The Illinois State Society of Washington, DC, was founded in 1854 to foster and encourage social, friendly, and fraternal spirit among the Illinoisans of the National Capitol Area and to serve, in a non-political way, the best interests of the Nation, the State of Illinois, and the membership of the Society. In 1999, the Society’s Board of Directors adopted a new mission: The Illinois State Society of Washington, DC is a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to promoting the history, culture, science, technology, commerce, and social traditions of Illinois.
The Society was first known as the Illinois Democratic Club of Washington, DC. During Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, it became the Illinois Republican Club, and its name continued to change whenever a new political party came into power. Then, in the 1890s, it became permanently known as the Illinois State Society of Washington, DC. The Society was incorporated as a non-profit organization in the District of Columbia in 1954 and is a founding member of the National Conference of State Societies. The Society continues to grow and has had as many as 3,500 members in recent years. It is considered to be the oldest state society.
Many prominent political figures have belonged to and served as officers of the Society, among them members of the United States Congress and State and local officials. Abraham Lincoln was reportedly a member. Other recent Members of Congress who have served as Presidents, Congressional Vice Presidents, or other officers of the Society include: The Hon. Ray LaHood (current Secretary of Transportation); The Hon. J. Dennis Hastert (former Speaker of the US House of Representatives); The Hon. Judy Biggert; The Hon. John Block (former Secretary of Agriculture); The Hon. Cardiss Collins; The Hon. Thomas Corcoran; The Hon. Jerry Costello; The Hon. Danny Davis; The Hon. Lane Evans; The Hon. Thomas Ewing; The Hon. Harris Fawell; The Hon. Donald Manzullo; The Hon. Lynn Martin; The Hon. David Phelps; The Hon. John Porter; The Hon. Glenn Poshard; The Hon. Aaron Schock; The Hon. John Shimkus; The Hon. Jerry Weller; and others.
The Illinois State Society Intern Scholarship Program was initiated in 2002 by past Society Presidents Jeanne G. Jacob and P. Scott Shearer. Formally approved by the ISS Board, the Program’s goal was to assist students from Illinois in off-setting the cost of a summer internship in the offices of the Illinois Delegation on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Society believes that this opportunity should not just be for the wealthy.
ISS Intern Scholarships are awarded based on academic record, recommendations from the Members of Congress or senior Congressional staff, personal statements, extracurricular activities, and financial need. In current years, the Society has granted approximately $20,000 per year in scholarships. Three awards were granted in the initial program year (2002); five in 2003; 15 in 2004; 16 each year in 2005, 2006, and 2007; 20 in 2008; 27 in 2009; 32 in 2010; 30 in 2011; 36 in 2012; 38 in 2013; and 30 in 2014. Current chair of the Intern Scholarship Committee is past ISS President, Nancy Krakover.
To raise money for the Intern Scholarship Program, the Society holds Presidential Inaugural Galas every four years. The first Illinois State Society Inaugural Reception took place in 1969. The event, honoring the late Sen. Everett M. Dirksen, was held at the Gramarcy Inn before an overflowing crowd. Mrs. Dirksen was later honored, and the proceeds given to the Dirksen Library in Pekin, Illinois. The 1973 and 1977 Inaugural Receptions were held at the Capitol Hilton, then known as the Statler Hotel, and subsequent receptions were held at the International Club in 1981 (under the Presidency of Nancy Krakover) and the National Press Club in 1985 (under Presidency of Mary Fran Coffey).
In 1989, under the direction of ISS President Jeanne Jacob and Treasurer Peter Andriole, the Society’s Board decided to expand its efforts and began holding Inaugural Balls that were officially sanctioned by the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC). These balls were held at the Grand Hyatt Washington in 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, and 2005 with up to 3500 in attendance. In 2009, the Gala was moved to the Renaissance Hotel to accommodate more attendees as the Society honored the fourth US President to come from Illinois, The Hon. Barack Obama, and more than 7,000 were in attendance to celebrate both the President and Illinois. In 2013, the Inaugural Gala again was held at the Renaissance Hotel with approximately 2,200 attending.
Another major Society event was held in January of 1999 at the Library of Congress to honor The Hon. J. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Hastert, a past two-term ISS President, was the third Illinoisan to hold the leadership position of Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
In September 2000, through the research of Board Member Rod Ross and the design of Board Member Janice Sterling, the Society produced an Illinois Heritage Map depicting all of the Illinois historical sites in Washington, DC. Maps are free of charge and available individually, in bulk, or may be obtained in all of the Illinois Congressional offices.
In 2013, under the Presidency of Stuart B. Piper, the Society published Land of Lincoln, Thy Wondrous Story – Through the Eyes of the Illinois Society, written by past ISS President, The Hon. Mark Q. Rhoads. Rhoads, a former Illinois State Senator, also served as president of NCSS (the National Conference of State Societies). The book is available through Jameson Books, Ottawa, Illinois.
Major events are sponsored each year by the Illinois State Society. All activities of the Society are organized and conducted by its volunteer members. Most recent events include the following:
• Congressional Intern Scholarship Reception (Summer)
• Congressional Office Softball Tournament (Summer)
• Chicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals Game (October-April)
• Tour of Illinois sites at Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield (October)
• Chicago Bears Watch Parties (Fall)
• Embassy Receptions (Fall/Winter/Spring)
• Illinois Statehood Day Celebration (December)
• Holiday Concert (December)
• Black History Month Seminars (February)
• Wreath Laying Honoring Illinois Presidents and Leaders (February/April/May)
• Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards Game (November-April)
• Congressional Reception (Fall/Winter)
• St. Patrick’s Day Celebration (March)
• Abraham Lincoln Institute Symposium (March)
• Cherry Blossom Princess Reception (April)
• ISS Annual Meeting (May)
• Memorials Day Celebrations Honoring Founder of Memorial Day, Illinois Civil War General John A. “Black Jack” Logan. Held at Logan Circle and Mausoleum (May)
• Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals Games (Summer)
• Chicago White Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles Games (Summer)
• Boat Cruise on the Potomac (Summer)
• Reception for New Members of Congress (January every two years)
• Illinois Inaugural Heartland Ball (January – every four years)
Membership in the Illinois State Society is open to anyone who has lived in or has an interest in Illinois. Click here to join today!