Bartelme circa 1913
|Cook County Public Guardian|
|Appointed by||Gov. John R. Tanner|
|Cook County Juvenile Court assistant to the judge|
|Cook County Circuit Court associate justice|
|Cook County Juvenile Court presiding judge|
Mary Margaret Bartelme (July 24, 1866 – July 25, 1954) was the first woman appointed Cook County Public Guardian in Illinois, and the first women elected judge in a court of high jurisdiction in that state.
Mary Bartelme was born in Chicago, the daughter of an immigrant from Saarland, Germany Balthasar Bartelme and his wife Jeannette. She had three sisters and two brothers, and attended West Division High School. She graduated from Chicago Normal School, a teachers' college, and taught for five years ("Suitcase Mary," 4), before deciding to attend law school, at the age of 25. In 1892, she enrolled at Northwestern University School of Law, from which she graduated; she was admitted to the Illinois Bar by 1894. 
Known as a social reformer, during the Progressive Era, Mary Bartelme devoted much of her life to the reform of juvenile laws and the welfare of children. In 1897, she was named Cook County Public Guardian, the first woman in this post. ("Judge Mary Bartelme," 1) She became known throughout Illinois as a tireless advocate for children; her compassion for the girls who came before her earned her the nickname "Mother Barthelme." ("Miss Mary Bartelme," 4) She would later acquire another nickname-- "Suitcase Mary," because when she sent girls to foster homes, she always provided them with clean clothes, packed in a new suitcase. ("Suitcase Mary," 4)
Bartelme believed that there was dramatic social neglect of girls, that parents must speak frankly with their daughters about sex, and that poverty was the main cause of delinquency. In May 1912, she was named an Assistant Judge in the Juvenile Court of Cook County. ("Woman is Named," 4) Then, in March 1913 Bartelme convened a special Girls' Court, which heard cases of delinquent and dependent girls, many of them prostitutes. All personnel in this closed court were female, which was felt to encourage a more open discussion of sexual and other private matters. ("Girls Court," 1) Bartelme later established three Mary Clubs for girls who were not able to return to their parents, supported by volunteer services, as an alternative to state institutions. The first two clubs, which started in 1914 and 1916, accepted white girls; the last one, started in 1921, accepted girls of color. More than 2,000 girls passed through these group homes in a space of ten years.
In late 1923, she was elected Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and she was re-elected in 1927. ("Mary Bartelme First Judge," 1) After a distinguished career, she retired in June 1933. Prior to her official retirement, in May, more than 2000 well-wishers honored her with a luncheon, at which she was praised for her many achievements.
After she retired, Judge Bartelme moved to the west coast, residing in Carmel, California, where she lived with a niece. She occasionally returned to Chicago for a visit. ("Judge Mary Bartelme, 88, Dies," 1) In California, she continued to do speaking engagements, discussing the need to improve the juvenile justice system. She died in late July 1954, at age 88. One of her final requests was that upon her death, in lieu of flowers, donations would be made to the Mary Bartelme Clubs, which were still in operation. ("Suitcase Mary" 4)
Mary Bartelme would later be described as the single most important person in the first 25 years of the Cook County Juvenile Court, the first juvenile court established in the U.S.
In September 1957, a new Chicago elementary school that was named for her opened. It was able to accommodate more than 400 students. ("Mary Bartelme Elementary," N8) The school was located on Ridge in Rogers Park. It was torn down sometime in the 1970s to make way for a senior citizen apartment home.
Bibliography and Works Cited
Mary Bartelme's papers are housed at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where they are part of the Jane Addams Memorial Collection.
- Bartelme MM (1914). "The opportunity for women in court administration". Ann Am Acad Pol Soc Sci. 52 (1): 188–90. doi:10.1177/000271621405200123.
"Girls Court in Chicago." Albert Lea (MN) Evening Tribune, 5 March 1913, p. 1. "Judge Mary Bartelme, 88, Dies in West." Chicago Tribune, 26 July 1954, p. 1. "Mary Bartelme Elementary School to House 435." Chicago Tribune, 29 August 1957, p. N8. "Mary Barthelme First Woman Judge in Illinois Courts." Chicago Tribune, 7 November 1923, p. 1. "Miss Mary Bartelme to Serve as Judge." Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, 26 December 1912, p. 4. "Suitcase Mary, Famous Illinois Judge, Dies at 88." Corsicana (TX) Daily Sun, 26 July 1954, p. 4. "Woman is Named Juvenile Judge." Christian Science Monitor, 1 June 1912, p. 4.
- Dohrn B (2002). "The school, the child, and the court". In Roesnheim MK, Zimring FE, Tanenhaus DS, Dohrn B. A Century of Juvenile Justice. University of Chicago Press. pp. 267–309. ISBN 0-226-72783-1.
- Burton K (2002). "Mother knows best: Mary Margaret Bartelme and the Chicago juvenile reform movement" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-04-11.