Silhouette in Diamonds: the Life of Mrs. Potter Palmer

Tipped off about this enigmatic woman at a lecture on Mary Cassatt, Women’s Suffrage, and the 1893 Colombian Expo, I was eager to read this decidedly dated tone (published in 1960). Bertha¬†Honor√© Potter Palmer… well, where do you start? Her fortune secured by marrying the Chicago millionaire, Potter Palmer, she was a force of nature herself. Lavish society entertainments balanced by sincere dedication to progressive organizations. Bold proclamations (“Even more important than the discovery of Columbus, which we are gathered together to celebrate, is the fact that the General Government has just discovered woman.”) mixed with more conservative activism. At her insistence, the 1893 Colombian Expo in Chicago included the Women’s Building which highlighted the accomplishments of female authors, artists, architects, and inventors. Mary Cassatt was commissioned to create a large mural on the theme of “Modern Woman” for the building. BPP sweeps through Europe and Newport, creating valuable ties to the global elite. After her husband’s death, she invests heavily in real estate in what is now Sarasota, Florida, and sparks the “wintering in Florida” craze that strikes the wealthy snow-bound. It appears that no journals have been found, so her inner life can only be pieced together by correspondence, which is no substitute for the honesty of writing for private consumption. I feel like there is more to this woman that is begging for discovery. If I had years to spend in the stacks at the Chicago Historical Society, I may be able to find more.