Early Illinois Women

Aunt Josie Westfall (1873-1941)
McDonough County Orphanage & Macomb City Judge

First Orphanage
415 N. Madison, Macomb, Illinois

Josie & the children (ca. 1917)

In 1911, Macomb had no public facility for the care of orphaned children. Some children were housed at the County Poor Farm, but the place was really not suitable for children. Limited other private facilities were available in the community. When two orphans became the focus of the community's concern, Josie Westfall took on the task of caring for them. Within her life time, Josie would become the protector of hundreds of the community's orphans.

"Aunt Josie" Westfall was born in 1873 in Macomb, Illinois. She did not marry and worked as a dressmaker. Josie began her career as "mother" by taking just 2 children into her home in 1911. Before a single year had passed, she was providing a home for 19 children. The county board of supervisors agreed to supply $25 per month to assist Josie in the children's care.

In 1913, an Orphanage Board was appointed. The County purchased a 12-room house at 415 N. Madison Street in Macomb. An addition was soon added to the home, as the number of children grew to 67. Although the funding was increased, money was always in short supply.

In 1914, Josie ran for the position of Macomb City Judge and planned to donate her salary to the orphanage. She was elected by a large margin. Josie received a total of 839 votes to defeat her closest opponent's total of 577. Her opponent contested the race in McDonough County court on the grounds that the election was not legal. Although the Illinois Women's Suffrage Act was passed in 1913, the suit claimed the Act did not authorize ladies to vote in that judicial election. Josie's opponent had received 430 votes from men to Josie's 409 votes. The County court found in favor of Josie and women's right to vote, but the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the decision. It would be 1920 before the 19th Amendment was passed. An interesting side note is that one of the lawyers representing Josie's opponent was a woman.

Josie's goal of serving the area children continued without the funds from a judicial position. She enlisted the assistance of area organizations. The community responded with clothing, food, medical services, and Christmas presents.

During the 1920s, the existing orphanage building became inadequate and funds were collected for a new building. The community responded with money, building materials, and furnishings. One of the more unusual donations came from the Stevens family, owners of the Stevens' hotel in Chicago. They donated over 12 dozen new dishes. The children moved into the new building on East Jefferson Street in 1933.

During her career of thirty years as an orphanage matron, Josie provided guidance, food, shelter and care for over 500 children. She was not paid for her services, although she was provided with a place to live.

In 1940, an illness forced Josie to retire from her work. She died in June 1941 at the age of sixty-seven. The orphanage building was occupied by the Salvation Army and later sold as an apartment building.


  1. Macomb Heritage Days Souvenir Book. 1982.
  2. Hallwas, John E. (1990) "Women at Work", in Macomb: A Pictorial History, G. Bradley Publishing, Inc., St. Louis, MO.
  3. Jani, Shanti (ca. 1985) "Aunt Josie" reprinted in Macomb Heritage Days Souvenir Book. 1985.
  4. Nichols, Katherine. She sheltered the children: Westfall opened her heart - and her doors - to those in need. Macomb Daily Journal pp. 1E, 4E, July 28, 1996.
  5. Scott, Judge Keith F. "McDonough Bar History Described", Macomb Daily Journal, Macomb, IL. May 6, 1976.

Contributing Library:

Macomb Public Library, Macomb, Illinois

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