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 DeKalb County History

DeKalb County's First Woman Sheriff ...

The lace curtain jail


elena Dolder became DeKalb County Sheriff in 1928 after the death of her husband. She was the only woman Sheriff in the State of Illinois. Many thought she did not have the ability for such a demanding office, but she proved them wrong! It was a tough time to be sheriff - during Prohibition. Jails in Chicago were full and overflowing. Consequently, many prisoners were sent to Sycamore to be held until they were brought to trial. These prisoners were mostly "boot leggers and dope fiends" according to newspaper reports. There were as many as a hundred prisoners in the DeKalb County jail at one time.

Dolder's son, Fritz, was her chief deputy and he slept in a room in the jail. Sheriff Dolder put lace curtains in the windows of her son's room and after that the Sycamore jail was known as "the lace curtain jail." But the new Sheriff proved the petticoat rule could also be tough. The first evening she was in charge she fed the prisoners corn meal mush for dinner and they rebelled by shouting and refusing to eat the "golden grain." She told them they could eat it or go hungry. These men became louder and angrier when she told them to return to their cells. Some shouted out "Who will make us?" With that, Dolder picked up the fire hose and flattened the prisoners against the wall with the strong water spray. They did not question her authority again and the following evening they were served the same mush, which they ate with no argument.

Sheriff Dolder ran for a second term and won that election by a big margin, receiving only 15 votes less than President Hoover in DeKalb County! Over 50% of the county population voted in that election. She continued to serve as Sheriff until 1932, making the news by putting slot machines out of commission and raiding "joints selling booze" in her fight to keep the county dry.