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There are 71 Chicago parks named in honor of women.
There are 71 Chicago parks named in honor of women.
Photo: Chicago Park District

Presentation by Rosa Escareño at the Board of Commissioners Meeting

Wednesday, March 9 | Addams Park, 1434 S. Loomis

As we just heard from Jamie and Marlenni, Girls Day of PLAY is an incredible program that encourages girls to be active by breaking down barriers that often hinder female participation in sports and other physical activities. 

The benefits of participating in our bi-annual Girls Day of PLAY and other Chicago Park District programming extend far beyond the program itself.  These experiences help instill confidence, a strong work ethic and build the foundation for healthy, active and productive lives. 

In addition, experiences like Lovely (Pontelo) and Jasline (Toledo) enjoyed in our parks, provide girls a chance to explore their interests, pursue their dreams and ultimately, make valuable contributions to their families, communities and our city. We should all be proud of the work we do to cultivate Chicago’s future women leaders.  

This month, in recognition of Women’s History Month, I would first like to honor and thank the women working for the Park District. I’m proud that the 1,017 women make up 41% of the team (63% women of color) or women workers are dedicated to public service, working at the parks making our District proud every day. As a working mom, I can relate to all of them and want to support them all!

We are also proud to honor the women who have left their mark on our city and in some cases, the entire world.  

One of the best attributes of our District is the diversity and beauty of our parks. There are 71 Chicago parks named in honor of women.  Many of these women and their achievements are well known, like world-renown, social reformer Jane Addams, whom this park is named after as well as Jane Addams Memorial Park, located at 550 W. Grand Avenue. I’d like to take this opportunity to briefly highlight a few of these great women whose story you may not know. 

Like Marian Byrnes, a teacher and community activist whose name graces the 135-acre natural area located at 2200 E. 103rd Street -- this is the largest Chicago Park named in honor of a woman. Byrnes led the fight against plans to demolish this, once unprotected area, to build a bus garage. Thanks to her efforts, this marvelous natural area, located in the Jeffrey Manor community, features five distinct ecosystems: marsh, wet prairie, prairie, savannah and woodland that serve as habitats for native plantings, birds, frogs and deer. 

Another is Harriet Elizabeth Vittum, she was a social reformer heralded as the “First Lady of the Needy”. Vittum began volunteering at the Northwestern Settlement House in 1904, providing housing and other vital resources to the poor. Later as the organization’s director, She  established nutrition clinics, educational programs and children’s summer camps.  In 1948, the Chicago Recreation Commission presented Vittum with the Distinguished Service Award "citing her as “an illustrious pioneer in the settlement... [and a] courageous practitioner of social welfare. The 13-acre park named in Vittum’s honor is located at 5010 W. 50th Street in the Garfield Ridge community and features a fieldhouse, baseball fields, basketball courts, an athletic field and a playground and offers vital programming throughout the year. 

Located at 821 W. 19th street in South Lawndale, Guadalupe Reyes Park is named in honor of the community leader and activist devoted to improving the lives of Latino residents. After one of her children developed severe disabilities caused by spinal meningitis, Reyes spent the next 50 years of her life advocating for people with disabilities. In 1969, her work led to Reyes establishing Esperanza, a school for children with developmental disabilities and in 1973, she founded El Valor, an organization that provides services to children, families, seniors, and people with disabilities, which still operates today. Reyes Park offers basketball courts, chess tables and serves as a gathering space for neighboring families. 

And finally, I would feel remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to acknowledge the two youngest park honorees. Although the opportunity to grow into womanhood and live to their fullest potential was taken away from them by senseless acts of violence, both Ryan Harris, age 11 and Hadiya Pendleton, age 15 will forever be ingrained in our memory and hearts.   
Located at 6781 S. Lowe in the Englewood community, Harris Memorial Park is a three-acre park that features a playground and open green space for patrons to enjoy a variety of activities. 

Pendleton Park, located at 4345 S. Calumet in the Grand Boulevard community, offers two acres of greenspace, a jungle gym and merry-go-round play structure, interactive water feature and contemporary sculptures. A wall at the park is inscribed with Hadiya’s own uplifting message, “Smile! It makes your brain think you’re happy.” 

In closing, it is our hope is that everyone will take an opportunity to learn more about the women honored in our parks, visit these locations and continue to celebrate their contributions to society. 

Perhaps in doing so, we will help inspire the next generation of women leaders in Chicago.  We are featuring these parks throughout the month on social media.