Irene McCoy Gaines papers




Chicago History Museum


5.0 Linear feet


Bulk, 1940-1959




Gaines, Irene M. (Irene McCoy), 1892-1964

Biographical note

Irene McCoy Gaines was a Chicago community and civil rights leader, a Republican Party activist, and an African American club woman of national standing. She was employed as a stenographer until the First World War opened opportunities to advance into full-time social work. After receiving special training from the War Camp Community Service and the Community Service of Chicago, she undertook additional training in social work in the YWCA Training School and at the University of Chicago and Loyola University. Thereafter until 1947, when she retired to devote herself to volunteer activities, Mrs. Gaines worked as a full-time social worker in a variety of positions, including service with the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare, the Juvenile Court, the Cook County Hospital, and the Veterans Bureau, and as Industrial and General Secretary of the YWCA. Mrs. Gaines also was a caseworker consultant and the Director of the Women’s Division of the Chicago Urban League.

Mrs. Gaines helped to found and served as the first president (1938-1952) of the Chicago Council of Negro Organizations, a coordinating organization comprised of approximately one hundred civic, educational, religious, labor and social organizations. Another major concern of Mrs. Gaines was the Idlewild Lot Owners Association in Idlewild, Michigan, a resort area favored by African Americans, of which she was president from 1940 to 1954. Mrs. Gaines became president of the Illinois Association of Colored Women in 1941. In 1952, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. (NACWC), at the time an organization of approximately 100,000 members in 44 states.

Scope and Contents note

Correspondence, mimeographed and printed material, certificates, posters, phonograph records of speeches, minutes of meetings and conventions, scrapbook, and other papers relating to activities of Mrs. Gaines, a leader in local, state, and national organizations of African American club women, Chicago social service organizations, and the Republican Party. Topics include the civil rights movement; her service as president of the National Association of Colored Women; Republican Party activities and Mrs. Ruth Hanna McCormick's senatorial campaign; and personal and family matters. Little in the collection relates directly to Mrs. Gaines' career as a social worker in Chicago. The collection includes few papers of Mrs. Gaines' husband, Harris B. Gaines, who was a Chicago lawyer and Illinois legislator, and of her sons, Harris B. Gaines, Jr., (known as Harry) and Charles E. Gaines. There are a few radio and play scripts relating to African American history in which her son, Harry Gaines, performed.

Processing Information note

This collection was surveyed as part of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium's Survey Initiative on 2010 May 24 by Lisa Calahan and Andrew Steadham.

Related Archival Materials note

Within this repository: Irene McCoy Gaines Photographs.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Received from Mrs. Gaines' son, Harry B. Gaines, beginning in 1969