History of the ICCW


The remarkable Julia Deal Lewis founded the Illinois Club for Catholic Women (ICCW) at the urging of His Eminence George Cardinal Mundelein in 1921.  In 1921, Prohibition was underway, Al Capone moved to Chicago and women attained the right to vote.  The Nation’s rapid shift from an agrarian to an urban society bolstered the need for unskilled labor and lured countless women into Chicago’s industrial workforce.  Many of these women were uprooted from rural areas, faced long hours, dangerous conditions, poor pay and uncertain futures as they struggled to better their lives.

The ICCW was established under these ominous circumstances to provide a refuge where young Catholic working women received low-cost food and lodging, protection, guidance and friendship with women who had values similar to their own. The Club continued to modify and adapt its undertakings to meet the ever-changing needs of the community it served.  For example, by 1935, tuberculosis was a leading cause of death. The ICCW and Julia Deal Lewis heartily responded by establishing the celebrated “Milk Fund” which supplied milk,cod liver oil, medical needs, and clothing to the tubercular poor. Through the following years, many of the pressing dangers and dramatic inequities in the workplace were eradicated, tuberculosis was controlled and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago became the centralized, multidimensional social service agency that supplied the vast array of  professional  services to  address  the  emerging  needs  of  the  poor  and  vulnerable.

For more than 94 years, the ICCW has maintained its steadfast tradition and inspired women of all ages to recognize the sacred dignity of every individual, supply compassionate service and assist a myriad of Catholic charities in the Chicago metropolitan area.  In doing so, the Club has become one of Chicago’s leading charitable providers for the most vulnerable and neglected members of our society.  These members include low-income and homeless women and children, veterans, whole families and seniors, victims of domestic violence, abuse or neglect, among others.

The ICCW is profoundly grateful to the countless women and men who have contributed their time, energy, talent and treasure to advance our mission.

Debutantes – First Annual Presentation Ball – 1958