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Women of Influence

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Chicago in the late 19th Century was still a second city. Two decades after the Great Chicago Fire, hundreds of thousands came here for the Columbia Exposition. The stockyards, new skyscrapers and the railroad also helped put Chicago on the international map. Business was as big as the men responsible for making the Windy City world class. But you know the old saying: “Behind every great man...” A new tour sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation focuses on some of those women who also made a mark on Chicago.

There are many superstitions about cemeteries. In Victorian times people believed if you did not hold your breath when passing a graveyard, you would not be buried. Can you imaging passing Graceland cemetery and holding your breath? It's huge. There are thousands of people buried here.

But Graceland is more than that about. Its beautiful park setting that invites the living to wander amongst Chicago's dearly departed.

I'm early for the 10:00 tour lead by docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Mary Jo Hoag and Laurie Russell created the Women of Influence tour at Graceland Cemetery. The tour takes a couple of hours and highlights 18 women. So, I spoke with them a few days earlier when thick grey clouds poured sheets of rain all over the city.

RUSSELL: Well, Mary Joe and I were classmates at the CAF and every time we walked into class we would pass a series of photographs and the photographs were of female architects. We thought, 'Surely we're going to talk about these women their photographs are right there.' They were never brought up once.

One of the photos was of the first licensed female architects in the world. Hoag wondered how many other remarkable women had been laid to rest along with their stories.

HOAG: In the 19th century men were very taken up with making money. Changing the city, the way the city works, how we live, how we entertain ourselves, I think they considered that cleaning up the city. The job of cleaning up the city would fall to the women. Men in power in Chicago actually said to the women, 'You guys go do that because you know how to do that, we don't and we don't want to do it.'

RUSSELL: Well, and the business men weren't crazy. They knew that if they could offer their east coast investors an opera, a ballet, fine art, they would be more likely to come out here and invest their money and this is what was happening.

One of them was a monologist, an elocutionist, and the founder of the Little Room, a Chicago social club for artists, writers and musicians.

HOAG: Anna Morgan had over the entrance to her studio the following motto: "Art is a constant source of power."

Morgan's studio was in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue. Docent Laurie Russell says Morgan writes about a constant stream of guests stopping for drinks and conversation.

RUSSELL: I think she was trying to just establish a cultural identity here in Chicago because we didn't have one. This is when we started our symphony, started the art museum, started the plays and everybody was kind of working to make Chicago seem as grown up and as important as Boston and New York.
Anna Morgan died in August of 1936. Her stone is simple.

HOAG: it's rounded at the top and it says, "Anne Morgan." But you have to look closely at it because on the side is inscribed auf weidersehen or the German, Germanic "good-by." And it really intrigues both of us because we don't know exactly why it's on there.

Hoag and Russell lead us passed the graves of artists, social reformers and early settlers. They belonged to the same social clubs and stood proudly by their accomplishments. But Chicago had a seedy side where anonymity was a necessity.

In 1850, Allen Pinkerton started the worlds first detective agency right here in Chicago. When Kate Warn walked into his office, Pinkerton thought she wanted to be the secretary. After some convincing she became the first woman detective in the U.S. On one assignment she went undercover inside a southern women's group and caught wind of a plot to assassinate President Lincoln as he traveled cross country by rail.

RUSSELL: She disguised herself as well as him, got him onto the train while Pinkerton and other agents were at different posts and it was up to her to keep him out of trouble. You know, I could see him almost as a woman, disguised with a long dress with a bonnet over his head and a shawl.
HOAG: I'm not sure Abe would have gone for that.

Warn stayed awake all night guarding the president. It's believed that Pinkerton coined the motto: “We never sleep” after that mission. He also singled her out as one of the best five detectives he ever had. Warn is buried in the Pinkerton company plot. Her stone stands about four feet and is so worn it's hard to see her name. Fitting when you consider she spent most of her life in disguise.

As we make our way to the final stop on the tour, our docents Mary Jo Hoag and Laurie Russell tell us—married or not—women needed financial backing from men in order to raise Chicago from its second class citizenship. Unfortunately their accomplishments are often hidden behind their husband's names. It's just the way things were back then.

So when you find yourself in the impressionist collection at the Art Institute named after Potter Palmer it was actually his wife Bertha who had the business sense and the eye for art.

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