By SAMANTHA SMYLIE and
After the dissolution of its national organization in 2016 and the inactivity of its state organization, the Hyde Park Older Women’s League (OWL) ended its 30-year run supporting and advocating for women over the age of 40, concluding the meeting with carrot cake, ice cream and champagne.
The Hyde Park chapter of OWL ended after being unable to find new leadership after the end of the last officers’ terms. Margaret Huyck, a past president of all three OWL groups, chalked their demise to the steady retreat of social clubs in contemporary American society.
To send the organization off, the women of OWL — alongside a few men — gathered on a warm Saturday afternoon, June 29, to share memories of friendships, fun times and hopes for the future over food at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.
During the afternoon, there was an open mic section for members of the group to share their stories. A few politicians, like Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and former House Majority Leader and State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25th), spoke about the group’s importance to the community.
“The spotlight that the Older Women’s League put on issues that mattered to women around and above the age of 45 was critical,” Currie said. “I will miss OWL. I will miss the Hyde Park Chapter. But, I know that under Margaret’s leadership and under the work that we have all done, that we are not going to stray from the path that we’ve set. We know what the solutions are and it is up to us, with or without this organization, to see to it that we hold politician’s feet to the fire. We won’t go away.”
Many of the women in attendance, like outgoing president Dee Spiech, joined in their early 40s for the camaraderie it provided. Spiech joined OWL when she moved to Hyde Park at age 42 and has served in many roles over the years.
“In the beginning days, I came for fellowship because I’m a social worker and my emphasis is gerontology,” she said, adding that she will remember the “wonderful, great women and advocates” who were members alongside her and the lines of political leaders, including former President Obama, who came to address meetings. She recalled leafleting on Navy Pier to prevent the taking-away of Social Security at a time when she did not yet qualify for it.
Huyck predicted that younger women will eventually discover that the issues OWL concerned itself with have yet to be solved. “And they’re going to pick up and form an organization of their own,” she said, adding that older women’s reluctance to acknowledge their age was an impediment to OWL, ageist and “a form of denial” in itself. “If we are lucky enough, we will all become older women or older men,” she said. “But the issues are still with us,” decrying the lack of universal health care in the United States and women’s higher likelihood of becoming poor as they age.
Huyck said she hopes Hyde Park Village will take up OWL’s advocacy for social and political change “We’ve been fighting for Medicare-for-all since 1980!” when the national group was founded, she said as well as personal advocacy. “How do you speak up to your own physician; how do you take care of your own health; how do you manage your own finances and make sure you’re economically secure?” Huyck said.
Kathy Huff, who joined the group five year ago and served as a publicist, will miss the woman who made OWL a special place. “Every woman I have met at the Hyde Park OWL is extremely smart, hard-working, interesting and willing to advocate for women’s rights, civil rights, human rights,” she said. “We’ve worked together pretty well.”
Members said they believe that the Chicago Hyde Park Village will continue OWL’s work. Even though the organization is not dedicated to advocating for older women, they do share a common goal of providing care of older Hyde Parkers, with the continuing group being dedicated to helping its members remain in their homes and stay engaged as they grow older.
“I think we can do many of the things we’ve been doing within the context of the Village organization,” Huyck said. “We both share a focus on health and legal education, all the issues about being older” as well as social activities and mutual support.
Herald intern Mrinalini Pandey contributed.