Savilla Hinrichsen, sister of Secretary of State William Hinrichsen, served as the top-ranking employee at the State Library from 1894 to 1898. Her appointment is an example of the nepotism that was common in State Library employment at the turn of the 20th century.
However, Savilla’s outspoken political views sometimes strained the sibling relationship between the Hinrichsens. Born in 1854 in Alexander, Illinois, Savilla Hinrichsen was a member of a large and prominent Morgan County family. One of six children, she received her education at Springfield’s Bettie Stuart Institute, developing her literary talent and, eventually, contributing to many periodicals. 1
In 1893, William Hinrichsen was elected Secretary of State, and Savilla was subsequently appointed Assistant State Librarian. During that period, bimetallism, or the currency standard, became a contentious political issue. Many Illinois Democrats favored the free coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 to 1, including Governor John Altgeld and William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for U.S. President. Others, including Democratic U.S. Senator John M. Palmer of Illinois and President Grover Cleveland, believed that gold was stronger in value and should remain the basis for currency. The issue of bimetallism eventually drove a wedge in the Democratic Party and Palmer ran for President on the third-party Gold Democrat ticket in 1896, effectively helping to defeat Bryan. 2
Buck Hinrichsen was among the advocates of free silver at 16 to 1, but his sister took credit for giving him the idea. At a convention of librarians in Denver in September 1895, Savilla declared, “There is not the least doubt in the world that the rank and file of the people in Illinois are in favor of the free and unlimited coinage of silver. I believe I was the first one to talk with my brother on the subject, and mother gave him no peace until he became convinced that free silver was the issue.” 3
Free silver was not the only opinion she voiced. Resentment ran high among the Illinois Democrats for President Cleveland, along with a call for civil service reform among Illinois postal workers. At the heart of her concerns was an edict from the Illinois Assistant Postmaster-General that all postal clerks should live near the end of their runs. Savilla Hinrichsen believed this to be an “injustice” to the workers, and proudly declared, “I at once proceeded to knock out this order, and by working earnestly among Congressmen succeeded.” 4
Savilla Hinrichsen also declared her support for universal suffrage. “I predict that it will only be a few years until women will be given equal rights with men in that State,” she said. “I have a sister who has lived for a long time in Wyoming, where women have voted for over twenty-five years, and I do not see that she is any the less womanly on that account.” 5
Certainly, Savilla Hinrichsen was unafraid to voice her political views in an era when women were often discouraged from political participation. Her remarks caused a stir in the press, with news of her outburst reported in the Chicago Tribune and papers throughout the West. The Tribune, long a Republican outlet, mocked Buck Hinrichsen for his sister’s remarks, reporting that, “aside from his position as Secretary of State he has no political prestige left.” This was because “Miss Hinrichsen has stripped her brother of his political clothing” since “he had nothing to do with starting his party in the State upon its free silver rampage,” for which his sister claimed credit. 6
Despite this controversy, Savilla Hinrichsen remained a respected figure in Illinois librarianship. In 1896, she became the first person to hold the position of First Vice President of the newly formed Illinois Library Association. After leaving the State Library, she returned to Morgan County for a time but later came back to Springfield. 7
Following a lengthy illness, she died at her home on South Third Street on Aug. 27, 1917, at age 63. She was buried in the family plot at Diamond Grove Cemetery in Jacksonville. Outspoken and colorful, Savilla Hinrichsen was aptly described in her Jacksonville Journal Courier obituary as a “remarkable woman.” 8
- Jacksonville Journal Courier Aug. 28, 1917.
- Howlett 95-97. The 1896 elections, and the burning issue of bimetallism, is well covered by scholars of American history. For the views of John M. Palmer, see George Thomas Palmer, A Conscientious Turncoat; for Altgeld, see Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men; Illinois Governors 1818-1988; for Cleveland, see William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents.
- Chicago Daily Tribune Sept. 14, 1895; Aberdeen Daily News Sept. 30, 1895; Howlett 96-97.
- Chicago Daily Tribune Sept. 14, 1895; Aberdeen Daily News Sept. 30, 1895.
- Illinois Libraries December 1942, 283-284; Erbes 9-11; letter of Elizabeth Hardy to author.
- Jacksonville Journal Courier August 28, 1917, August 29, 1917; Illinois State Journal August 28, 1917.