of her husband. Instead, she focused her attention on the culture, archaeology, and welfare of Native Americans, issues which had long held her interest. She had previously been a member of the board of the Indian Rights Association of Chicago.

Partly for health reasons, Anna had been spending time each year in New Mexico since the 1920s, studying the culture of the Navajos and Pueblos. Her book Mesa Land, published in 1933, was an account of Indian history and amateur anthropology. During a trip to New Mexico in the summer of 1935, Anna Ickes was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 62. She was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois. Three years later, Harold Ickes married Jane Dahlman (Ickes) .


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan