Joanne Alter

July 27, 1927–November 9, 2008

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Joanne Alter until we are able to commission a full entry.

When she challenged Chicago politicians to put a woman’s name on the ballot, Joanne Alter never expected the name would be her own. Realizing how absent women were from the American political landscape, Alter started the Illinois Democratic Women's Caucus to encourage women to run for office. In the first televised coverage of the nominations process in Chicago, she pointed out that on a ballot of 32 candidates, there were no women’s names, spurring Mayor Daley to invite her to run. She became the first woman to win countywide election, winning a million votes as the Elected Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and breaking the glass ceiling for women in Chicago politics. She served two terms on the Democratic National Committee. She also helped found the Junior Museum of the Art Insitute of Chicago. After her retirement from politics, she co-founded WITS (Working In The Schools), an innovative tutoring and mentoring program serving children in Chicago public schools. Joanne Alter died on November 9, 2008. She is honored with annual lectures at the Chicago Humanities Festivals and a scholarship fund at the Art Institute of Chicago. A plaque on the Chicago Riverwalk commemorates her environmental activism. 


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Joanne Alter." (Viewed on May 23, 2024) <>.