Continuity, Collaboration and Commitment: Celebrating at 125




By Judy Carmack Bross




Guests on the way to the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s first benefit, an art show at Bertha and Potter Palmer’s home in 1902


On September 22 the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital will celebrate its 125th anniversary by “Lighting the Way” at the Casino by featuring eclectic (and electric) performers, tripping the light fantastic to a stellar Motown band, and serving luminous cocktails. 


Key to planning this celebration of past innovation, past and current dedication to its mission, and future initiatives has been the event committee composed of board members of all ages. And the theme designed by the committee—“Lighting the Way”—is a nod to the board’s first fundraising efforts to bring electricity to all of Passavant Hospital in 1906—a year when a single event “The Streets of Paris” packed the gigantic old Chicago Coliseum. Funds raised at the 1906 event also retired the hospital’s debt, equipped two operating rooms, and provided free beds for all patients.


Board President Sarah Schrup, Circuit Executive for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, told us more.


Board President Sarah Schrup


“It is such an honor to be leading the board as we celebrate this significant milestone. The words that spring to mind when I think about our 125th anniversary are continuity, collaboration, and commitment. This is a board that perseveres and is one whose members often serve for their entire adult lives. As a multi-generational board, we pass along our collective wisdom to our newer members who then take up the mantle of our important work. For this event and our upcoming Spring 2024 event, for example, the committee consists of a few seasoned board members who act as consultants and springboards for the four or five younger members. In this way we maintain our traditions while infusing each event with energy and new perspectives, all the while building the lifelong friendships that are the backbone of our continued success.”


Members of the Lighting the Way Committee are: Lindsay Amborski, Tyler Arnfelt, Charlotte Cleveland, Katie Hale, Hopie Hambleton, Cassie Hutton, and Sarah Potter.


Seated:  Emily Krall and Emily Sturgess. Standing:  Annie Hudson, Bridget Tulley, Tyler Neal Arnfelt and Lindsay Amborski (Not pictured: “Lighting the Way’s” Charlotte Cleveland, Hopie Hambleton and Cassie Hutton)


At the heart of the celebration is a recognition that the core of the board’s longstanding approach to fundraising, both strategic and creative since 1897, is as relevant and vital today as it was 125 years ago. In 1906 the board brought electricity to the hospital; today the board funds comprehensive reproductive care across a woman’s lifetime.


“The Woman’s Board holds a simple but important mission—to support the hospital in accomplishing critical initiatives that better patient care. We work closely with hospital decision makers to identify the most important projects, our board selects one or more of them, and then we formulate a multi-year strategy to provide the needed funds,” Schrup said. “Except for the few notable projects that we fund every year, such as the Women’s HIV Clinic and the Eleanor Wood-Prince grants, our fundraising is dedicated to fulfilling the current pledge. In June 2022 we were thrilled to be able to answer the call by prioritizing women’s reproductive health with a multi-year pledge that endows a fellowship in complex family planning, expands access to infertility treatments, and supports women in the later years of their reproductive lives. This pledge is not only timely, but important.”  


Charlotte Cleveland, one of the board’s newer members leading the celebration, told us:

“I am particularly drawn to the Woman’s Board’s history of supporting leading-edge research and care, especially in areas of health that historically have had less funding. HIV care and women’s health have been the focus of both my academic and professional pursuits. I recently shifted course in my professional life, and joining the Woman’s Board has, among many things, helped me fill the gap and reconnected me to these causes that are close to my heart.


“I grew up watching the incredible work and impact of the Woman’s Board and am grateful for the opportunity to follow in my mother Gabriela Cleveland’s footsteps by joining the board. My mom has been a huge influence in my passion for volunteerism; from an early age, she taught me the importance of giving back to my community.


“One of the best parts of being on the Woman’s Board has been being surrounded by other philanthropically inclined women. I have found mentors and forged life-long friendships with others on the board.”


Two women at the Streets of Paris benefit, 1906


From the very first benefit at the Lake Shore drive home of Bertha and Potter Palmer in 1902, the seven members called upon by The Reverend William Passavant to found the board as the Woman’s Aid Society of Passavant Hospital left a legacy of remarkable fundraising to meet critical hospital needs. The “Streets of Paris” sale at the Chicago Coliseum attracted lines of shoppers stretching around the block of that huge building, riotous at times, as they scrambled to buy boutique items that board members had brought back from Paris. Theater openings, the Ice Capades, horse shows, children’s fashion parades, galas, gift shops, a soda fountain, annual appeals, and more are nestled in the board’s portfolio of events designed to raise funds for the hospital’s needs. The fruits of these efforts include the Emergency pavilion, the Outpatient and MRI centers, a floor for women’s cancer care in Prentice Hospital, and a bus to ferry hospital patients. These initiatives were always accompanied by scholarships, awards to those who provide compassionate care to patients, and research grants across medical disciplines to round out this long list of philanthropy. 


Colleen Moore Hargrave


Building connections has always been key to the board’s success. No one could have exemplified this more than Colleen Moore Hargrave, once voted the most popular silent screen star. She had moved to Chicago when she married Board of Trade President Homer Hargrave and often attracted movie stars to the hospital to draw attention to the Board projects. She founded the Passavant Cotillion in 1949.


Movie legend Joan Crawford visits Passavant Hospital


Passavant Cotillion


Judy Hargrave Coleman, daughter of Colleen Moore, at the first Passavant Cotillion


From its earliest days, board members were not only incredible fundraisers and weekly hospital volunteers, they were activists as well, restricting smoking in the hospital for health reasons, lobbying City Hall for street lamps so that visitors could more safely come and go, and—in the mid-1990s—pledging $800,000 to found a program for women and children suffering from HIV, the first major organization to make such a commitment, and one that continues to this day.


Carola Mandel models a nurse’s uniform designed by Mainbocher, left


Woman’s Board members through the decades have represented diverse careers. Notably, American’s most prize-winning skeet shooter, the glamorous Carola Mandel, convinced the designer Mainbocher to create a nurse’s uniform for the hospital.


The 125th anniversary relies upon its newer members to lead celebration planning, and several of these members recently shared how and why they find time to volunteer.


Hope Hambleton, whose mother and sister are also Woman’s Board members, told us: “Volunteering for this celebration has been a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the history of the Woman’s Board and to make new friends. I’ve had a lot of fun going through the Woman’s Board’s archives with Katie Hale and Charlotte Cleveland for the 125th anniversary video that will play throughout the night of celebration, highlighting all those years of achievement.”


Cassie Hutton explained:

“Balancing time between the Woman’s Board and commitments of work in marketing at McDonald’s has been and continues to be a struggle. But I think some of the most rewarding and memorable moments were volunteering for the Women’s HIV Holiday Clinic party. Meeting the women and families in the clinic and being able to celebrate the holidays with the young kids was always extremely rewarding. Highlights always included the visit from Santa, Docapella [an a capella group comprised of doctors], face painting and balloon animals…this event always kicked off the holiday season of giving for me. Everyone had fun! 

“For the 125th party, I’ve loved learning about the Board’s historical contributions to the hospital and those that have extended to the hospital prominence in Chicago. I am very proud that my mother-in-law Dana Litell was a board member and a debutante in the 1968 Cotillion.  It is an honor to share her photo.”


Dana Litell at the 1968 Passavant Cotillion


Woman’s Board leaders at a 2022 fundraising event


We asked Lindsay Amborski, a Managing Director in Northern Trust’s Global Family and Investment Offices, how best to balance career, family, and volunteerism. “It is a juggling act for sure! I want to play a small role in enriching the programs that Northwestern offers in our community. The Woman’s Board has long been a pioneer organization in Chicago. Through this celebration we are honoring that legacy. It was fascinating to learn that the Woman’s Board first brought electricity to the hospital through its fundraising efforts in 1906.”


“Both my parents were always focused on ensuring their volunteer efforts supported those in need in our community. The time is always right to find an opportunity to volunteer for something you are passionate about.”


For further information about the 125th celebration, visit: