Helen Cirese papers
MSCire75

 An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Summary Information

Repository
Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives
Creator
Cirese, Helen, 1899-1983
Title
Helen Cirese papers
ID
MSCire75
Date
1915-1974
Extent
4.75 Linear feet
Language
English
Abstract:
Helen Cirese was one of the leading women jurists in Illinois. The collection includes nominating petitions, campaign letters, election handbills, certificates of election, a high school literary magazine, student records correspondence, an Inter-American Commission of Women bulletin, Illinois Bar journals, photographs, newspaper clippings, speech texts, minutes to meetings of a local bar association, and conference and convention programs.

Preferred Citation

Helen Cirese papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago

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Biographical Sketch

Helen Cirese was one of the leading women jurists in Illinois. In addition to her practice, which included both civil and criminal law, she served from 1946 to 1961 as a Justice of the Peace in Oak Park, Illinois. She was also active in various legal associations. Miss Cirese entered the legal profession at a time when few women were lawyers, and throughout her career, was aware of her role as a woman. She broke down barriers to women by holding a number of important offices and worked for the advancement of other women. She served on committees that investigated the status and legal rights of women, including one which resulted in an amendment to the state constitution granting women the right to serve on juries.

Helen Mathilde Cirese was born on December 1, 1899, to an Italian Immigrant family in Marion, Indiana. While she was a child, the family moved to 533 N. Cuyler Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois. She graduated from Oak Park/River Forest High School. She enrolled in the legal curriculum at DePaul University in Chicago. While there, she served as an associate editor of the DePaul Minerval, was vice president of her class, and gave the salutatory address at her graduation in 1920. Passing the bar exam in February, 1921, Helen Cirese became the youngest woman ever to do so in Illinois.

In March, 1921, Miss Cirese opened her own law office, and shortly thereafter, joined the partnership of Bonelli, Quilici, and Cirese. Although the majority of her cases dealt with civil law, she established a reputation as a criminal lawyer, after successfully defending a woman accused of murder in 1926. In the late 1920s she participated in a legal divorce clinic which pioneered in recommending marital counseling for broken marriages. In 1930 she joined her brother Charles in a partnership (Cirese and Cirese), and in 1943 her brother Eugene joined the firm.

Miss Cirese first ran for public office in 1925, but was defeated. In 1945 she ran again and was elected Justice of the Peace and Police Magistrate in Oak Park, one of few women to hold both positions at that time. In a series of hotly contested village elections she joined various local parties and was re-elected in 1949, 1953, and 1957. In 1960 the Illinois judicial system was revised and preliminary steps were taken to eliminate the post of Justice of Peace. Miss Cirese lost her bid for re-election in 1961, under the new system.

Miss Cirese became active in legal organizations early in her career. By 1930 she was elected president of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois, after having held other offices in that organization. In the 1930s she became the first woman to chair committees for the Chicago Bar Association, chairing the Committee on Defense of Poor Prisoners in 1935 and the Criminal Law Committee in 1937. In 1934 she was elected recording secretary of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), a position she held again in 1936-1937. The following year she was elected 1st Vice President, and served as its President, in 1939-1940. She continued active involvement in the NAWL, editing the journal in 1942 and serving as its representative at the American Bar Association's Council of Delegates in 1944-1945. In 1949 she was elected president of the West Suburban Bar Association (WSB), its first woman president. Her other legal affiliations include the Illinois, Chicago, American and Inter-American Bar Associations, the Justinian Society of Advocates, and Kappa Beta Pi Legal sorority.

Although active in legal organizations, Miss Cirese also participated in a number of non-legal associations. During World War II she participated in a speakers bureau, joined the Citizens Defense Corps and coordinated fund raising drives. At the same time she managed to serve as president of the West Area Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW) during the period of 1942-1944. She also belonged to the Pilot Club, Illinois Club of Catholic Women, and various athletic clubs. Her interest in immigrants led to participation in the Immigrants Protective League, Italian Committee and her appointment as co-chair of the "Italian division of Nationalistic groups under the National Campaign Committee of the Democratic Party". Helen Cirese died on October 10, 1983.

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Scope and Contents

The collection includes nominating petitions, campaign letters, election handbills, certificates of election, a high school literary magazine, student records correspondence, an Inter-American Commission of Women bulletin, Illinois Bar journals, photographs, newspaper clippings, speech texts, minutes to meetings of a local bar association, and conference and convention programs. The collection also contains membership lists, articles of incorporation and by-laws, and the journal of the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Her papers have been arranged in three series: I. The personal papers of Helen Cirese; II. Papers relating to organizations to which she belonged, and III. Printed matter. The original folder titles were retained although new folders, indicated by an asterisk, were established by cataloger from loosely filed papers. Within each series the folders are arranged in alphabetical order and chronologically, thereunder. The bound letter files were removed from their original folders, but the internal order was maintained. Three scrapbooks which contained loosely filed papers relating to a variety of subjects were dismantled, but the contents were kept in the order in which they were found. Additional papers related to NAWL may be found in the A. Zola Groves Papers.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives 2006-07-07

801 S. Morgan Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60607
312.996.2742

Revision Description

  07/16/2010

Restrictions on Access

None

Restrictions on Use

None

Acquisition Information

The papers, comprising 4.50 linear ft. + 1 oversize item (accession #75-76), were donated by Helen Cirese on August 11, 1975.

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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Cirese, Helen, 1899-1983 -- Archives

Subject(s)

  • Chicago Political and Civic Life.
  • Midwest Women's History.
  • Women lawyers -- Illinois -- Biography.

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Collection Inventory

Series I: Personal Papers 

Box Folder

Biographical Information, 1949-1951 

1 1

Correspondence: Federal Judgeship, 1950-1952 

1 2

Correspondence: Miscellaneous, 1942-1963 

1 3

Depaul Reunions, 1921-1965 

1 4

Depaul Student, 1919-1922 

1 5

Elections To Justice Of The Peace In Oak Park, Ill., 1945-1965, 1945-1961 

1 6

Memorabilia And Personal Correspondence, 1921-1960 

1 7

Miscellany, 1919-1964 

1 8

Newspaper Clippings about Helen Cirese, 1921-1961 

1 9

Newspaper Clippings about Judgeships, 1950-1952 

2 10

Newspaper Clippings, Miscellany, 1940-1968 

2 11

Photographs, 1945-1964 

2 12

Practice, 1925-1945 

2 13

Scrapbook, 1918-1956 

2 14

Scrapbook, 1920-1965 

2 15

Scrapbook, 1936-1959 

2 16

Speeches and Research, 1938-1974 

3 17

The "Tabula", Oak Park High School, 1915 

3 18

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Series II: Organizations 

Box Folder

American Bar Association, 1939-1963 

3 19

Bound Correspondence: BPW, 1938-1942 

3 20

Bound Correspondence: Convention, 1940 

3 21

Bound Correspondence: Convention, 1940 

3 22

Bound Correspondence: Convention, 1940 

3 23

Bound Correspondence: Georgia Association Of Women Lawyers, 1940 

4 24

Bound Correspondence: Journal, 1942 

4 25

Bound Correspondence: Journal, 1942 

4 26

Bound Correspondence: Logan-Water Bill on Administrative Law, 1939-1941 

4 27

Bound Correspondence: Miscellaneous, 1940 

4 28

Bound Correspondence: Miscellaneous, 1940 

5 29

Bound Correspondence: Miscellaneous, 1940 

5 30

Bound Correspondence: Miscellaneous, 1941 

5 31

Bound Correspondence: Proposed Committee Lists, Committee Data, 1939 

5 32

Bound Correspondence: Refused, 1941 

5 33

Business and Professional Women's Club, West Area, 1935-1944 

6 34

Business and Professional Women's Club, West Area, 1945-1967 

6 35

Chicago Bar Association, 1939-1960 

6 36

Illinois Women's Conference on Legislation, 1944-1945 

6 37

Immigrants Protective League, 1944-1960 

6 38

Inter-American Bar Association, 1944-1960 

6 39

Inter-American Commission of Women Information Bulletin #4, 1942 

6 40

Kappa Beta Pi, Legal Sorority, 1930-1972 

6 41

Nawl: and American Bar Association, 1937-1959 

6 42

Nawl: Articles of Incorporation, Constitution And By-Laws, 1944-1962 

6 43

Nawl: Committees, 1944-1960 

6 44

Nawl: Conferences and Conventions, 1940-1966 

7 45

Nawl: Foundation, 1954-1959 

7 46

Nawl: Membership, 1936-1963 

7 47

Nawl: Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1941-1967 

7 48

Nawl: Uniform Divorce, undated 

7 49

National Woman's Party, 1941-1950 

7 50

Organizations and Conferences, 1945-1951 

7 51

West Suburban Bar Association: Correspondence of Board of Governors, 1922-1950 

7 52

West Suburban Bar Association: Correspondence about Committees, 1949-1950 

7 53

West Suburban Bar Association: Form Letters to Members, 1945-1960 

8 54

West Suburban Bar Association: Minutes, 1948-1950 

8 55

West Suburban Bar Association: Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1941-1967 

8 56

West Suburban Bar Association: Miscellany, 1948-1960 

8 57

West Suburban Bar Association: Presidency, 1949 

8 58

Women's Bar Association of Illinois, 1930-1960 

8 59

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Series III: Printed Matter 

Box Folder

Artistry, Oak Park, Ill. Cultural Magazine, 1940 

8 60

The Flame, Journal Of Working Girls' Sorority, 1951 

8 61

Illinois Bar Journal, 1933-1949 

8 62

Nawl Journal, 1934-1939 

8 63

Nawl Journal, 1940-1945 

8 64

Nawl Journal, 1946-1948 

9 65

Nawl Journal, 1950-Fall 1953 

9 66

Nawl Journal, 1954-1955 

9 67

Nawl Journal, 1956-1958 

9 68

Nawl Journal, 1961-1970 

9 68

Nawl Journal, 1959-1962 

9 69

Nawl Journal, 1963-1965 

9 70

Nawl Journal, 1966-1970 

10 71

. Viewpoints, Oak Park, Ill. Women's Magazine, 1924 

10 72

Who's Who Among Women Lawyers, 1939 

10 73

Women Jurors And Jury Service In Illinois, 1940 

10 74
Oversize

Photograph, undated 

Folder 75

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