Peorians Lead List of Groundbreaking Women

October 15, 2018

As released by Illinois Bicentennial.

SPRINGFIELD – Sorry, Oprah. Better luck next time, Mrs. Lincoln. Voters in the Illinois Top 200 project have put Lydia Moss Bradley, founder of Peoria’s Bradley University, at No. 1 on the list of groundbreaking women in Illinois history.

Bradley and her husband built a fortune but lost six children. After her husband’s death, Bradley did not retreat into the expected life of a Victorian widow. She led businesses, set up charities, founded a college and fought a land dispute all the way to the Supreme Court. She also remarried, complete with a prenuptial agreement.

Bradley was followed by another Peorian, feminist writer Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique” and co-founder of the National Organization for Women.

The top five also includes Jane Addams, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; former first lady Michelle Obama; and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

The Top 200 project lets Illinoisans vote every two weeks on the state’s most inspiring leaders, greatest inventions, top businesses and much more. By the state’s bicentennial on Dec. 3, voters will have chosen 10 favorites in 20 different categories – the Illinois Top 200. 

Voting in the next category, minority trailblazers, is underway at The nominees include Barack Obama, Harold Washington, Black Hawk, and “Free Frank” McWorter.

"As far as we know, Bradley is the only university in the U.S. that was founded exclusively by a woman using her own resources. She was so far ahead of her time and amazingly resourceful, even by today’s standards. What an incredible woman Lydia Moss Bradley was. We strive daily to carry on her legacy," said Bradley University President Gary Roberts.

Here are the top 10 “groundbreaking women” chosen in online voting: 

  1. Lydia Moss Bradley – In 1875, she became the first woman to serve on the board of a national bank. She was among the first to demand a prenuptial contract before marriage. Bradley is in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
  2. Betty Friedan – Friedan, a Peoria native, helped spark a new wave of feminism with her 1963 book, “The Feminine Mystique.” She also helped found the National Organization for Women.
  3. Jane Addams –Addams was a pioneering social worker, activist and advocate for women’s rights. She co-founded Chicago’s Hull House, a center for educating and assisting the poor. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
  4. Michelle Obama –Obama, a lawyer and writer, was the first African-American first lady of the United States. She became a role model for women and an advocate for poverty awareness, nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating.
  5. Oprah Winfrey – Winfrey is a talk show host, actress, producer and philanthropist. She is best known for her Chicago-based talk show, which was the highest-rated show of its kind in history.
  6. Hillary Clinton – Raised in Illinois, Clinton was the first woman nominated for president by a major political party. She also served as U.S. secretary of state, U.S. senator from New York and first lady of the United States.
  7. Ida B. Wells – Born into slavery, Wells devoted her life to fighting discrimination against African-Americans and women. She helped call attention to the nation’s epidemic of lynching and was a co-founder of the NAACP.
  8. “Mother” Jones – After losing her family to yellow fever and her business to the Chicago fire, this teacher and dressmaker became a union organizer. Her motivational skills earned her the label “most dangerous woman in America.”
  9. Mary Lincoln – The wife of Abraham Lincoln, was a well-educated, politically astute woman who helped her husband’s political career. She endured the deaths of three sons and witnessed the assassination of her husband.
  10. “Mother” Bickerdyke – This Galesburg resident devoted herself to improving medical treatment for Civil War soldiers. She treated soldiers in 19 battles and established 300 field hospitals, ignoring any officers who got in her way.

The nominees who did not make the top 10 were educator Zonia Baber; civil rights leader Willie Barrow; pioneering lawyer Myra Bradwell; senator Carol Moseley Braun; aviation pioneer Willa Brown; Chicago mayor Jane Byrne; social services leader Fannie Emanuel; gay rights activist Vernita Gray; Alta May Hulett, who fought to let women be lawyers; Mamie Till-Mobley, who drew national attention to racist violence; Lottie Holman O’Neill, the state’s first female legislator; labor activist Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons; composer Florence Price; Native American ballerina Maria TallChief; conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly; and temperance crusader Frances Willard.

The Illinois Top 200 is a joint initiative of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.

The remaining categories are top leaders and unforgettable moments. Everyone is invited to suggest possible nominees in each category by using the hashtag #ILtop200 on social media.

The presidential library and museum uses a combination of rigorous scholarship and high-tech showmanship to immerse visitors in Lincoln’s life and times. Visitors can see ghosts come to life on stage, watch TV coverage of the 1860 Presidential election, roam through the Lincoln White House, experience booming cannons in a Civil War battle and come face to face with priceless original Lincoln artifacts.

The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln books, documents, photographs, artifacts and art, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history.

For more information, visit You can follow the ALPLM on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


On Dec. 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st state in the union. The Illinois Bicentennial is a yearlong celebration of what has been BORN, BUILT & GROWN in the state and a reminder of why we are #IllinoisProud. Citizens are encouraged to participate in the celebration by visiting and using the hashtag #IllinoisProud. Partners and event and project managers planning activities in 2018 can apply to become an official part of Illinois Bicentennial by visiting the PARTICIPATE page at

Some media in Bradley University's current print, video and online materials was acquired before the COVID-19 pandemic. Media acquired after the pandemic began was done so in compliance with Bradley's COVID-19 safety protocols at the time. The ongoing safety of our faculty, staff and students is of the utmost concern during these unprecedented times.