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Posted September 15, 2017

Groundbreaking Chicago women celebrated in new permanent Park District exhibit

We often marvel at the slow tide of progress, as well as its unpredictable reversals. We learn time and again that advances must never be taken for granted. To reinforce progress, breakthroughs must be thoroughly documented and celebrated.

For example, while it has been over a century since American suffragists began winning battles for women’s right to vote — and nearly 50 years since modern feminists scored other victories in cultural and workplace equality — one would be hard-pressed to find prominent public commemorations of historically significant women in the City of Chicago.

Dozens of figurative male statues adorn City parks. Schoolchildren are taught about movers and shakers like Daniel Burnham, Marshall Field, George Pullman, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Sandburg, Studs Terkel, and Harold Washington.

But who can just as quickly name the groundbreaking women in our city’s history? With a few exceptions — say, Jane Addams or Jane Byrne — many of the pioneering women of Chicago have remained uncelebrated or even forgotten. Shouldn’t we all be equally familiar with the names and stories of Bertha Honoré Palmer, Addie Wyatt, Ida B. Wells, Bessie Coleman, Willye B. White, Maria T. Mangual, Lois Weisberg, and Gwendolyn Brooks, to name just a few?

That’s why we teamed with Julia Bachrach and Khatija Hashmy (both of the Chicago Park District) and Leslie Recht to develop a permanent exhibit at the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens at 1801 S. Indiana Avenue.

Until now, most visitors to the popular field house probably had no idea that this Park District facility was created in 2000 to celebrate the women who helped shape Chicago history. Aside from a monument in the park dedicated to Jane Addams, little else existed to inform people of the park’s mission.

That’s no longer the case. Two large window bays on the west side of the field house, visible from almost a block away, now feature oversized portraits of ten remarkable Chicago women. As visitors enter the field house lobby, they can’t help but notice more portraits — 20 in all — ringing the mezzanine. We also designed a logo for the park and installed vinyl lettering on the lobby’s west wall to make sure visitors appreciated the nature of this park’s commemoration.

Finally, we worked with the project’s leadership to develop a Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens exhibit book offering short biographies of the 20 women depicted in the exhibit, along with 45 additional women (all equally fascinating), divided into three categories: Leaders & Activists; Visionaries & Artists; and Trailblazers & Innovators.

On September 14, we joined Julia, Leslie, and Khatija at the dedication of the new exhibit. It was a packed house. Many members of the community turned out for the event along with local advisory council leaders, Alderman Pat Dowell, and Ms. Amy Rule. Congratulations to all that helped make this installation possible, including our production partner Colorphonic!