Exhibit: Women Who Dared
BiographiesMultimediaBy CityAbout WWD Jewish Gender Activism
What She Said
  Joanne Alter
  Community Activist
  Chicago WWD Event 2004
  Co-founded WITS (Working In The Schools), an innovative volunteer tutoring and mentoring program which supports the education and development of children in the Chicago Public Schools.
Biography  up to top

Joanne Alter has been a trailblazer for women in politics since the late sixties and has worked tirelessly for the education of children, the environment, and the arts. Growing up in one of the few Jewish families on the North Shore of Chicago in the 1930s, she attributes her interest in social change to her experience as a child, witnessing family members emigrating from Europe to escape political conditions there. "I always wanted to help the underdog, the one that was different, the one that needed to be paid attention to." In 1968 President Johnson appointed her as Delegate to the UN Meeting Women in Ghana. She realized how absent women were from the American political landscape. Within the year she started the Illinois Democratic Women's Caucus which encouraged women to run for office, a radical proposition. She subsequently became the first woman to win countywide election, winning a million votes as the Elected Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Between 1972 and 1984, she was re-elected 3 times and has also served as director of numerous governmental commissions and councils. Her accomplishments and awards have been numerous and wide-ranging. In 1976 she was the first woman to run statewide as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. She served two terms on the Democratic National Committee. In education she served as trustee of her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, between 1980-1985, as member of the University of Chicago Women's Board, and as founder of the Junior Museum of the Art Institute, making art accessible and enjoyable for young children. Most recently, with Marion Stone, she co-founded WITS (Working In The Schools), a tutoring and mentoring program which has grown from 2 volunteers to over 1500 in its 12 years of existence and has become a national model of its kind. Her honors include the Amistad Award in 2003, the Thomas Jefferson Award in 1998, and the National Women's Leadership Council Award in 1999, and many others honoring her work for women, the environment, and her leadership in the arts. An inspiring optimist, she states, "I love life and I love seeing the changes in society around me... I wake up in the morning and feel anything is possible." She attributes the women's movement as a prime motivating force in her life.

After a long illness, Joanne Alter died in Chicago on November 9, 2008. She was 81 and is survived by four children and eleven grandchildren.

What She Said  up to top
I started giving speeches all over, wherever I could, about the role of women worldwide and in Africa. ...More 
[W]e said "Enough of you fat old Irishmen, we are going to run for office and we're serious about it." ...More 
When I said that being active in politics is about bringing change in our society; that's also about organizing groups to bring about change... ...More 
I thought "oh, no, come on, I've got twenty years to do something good!" ...More 
Multimedia  up to top
Photographs Photographs
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How to Cite This Page
For a bibliography: Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Joanne Alter." <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=pjalter>.

For a footnote: Jewish Women's Archive, "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Joanne Alter," <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=pjalter>.