Women at the World's Fair

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

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This Note discusses my research into women's participation at the World's Fair generally. See Chapter Five for a discussion of the National Women Lawyers meeting held in association with the Fair. See Chapter Six for the impact of the Fair on the women’s rights movement. See Chapter Seven for Foltz’s Public Defender speech at the Congress of Jurisprudence and Law Reform held in conjunction with the Fair.


General Works

WEIMANN, FAIR WOMEN is an extraordinary source with many engaging illustrations (though it must be used with some care for factual errors). For women at the Fair generally, see GAYLE GULLETT, BECOMING CITIZENS: THE EMERGENCE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE CALIFORNIA WOMEN’S MOVEMENT, 1880-1911, at 65-74 (2000) [hereafter GULLETT, BECOMING CITIZENS]; Our Great Opportunity: Organized Women Advance Women’s Work at the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, 87 ILL. HIST. J. 259 (1994). See also Frances K. Pohl, Historical Reality or Utopian Ideal, 5 INT’L J. WOMEN’S STUD. 289 (1982); Duncan R. Jamieson, Women’s Rights at the World’s Fair, 1893, 37 ILL. Q. 5 (1974).

Many biographies of those who lived in the nineties include coverage of the Fair because it was a main event for most people. See, e.g., IDA HUSTED HARPER, THE LIFE AND WORK OF SUSAN B. ANTHONY, at 746 (1898), (writing of the Fair as the “greatest single impulse to the cause,” adding that “Miss Anthony was so enthusiastic” after the World’s Congress of Representative Women in May, that she “stayed in Chicago for the duration of the Exposition”). See also KATHRYN KISH SKLAR, FLORENCE KELLEY AND THE NATION'S WORK: THE RISE OF WOMEN'S POLITICAL CULTURE, 1830-1900 (1995); NORGREN, BELVA LOCKWOOD, at 194-98.

Bertha Palmer and the Isabella Club

On Bertha Palmer, see ISHBEL ROSS, SILHOUETTE IN DIAMONDS: THE LIFE OF MRS. POTTER PALMER (1960). Ross also wrote the entry for Palmer in NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN, which provides an excellent summary of her life. ANNE FIROR SCOTT, NATURAL ALLIES WOMEN'S ASSOCIATIONS IN AMERICAN HISTORY 128-31 (1991) writes of the appointment of Mrs. Potter Palmer as head of the Lady Managers: “It would not be the last time that men in power would choose a woman for her presumed pliability only to find out their mistake when it was too late.”

Virginia Grant Darney, Women and the World’s Fairs: American International Expositions, 1876-1904, at 99-108 (1982) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Emory) covers the complex relationship between Bertha Potter Palmer and the professional women in the Isabella club. Though there was a lot of press about the in-fighting between the Isabellas and the Lady Managers at the time, it left little mark on the actual history of the Fair. Phoebe Couzins, a lawyer and an Isabella Society member, was originally on the Board of Lady Managers. She was elected as Secretary, was fired by Palmer, and unsuccessfully sued to regain the position. Matthew J. Sanders, An Introduction to Phoebe Wilson Couzins (2000), at WLH Website.

WEIMANN, FAIR WOMEN has a good account of the struggle between Bertha Palmer and the Isabella Association generally and especially over the statue of Queen Isabella. In 1889, before Chicago had even won the exposition, the Isabella Association commissioned the best known of the few women sculptors of the day, Harriet Hosmer, to do a heroic statue of Queen Isabella. She cast the statue in plaster, while the Isabellas worked to raise the money for a bronze version (which they never did). The Isabellas were denied a pavilion for the statute and a place for themselves on the Fair grounds. Weimann suggests that Mrs. Palmer would have allowed the statue in the Woman’s Building, but Hosmer objected to showing her work in a sex-segregated setting. The plaster version was on display at the California building and then was shown in San Francisco at an exposition the year following the Fair. After that, it was in Golden Gate Park, from whence it disappeared early in the 20th century, rumored to have been removed because of the objections of Jewish citizens on account of Isabella’s role in the Spanish Inquisition. WEIMANN, FAIR WOMEN, at 59-70. For another good description of the struggles between the Isabellas and Mrs. Potter Palmer, see Robert Rydell, A Cultural Frankenstein? The Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, in GRAND ILLUSIONS 150-55 (1993); DORIS WEATHERFORD, A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SUFFRAGIST MOVEMENT (1998).

Clara Foltz, Laura Gordon, and Clara Colby

How long Foltz stayed at the Fair on each of her trips is unclear from the only records we have which include several news accounts of her speeches and the meetings she attended. Likewise, I have not been able to determine where she stayed on each visit. The Queen Isabella Association (described in Chapter Six), a group of professional women, had a clubhouse with a hotel near one of the main Fair entrances. She might have stayed there on her August trip. Her usual habit on the road, of course, was to set up in the fanciest hotel in town—that would have been the Palmer House. To see the Fair in full required at least two weeks for a tourist and movement women tended to stay longer and to appear on many platforms.

Susan Anthony stayed the whole summer, as did Laura Gordon who arrived in May, bought a tent, and camped until the fall in a “fine yard back of a spacious home” near the fairgrounds. Clara Colby wrote that they “tented together, sharing domestic labors and expense, each pursuing our special work, meeting to talk over the wonderful topics that were being presented at the Congresses and almost every evening attending some lecture or reception.” Gordon spoke at a Woman’s Building on her suffrage experience and was an official judge of silk products at the Fair. Silk culture, as it was called, was an occupation that women were trying to establish as light, healthful, and profitable work. See Clara Bewick Colby, Laura DeForce Gordon, WOMAN’S TRIB. (May 26, 1907). For more on Colby, see Note: Friends and Allies, at WLH Website.

The Women's Congresses

See: The Women's Congresses

Participation in the Other Auxiliary Congresses

See: Participation in the Other Auxiliary Congresses

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