The Western Illinois Museum staged a historic documentary theater production about Josie Westfall. She was the founder and matron of the McDonough County Orphanage.
“Josie Westfall is the Jane Addams of Macomb, Illinois,” said Jeff Kellogg, a museum volunteer and advisory council member. He researched and wrote the production.
“Jane Addams and the Hull House in Chicago, (and) Josie Westfall and the orphanage in Macomb. They’re the very same kind of spirit and strong woman.”
Westfall, who was known to many around town as Aunt Josie, is credited with being a foster parent to more than 500 children.
But the production focused on Westfall’s 1914 campaign to be elected Macomb City Judge. It was staged in conjunction with the community’s annual Heritage Days celebration, which this year had the theme “Macomb’s Outstanding Legal Tradition.”
Westfall had to scrimp and save to keep the doors open at the orphanage and it’s believed she ran for the salaried position of judge to provide extra money for the orphanage.
Kellogg said local newspapers openly supported Westfall.
“She received a huge amount of support. It surprised me how slanted the Macomb Journal was at the time. It was very clearly a Republican publication,” he said, adding Republicans were the progressive party during that era.
Westfall also received huge support from women voters and won the election. But the result was challenged and the Illinois Supreme Court overturned it, saying women couldn’t vote for political offices of constitutional origin.
Despite that setback, Westfall continued to run the orphanage for several more decades. Kellogg said there are lessons to be learned from her life.
“Every step forward also tends to have a half-step backward, and you can’t give up. You have to be organized, be persistent, and carry on,” he said.
“Josie Westfall did it. She lost the city judgeship but in 15 years, in the darkest days of the depression, she raises $60,000 to build a new orphanage. This is a woman who did not quit.”
Westfall passed away in 1941 and the orphanage closed later that decade.