The World's Fair

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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The following Note includes references to general works on the Chicago's World Fair with an emphasis on African Americans' role at the Fair.

General Works

See Chapter Three for a general description of the Fair and the participation of Californians; see also On-Line Bibliographic Note: Women at the World’s Fair. The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair has been much written about as a central and symbolic event in nineteenth century American history. The main modern sources I used were JAMES WILLIAM BUEL, THE MAGIC CITY (1974); NEIL HARRIS, WIM DE WIT, JAMES GILBERT, & ROBERT RYDELL, GRAND ILLUSIONS: CHICAGO’S WORLD’S FAIR OF 1893 (1993) [hereafter GRAND ILLUSIONS]; R. REID BADGER, THE GREAT AMERICAN FAIR: THE WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION AND AMERICAN CULTURE (1979); DAVID F. BURG, CHICAGO’S WHITE CITY OF 1893 (1976); CHAIM M. ROSENBERG, AMERICA AT THE FAIR: CHICAGO'S 1893 WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION (2008). MILES ORVELL, THE REAL THING: IMITATION AND AUTHENTICITY IN AMERICAN CULTURE 1880-1940, at 34, 60-61 (1989) argues that in its design, exhibits, and architecture, the Fair was the ultimate example of the “aesthetic of replication” and showed imitation of the Europe and the past. DONALD L. MILLER, CITY OF THE CENTURY: THE EPIC OF CHICAGO AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA (1997) has a chapter on the Fair which synthesizes many of the earlier works. THOMAS J. SCHLERETH, VICTORIAN AMERICA: TRANSFORMATIONS IN EVERYDAY LIFE, 1879-1915 (1991) also has a chapter on the Fair, noting many of its incongruities, such as celebrating progress in the midst of an economic depression. Schlereth also describes the Auxiliary Congresses and says 700,000 people attended. Id. at 171.

For contemporary descriptions of the Fair, see A HISTORY OF THE WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION HELD IN CHICAGO IN 1893 (Rossiter Johnson ed., 1897-1898). HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT, THE BOOK OF THE FAIR: AN HISTORICAL AND DESCRIPTIVE PRESENTATION OF THE WORLD'S SCIENCE, ART AND INDUSTRY, AS VIEWED THROUGH THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION AT CHICAGO IN 1893 (1894) has lavish descriptions of buildings and exhibits, with a special emphasis on California. The best account of the activities, exhibits, and speeches at the California exhibit is the FINAL REPORT OF THE CALIFORNIA WORLD’S FAIR COMMISSION (1894) [hereafter FINAL REPORT].

Clara Foltz was at the Fair in May and probably attended the opening ceremonies for the California building. Speakers included Governor Markham; Stephen White, now a United States Senator; and James Phelan, chief of the Fair commission and later Mayor of San Francisco and a United States Senator. Kate Field promoted California viticulture (pure wine rather than degraded liquor). FINAL REPORT, at 59, 93, 95, & 98. Great emphasis on the opening day and throughout the summer was placed on California’s history -- “born free by act of her citizens.” For sheer bulk and exuberance, the California exhibition was unmatched. A full-sized knight on a full-sized horse was rendered in prunes, for instance, and there was a near riot one day when fifty thousand people showed up for the promised basket of free fruit, fresh in on the morning train.

African Americans at the Fair

CHRISTOPHER ROBERT REED, ALL THE WORLD IS HERE: THE BLACK PRESENCE IN THE WHITE CITY (2000) revises the history of African-American participation in the Fair, told by most previous historians as one largely of exclusion. Reed argues that the influential pamphlet, The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition: The Afro-American Contribution to Columbian Literature, written by Black activists, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, Irvine Garland Penn, and Ferdinand Barnett, has had an undue effect on the assessment. In fact, the pamphlet was conceived of prior to the fair and published in the fair’s early months before the real extent of Black participation was realized. While Blacks were excluded from both the male and female planning commissions appointed by the President, Reed argues that they nevertheless were able to influence state commissions and that a number of exhibits and programs, including exhibits from black colleges, featured blacks. The Haitian exhibit, for example, presided over by Frederick Douglass, was well attended by both blacks and whites.

Many black speakers were on the various programs associated with the Fair. The World’s Congress of Representative Women, discussed in On-Line Bibliographic Note: Women at the World’s Fair, featured six black women prominently as speakers. One of Reed’s main points is that African Americans themselves were divided by class and caste, and there was far from a uniform response to the Fair exhibits. Even the Colored People’s Day at the Fair was viewed by some at the time as an appropriate and celebratory occasion, and was, as Reed emphasizes, the occasion for one of Frederick Douglas’s last great speeches on a national platform.

I have not dealt in the text with the discrimination shown blacks at the Fair because as far as I am able to determine, the issue was not part of Clara Foltz’s experience there. She attended the Congress of Representative Women in May, which was one of the most integrated of the Fair’s meetings both in attendance and speakers. Of course, neither Foltz nor the other suffragists had any part in the exclusion of black women from the Board of Lady Managers. This exclusion seems especially harsh given that white women fought so hard to be included in the planning commission themselves. But part of Bertha Palmer’s determination to keep black women off the Board was the fact that her political enemies among the suffragists were pushing for their representation. JEANNE MADELINE WEIMANN, THE FAIR WOMEN: THE STORY OF THE WOMAN'S BUILDING AT THE WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION OF 1893, AT 110-24 (1981) [hereafter WEIMANN, FAIR WOMEN].

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