Why a woman is called Effingham’s “best kept secret”

Why a woman is called Effingham’s “best kept secret”
Why a woman is called Effingham’s “best kept secret”

EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WCIA) — There are many important people in the courtroom. But over 100 years ago, women were not allowed to practice law in Illinois. Ada Kepley wanted to change that in Our Town Effingham by breaking barriers and paving the way for women today.

“Ada Kepley is Effingham’s best-kept secret,” said Delaine Donaldson, president of the Effingham County Museum.

Kepley was the definition of “girl power” in the late 19th century.

“She was the very first woman in the world to graduate from law school,” Donaldson said.

She laid the foundation for what we now know as Our Town Effingham. While promoting Effingham, Donaldson said Kepley and her husband came up with the slogan “The Heart of the USA.” Cue the high school’s mascot: The Flaming Hearts.

“That came from Ada Kepley,” Donaldson said.

Kepley had made quite a name for himself – and at the same time built up an impressive resume.

“She was a writer, she was a poet, she wrote music,” Donaldson said. “She was involved in everything.”

But there were also plenty of challenges. Donaldson said people “either loved it or hated it.”

“When she decided to study law in 1870, it was illegal for women to practice law in Illinois.”

This did not stop Kepley from completing her degree in Chicago, but the state threatened her with high fees if she did not keep quiet about the fees she was being asked to pay.

“But she was not a quiet woman,” Donaldson said.

Instead, Kepley was a pioneer of social change.

“Especially with regard to the temperance movement,” Donaldson clarified. “A very, very strong voice within the temperance movement.”

Donaldson said there is a lot of alcohol in the area.

“And if anyone wanted to speak out against the resulting problems, their concern was domestic violence.”

Kepley’s solution? The bond of hope.

“Ada and Henry bought the church building and used it as a place where the youth met regularly and organized many activities for them,” Donaldson explained.

In addition to all of these accomplishments, she also fought for women’s suffrage, spent hot days outside on her farm, and was a loyal wife to her husband Henry. All reasons why Our Town Effingham is proud to call her one of its “hearts.”

“We’re trying to keep her story alive because it’s a wonderful story,” Donaldson said.

You can see their exhibit and more at the Effingham County Museum near downtown.