Chicago River Bridges

September 26th, 2014by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.


Patrick T. McBriarty. Chicago River Bridges. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press (2013).

The specialist will appreciate the definitive account of each Chicago River bridge (including the bridges that have been replaced), and the wider public will appreciate the reflections on the role of bridges and the impact of their design and engineering on urban life. For those interested in Chicago history, this is a must–read, and the author’s insights should be of interest to any student of architecture and urban history.

> Read more about and purchase this book

> Learn more about Patrick T. McBriarty’s research and works

> Discover more about bridges in Chicago

> Museum members will have a chance to hear Patrick T. McBriarty speak about bridges at the Members’ Meeting in November!

Fixing More than Teeth

September 22nd, 2014by Joy Bivins Filed under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

Curator Joy Bivins explains why these dental tools aren’t as intimidating as they appear.

Syringe, mirror and probe, dental model, and color scale used by Dr. Charles Williams Sr. in his practice, mid–twentieth century. Gift of Dr. Charles Williams Jr., 2002.267. ICHi–68430

Few people enjoy a trip to the dentist or the sight of dental tools, but these objects have a story to tell. They belonged to Charles Williams Sr. (1901–90), a pioneering Chicago–based dentist who treated patients at offices on the city’s South and West Sides. Dr. Williams’s practice spanned multiple decades, but his career began at a time when racial discrimination was routine. Williams worked to end that discrimination and open doors within his professional field.

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Nailed It: Chicago Commons Map, 1910

September 11th, 2014by Peter Alter Filed under: Collections, Stories

DePaul University students Burton Cann, Bristol Cave, Kristen Gayer, Hannah Woodford, and Elise Zerega researched an unusual map from 1910 for this entry in the Museum’s People and Places blog series. They were students of the Museum’s archivist, Peter T. Alter, as part of DePaul’s public history program.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, community leaders in major cities sought to resolve many social, political, and economic problems associated with urban living. Their efforts came to be known as the Progressive Movement. Some Progressive reformers addressed social justice issues by settling in struggling urban areas and establishing social settlement houses in those neighborhoods, as Jane Addams did with Hull-House on Chicago’s Near West Side.  From these community centers, the reformers worked with their neighbors to address unemployment, poor public education, poor sanitation, domestic violence, and many other issues.

Graham Taylor, a colleague and friend of Addams, founded the Chicago Commons settlement house in 1894, about a mile northwest of the Loop. Taylor and the Chicago Commons staff worked with the people of this industrial and immigrant neighborhood, now known as the River West and Noble Square neighborhoods. To understand a neighborhood and its needs, reformers like Taylor strove to learn their surroundings, which often led to mapping a lot of districts. In 1910, the Commons staff crafted a unique map of wood, small nails, and paper. This cartographic creation has survived over a century and is part of the Chicago Commons Association Records in the Museum’s archival collection.

Chicago Commons nail map, 1910
Chicago Commons nail map, 1910. All photographs by DePaul University students.

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Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography

August 28th, 2014by Gary Johnson Filed under: Exhibitions, Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.


John Gruber, editor. Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography. Madison, Wisconsin: Center for Railroad Photography & Art (2014).

The exhibition of the same title was prepared by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art and the Chicago History Museum. Under Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, the Office of War Information commissioned the original photographs to shine a light on a very vital home front industry during World War II. The project focused on the community of railroad workers from different parts of the Chicago, as documented by photographer Jack Delano. Seventy years later, the Center took the project a step further and carefully examined the biographies of the people in the photographs—and even their descendants. Yes, the book is the catalogue of the exhibition, but really it is far more than that because it takes a much deeper dive into those lives than was possible in the exhibition.

> Read more about and purchase this book

> Visit the Railroaders exhibition at the Museum

> See more of Jack Delano’s photography

> Learn more about railroad workers in Chicago

Court Presentation Gowns of the 1920s

August 14th, 2014by Katy Werlin Filed under: Collections, Stories

Being presented at the Court of St. James in London, England was a pivotal moment in the social life of a debutante—it marked her entrance into adult society. Naturally, such an auspicious occasion required a truly spectacular gown. We are fortunate to have several court presentation gowns in our collection. Here are two particularly beautiful ones.

A young lady’s court presentation gown was one of the most lavish and important gowns she would ever own, perhaps even more important than her wedding dress. Court presentation gowns were traditionally white, but by the 1920s all colors were allowed. The entire ensemble was regulated strictly, as can be seen from these rules published in The Times in 1923:

  • Ladies attending their Majesties’ Courts will wear Court trains, while veils with ostrich feathers will be worn on the head.
  • Three small white feathers mounted as a Prince of Wales’s plume, the center feather being a little higher than the two side ones, to be worn slightly on the left-hand side of the head, with the tulle veil attached to the base of the feathers.
  • The veil should not be longer than 45in.
  • Lace lappets may be worn.
  • Coloured feathers are inadmissible, but in cases of deep mourning black feathers may be worn.
  • The train, which should not exceed two yards in length, should not extend more than 18in. from the heel of the wearer when standing.
  • There are no restrictions with regard to the colour of the dresses or gloves for either debutantes or those who have already been presented.
  • Bouquets and fans are optional.


Court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. 1965.380a-e.

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