Monday, January 3, 2011

1893 World's Fair, Chicago

I'm currently reading a book from the 1980s called The Fair Women about the women responsible for the White City Woman's Building at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. I've been interested in the fair partly because I love Chicago and its history, but mainly since I discovered women's colleges including Monticello Female Academy (where I attended prep school in the 1950s) exhibited in the woman's building there. By the 1890s women's education was sort of accepted, although of course a young woman's main objective there was supposed to be finding a suitable husband. A college education would enable her to be a better mother and a good example for her children. The thought that she might use that education to set out on a career was possible, but only if she was unable to land a husband.

It reminds me of another book I read several years ago, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (2004). An event like the World's Fair is of course a prime opportunity for all sorts of nefarious activity, including that of a serial killer. H. H. Holmes took advantage of the prosperity expected as a result of the fair in Chicago to build what was supposed to be a hotel just blocks from Jackson Park where the fair was held.

Young women from all across the country, but particularly from small-town Midwest, flocked to Chicago to see the fair. Many of them traveled alone and looked for accommodations when they arrived. Holmes preyed upon these unsuspecting young ladies, acting oh-so gentlemanly and super wealthy. Once he had them starry-eyed, he suggested that they stay at his hotel.

Unfortunately for the girls, his hotel was more of a human butchering facility. One by one the innocent died at his hands. Estimates of the number of victims range from 12 to 200.

Larson also related fascinating facts about the fair in this book. For instance, did you know the Ferris wheel was invented for this fair? It was quite a wonder. The woman's building was a huge white building in classic style with sculpture, murals, paintings, exhibits of women's work from all around the world, and other exhibits that gave women opportunities for education and careers. Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago was in charge, a very controversial lady whose station in life sometimes blinded her to the abilities of the less fortunate.

I'm not even halfway through The Fair Women but I'm finding it interesting, and worth looking for if you're interested in Chicago history or women's history.

No comments:

Post a Comment