Bertha Palmer (1849-1918), wife of real estate developer and hotel owner Potter Palmer, was the queen of society in Chicago and a 19th century “influencer.”
The grande dame of Chicago both mingled with the rich and hosted meetings for female factory workers. She was an avid art collector and took a special interest in the works of French Impressionists. Bertha owned nearly 90 works by Monet at a time when he was unknown in America and Impressionist art was considered controversial.
After her husband’s death in 1902, Bertha took her own turn at real estate development. Her project site was the small town of Sarasota, Florida and the surrounding area. Thanks to Bertha's astute business skills and savvy, she doubled the size of her husband’s estate which had been left to her.
Why this stop? Walk up from the Red Line Monroe subway stop and you will be right at the Palmer House Hotel.
Watch this short documentary to learn how businesswoman Bertha Palmer developed the city of Sarasota, Florida and the entire area around it. (Fast forward to 2:10 to get past the opening song.)
Connect—In 1922, the Art Institute of Chicago acquired much of the collection of Bertha and Potter Palmer. Visit the Art Institute and see their collection of Impressionist paintings which include works by Monet, Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Degas. Because of Bertha’s forward thinking and influence, the Art Institute has one of the greatest collections of Impressionism in the world.
Consider — Bertha Palmer was born into wealth and married into wealth. This wealth gave her the power of influence which she wielded in different arenas—the planning of the 1893 Columbian Exposition World’s Fair, the development of Chicago’s cultural life, workers’ rights, to name a few. Compared to the people of the world, most Americans are very wealthy. And like Bertha Palmer, their wealth can give them the power of influence. How might you use your power of influence in your community or beyond?
1893 Portrait of Bertha Palmer by Anders Zorn (Art Institute of Chicago; photo by J. Volk)