When Jane Byrne was elected mayor of Chicago in April of 1979, the Windy City became the largest American city with a female mayor.
45 years earlier, she was born Jane Margaret Burke on Chicago’s north side. Her father was the vice-president of Inland Steel. Jane married William P. Byrne a U.S. Marine in 1956. The couple’s only child, Katherine was born in 1957.
Jane Byrne’s first entry into politics was as a volunteer for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. It was during that campaign that she met Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Over the next few years Daley would appoint Byrne to several positions. In 1968, she became the first woman to be a part of Mayor Daley’s cabinet.
Winning a decisive 82% of the vote, Byrne soundly defeated Republican Wallace Johnson and was elected Chicago’s 40th mayor on April 3, 1979. She would serve as mayor until 1983, when she was defeated in the Democratic primary for mayor by Harold Washington. Washington went on to win the general election.
Jane Byrne died on November 14, 2014. Later that year, the Circle Interchange was renamed the Jane Byrne Interchange. The plaza surrounding the Chicago Water Tower was also renamed in her honor.