Florence (Stevens) Kaywood was born on October 8, 1864 to William and Sarah (Shields) Stevens in Bloomington. She was the second of five children born to the couple. Kaywood’s parents were both immigrants to the United States; her father having been born in England and her mother in Ireland. Her parents may have been drawn to settle in Bloomington by her mother’s brother, Robert Shields, who was living in Old Town Township in eastern McLean County after emigrating from Scotland. Regardless of whether this is the case, the family seems to have been quite close, as Kaywood occasionally left town to visit them for a few days or more during her young adulthood. Kaywood’s immediate family settled at 113 E. South Grove Street, where she lived until 1886 when she began teaching school.

Kaywood attended Bloomington public schools and appeared to have been a good student. She and her siblings attended the Fourth Ward School (later renamed Emerson School), which was located at the corner of Taylor and Evans streets. In May 1879, she was commended for never having been absent or tardy during that school year. However, it is not known if she graduated from high school or attended classes at Illinois State University before becoming a teacher.

Kaywood appears to have taught school for just one year, as a teacher in District No. 3 in Old Town Township in 1886. An interesting incident happened to her while she taught at the school. On May 7, 1886, while Kaywood was walking along Main Street in downtown Bloomington, she lost one of her paychecks, along with several other letters. She was only able to have it returned thanks to Phil Ryan, who ran a hardware store on North Main Street. A suspicious man attempted to use the check to make a small purchase at Ryan’s store, so that the man could get the remainder of the value of the $30 check as change for the purchase. Given the high value of the check ($30 is approximately $800 in 2019 dollars), Ryan became suspicious and took the check to the police headquarters. He explained the incident to the police, and in the company of an officer, returned to his hardware store where the man had fled, “fully confirming the suspicions” of Ryan that the man was acting dishonestly. The police returned to check to Kaywood the next morning.

That same year, on July 13, 1886, Florence married Harris F. Kaywood. Harris (or Harry as he was sometimes referred to) was born in May 1851. Not much is known about Harris before 1885, when he was living in Lafayette, Indiana and working for the Lake Erie and Western Railroad (L. E. & W.) as a brakeman.

Florence and Harris briefly lived in Bloomington, staying at least through 1887. The pair then appear to have moved briefly to Michigan, and then back again to Lafayette, Indiana, where Harris resumed working for the L. E. & W. Railroad. The couple had four children during their marriage: Edward, Edith, Marie, and another son who died at the age of five. The marriage, however, seems to have been an unhappy one.

By 1899, Florence had left the couple’s home in Leoni, Michigan and was again living in Bloomington, without Harris. According to the 1900 census, Harris and Florence both listed their marital status as divorced (though she was listed as a widow in the Bloomington-Normal City Directories and in her obituary). Florence retained custody of the couple’s children, and seems to have made a living by running a boarding house at her home at 406 W. Olive Street for a number of years.

After her return to Bloomington, Kaywood became involved in the community, particularly through faith-based organizations. She joined the local Bethlehem Rebekah Lodge No. 32. The Rebekah Lodge was the women’s branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF). The Rebekah Degree, initially known as the Daughters of Rebekah, was created in 1851, and made the IOOF the first fraternal organization in the United States to accept men and women. The name comes from the Biblical Rebekah, who is used as a model of behavior for the Rebekah Degree. The group encourages its members to be active in civic life and do charitable work in their community, while also aiming to help members expand their social circle and live a fulfilling life. Kaywood was a very active member of the Lodge. She frequently hosted meetings of the Ladies Sewing Society of the Lodge at her home, first on Olive Street, then at her home at 203 W. Clay Street, and later at 203 W. Oakland Avenue.

Kaywood also held several offices during her time as a Rebekah. In 1917, Florence was elected chairman of the calendar committee of the Lodge’s sewing circle at the annual picnic. In 1918, Kaywood was installed as the Lodge’s room warden, which likely entailed her assisting the lodge’s warden in managing lodge regalia and room property before, during, and after meetings of the Rebekah Lodge. The following year, she was appointed Left Support to the Noble Grand, which required her to greet members entering meetings and confirm they were wearing proper regalia and giving proper signs. She also served on the entertainment committee that year too. In addition to being a regular officer, Kaywood frequently held one of the “installing officer” positions, who ran the meetings at which the previous officers’ terms were ended and the new officers were installed.

Kaywood remained prominently involved with the Rebekah Lodge up until just a few years before her death. In 1920, she was appointed Right Support to the Noble Grand, a position in which she was to “support the [Noble Grand] in keeping order, execute commands, open and close the lodge in due form, see that signs are given correctly and occupy chair of the [Noble Grand] when vacant temporarily during lodge hours.” Later that year, she was elected treasurer of the Lodge, a position she held until 1924, when it appears that she was no longer an active member of the Rebekah Lodge.

Kaywood seems to have been relatively comfortable financially after arriving back in Bloomington. Though she was listed as a boarding house keeper in the 1899 City Directory and the 1900 United States Federal Census, from 1902 until 1911, no occupation was listed for her in city directories (the 1910 census, however, does list her occupation as “laundress”).

She definitely reentered the workforce on May 2, 1910, when she was confirmed by Bloomington’s City Council as police matron after being submitted to them for approval along with a host of other appointments by then-mayor Richard Carlock. The position had been mandated for all cities in Illinois with a population of over 16,000 by a new state law in 1897. Bloomington was hesitant to appoint one, insisting the city did not arrest enough women to justify the expense of a police matron, but did concede to find a volunteer to fulfill the duties of a police matron in 1898.

Pantagraph article published at the time the City of Bloomington was looking to hire an official police matron stated that an applicant should be, “a woman of at least thirty-five years, of good moral character and have been resident of the city of Bloomington at least one year before the date of her appointment and shall have reasonable experience in nursing and caring for the sick and distressed.” As police matron, Kaywood would have been required to work on-call for the police department, assisting them when women and children who had been arrested by the police or were held at the jail. Generally, the women Kaywood would have had to assist with were arrested for “drunkenness, fighting, adultery, stealing, street walking, etc…” She would search the detainees, clothe them if necessary, stay with them overnight in the jail, and provide basic first aid if they were ill.

The work of a police matron was distinct from that of a policeman or policewoman. While some policewomen were assigned duties that would go to police matrons in other municipalities, in general policewomen were given actual police powers and assigned to patrol public recreational areas, assist in finding missing persons, and provide information to women contacting the police.

Kaywood was confirmed as police matron in May 1910, and was re-appointed to the position every year until her death in 1928. Bloomington police did not arrest women frequently during this period of time. Because of that, the city decided it was more appropriate to pay her only for each night she worked, rather than a flat monthly wage. Initially her pay was $2.50 a night (about $67.00 in 2019), then later $3.00 (about $44.00 in 2019) after a raise in June 1919, followed by a final raise to $4.00 (about $59.00 in 2019) shortly afterwards in August 1919.

Kaywood provided notable assistance to the police department when she was called in for duty, above and beyond what was regularly expected of her position. One such instance was on October 11, 1919, when she was called up by the police to assist with caring for a repeat offender, Jessie Schultz. Schultz was arrested the previous week and publicly swore it would never happen again. When she was arrested again the following week for being “disorderly,” she became despondent and attempted to commit suicide by hanging herself in her jail cell. Kaywood was the one who spotted what Schultz was doing, and rushed to get Acting Police Captain George Hursey, who opened the cell and prevented Schultz from committing suicide. In another notable incident, Ray Phillips was arrested for “criminal relations” (adultery) with a young woman, Mary Jones, whom he had found on the streets and forced to live with him. Kaywood helped Jones find a job and a new place to live after Phillips was arrested.

The job of police matron was also closely associated with Christian missionary work and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Bloomington’s chapter of the WCTU played a key role in convincing the city government to appoint a volunteer police matron in 1898, emphasizing how “a Christian woman could do much good work to rescue and reform among their fallen sisters.” The Pantagraph article that announced in 1909 that the city was looking for a new police matron specifically mentioned the opportunities the job offered for “Christian work,” and a testimonial from the retiring volunteer police matron, Miss Mary Watson, stated that the office of the police matron was, “an opportunity for a Christian woman who has plenty of courage to stand by her convictions, to life these women up and point out to them the better way of living.” Spreading the position of police matron to new localities was part of the WCTU’s activities at the time.

The WCTU quickly spread to Bloomington with a local chapter being established in the city by January 1879, which still exists today. Starting in 1894, Bloomington also played host to the Illinois headquarters of the WCTU for a number of years. Kaywood herself was a member of the WCTU in Bloomington, though whether or not she was a member prior to beginning her work as a police matron is unclear. Kaywood’s work as a police matron made her the perfect candidate to give talks at WCTU meetings on the penal system, which the WCTU was interested in reforming to better rehabilitate those women in it. Kaywood spoke on the penal system at least twice at WCTU meetings in Bloomington, once in 1915 and then again in 1916. Kaywood was evidently a well-respected member of the WCTU, as she was elected second vice president of Bloomington’s chapter in 1921. She was also involved in the Bloomington WCTU’s membership drive in 1923, when the group tried to build off its then recent victory with the ratification of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) and rally support for the cause of Temperance.

Kaywood was clearly a devout Christian, and was active within the First Baptist Church located at 401 E. Jefferson Street. In particular, she was a member of the church’s Woman’s Union, and was among several hostesses of the social hour of two meetings; one in 1915 and one in 1917.

Outside of her activity with the Woman’s Union of the First Baptist Church, Kaywood also assisted with cottage prayer meetings in 1919, and was one of several women who opened up their homes for participants to meet and pray in. She also became involved in the work of the Interchurch World Movement, a short-lived organization formed in 1919 that aimed to coordinate the missionary and civic work of various Protestant denominations for greater efficiency and communal benefit. Kaywood was one of ten “visitors” assigned to her precinct in Bloomington for the Interchurch World Movement’s national survey, which aimed at assessing local churches’ involvement in and ability to fund everything from missionary work, to educational programs, to hospitals and retirement homes.

Kaywood’s health began to fail towards the end of her life, leading her to draw back from her involvements in Bloomington. In 1927, she even attempted to resign as police matron, but city authorities deferred action on her resignation with the hope that her health would recover.

She may have turned to a patent medicine called Pepgen, with the hope of improving her health. In March 1924 Kaywood provided testimonial for the drug in the Pantagraph, claiming it cured her indigestion and high blood pressure. Pepgen was developed by W.R. Cooper, who found great success in marketing the drug, selling over 1,000,000 bottles within a few months of distribution. Pepgen arrived in Bloomington for sale in October 1923, and was accompanied by a significant advertising campaign in the Pantagraph. The drug was advertised to assist with lowered appetite, energy, and stomach pains especially, but also was claimed by testimonials to have cured headaches, arthritis, and high blood pressure. Interestingly, given Kaywood’s WCTU membership and her endorsement of the drug, the packaging plainly stated it contained 12 percent alcohol. This may help explain the drug’s general popularity, as it was marketed during the Prohibition era; but it also may speak to just how poor Kaywood’s health was becoming that she was willing to go back on her commitment to abstain from alcohol.

Whatever the real or imagined effects of Pepgen, it was not a complete wonder drug. Kaywood was eventually admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bloomington for a “minor operation” to be performed on February 2, 1928. While recovering, it seems her health took a sudden turn for the worse, and she died while still at St. Joseph’s on February 15, 1928, at the age of 63.

Florence Kaywood was buried the next day, with services conducted by Rev. Charles Durden, of First Baptist Church. The Bethlehem Rebekah Lodge aided in performing the service, and her funeral was well attended by many who knew her from her work as police matron, or her volunteer work in organizations around the city. Her children, who had moved out of town, also attended the service, as well as several other friends of Kaywood’s. This large showing of friends, family, and the community was a true testament of the impact of her service to Bloomington-Normal, as well as her genuine love for her children and friends across the organizations she was involved with.

Florence Kaywood
How to cite this page
Janicki, Logan. “Kaywood, Florence Stevens.” McLean County Museum of History, 2019, mchistory.org/research/biographies/kaywood-florence-stevens. Accessed 19 May. 2024.
Janicki, L. (2019). Kaywood, Florence Stevens. McLean County Museum of History, https://mchistory.org/research/biographies/kaywood-florence-stevens
Janicki, Logan. “Kaywood, Florence Stevens.” McLean County Museum of History. 2019. Retrieved from https://mchistory.org/research/biographies/kaywood-florence-stevens