To historians, collectors, and aficionados of 19th-century America, it is no surprise that the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 is highly popular for its abundance of collectible items still in circulation among antique dealers, collectors’ sites, and Ebay, of course. Indeed, a cursory search of “Chicago World’s Fair 1893” on Ebay brings up hundreds of items, from paper weights, silk scarves, plates, bowls, medallions, shaving cups, lamps, bookmarks, coins, spoons, Fair tickets, and every variation of printed and photographic material imaginable. One could literally lose fortune, space, and sanity to build a personal collection of World’s Fair memorabilia. As a historian of women’s—and particularly Mormon women’s—participation at the Chicago World’s Fair, I am constantly on the lookout for printed items from the Fair, but especially those related to the involvement of western women, Mormon women, the Relief Society, and Utah, Idaho, Montana, or other western and Midwestern states in general. While there are dozens of “official” Fair publications, guidebooks and photographic tours of the Fair, most states also published their own “official” state book.
My first acquisitions of World’s Fair books were the publications from the World’s Congress of Representative Women, held as part of the pre-Fair congresses and the official meetings of the National Council of Women. The WCRW was the most significant gathering of suffragists, educators, religionists, feminists, and other national and international female contributors to society, culture, reform, and politics up to that point. Sponsored by the Board of Lady Managers and under the presidential leadership of Bertha Palmer, who was the wife of Chicago’s hotel magnate, Potter Palmer, literally hundreds of women participated in the Congress, including such legendary figures as Susan B. Anthony, May Wright Sewall, and Rachel Foster Avery. Mormon women were invited to the World’s Congress, especially since the Relief Society and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association had been affiliated with the NCW since 1888. The Congress of Women (Philadelphia and Chicago: S.I. Bell & Co., 1894), was the official publication released by the Board of Lady Managers in 1894. In the last six years, I have acquired two copies of this, and of particular interest to me was the speech by a Mormon suffragist, Mrs. Electa Bullock– the one Mormon who actually made it into the publication– who wrote on the status and progress of “Industrial Women.” The book also includes photographs of Utah’s two representatives to the Board of Lady Managers, Mrs. Margaret Salisbury and Mrs. Thomas A. Whalen.
A second publication from the congress is The World’s Congress of Representative Women, edited by May Wright Sewall, and published in 1894 as a collection of the best speeches given at the Congress between May 15 and May 22, 1893 by American and international women. This volume is even more rich with Mormon and Relief Society material, with speeches by Zina D.H. Young, Ellis R. Shipp, Emmeline B. Wells, and Emily S. Richards included, as well as photographic images of Young, Wells, and Richards. I was able to use Emily Richards’s speech as part of my forthcoming biography and documents in Deseret Book’s Women of Faith series, volume III.
While these larger tomes on the overall fair and World’s Congress are perhaps a little more common, the individual state publications are much more challenging to find. I first acquired the state books of Kansas and Iowa for my personal library, and while I still don’t have Montana’s and Idaho’s World’s Fair publications, I have held them in my hand at their respective state historical societies. I also found and photocopied Utah’s book at the Utah State University Archives and Special Collections in Logan. After years of keeping an eye open for a copy, I was finally able to purchase one from a rare and used bookseller at the Mormon History Association book display in Layton, Utah in June 2013.
This post is not meant to be a self-congratulatory catalog of my rare books. Indeed, I am not the most committed or prolific collector of Mormon or World’s Fair books. My collection is in its infancy, and most of what I’ve found has been by accident, or from being in the right place at the right time on Ebay.
Which is partly what makes my next find so remarkable and memorable to me, and worth sharing here at Juvenile Instructor, in connection with this month’s theme about material culture. As part of Mormon women’s preparations for the Chicago World’s Fair—both at the pre-Fair Congress of Women, as well as for Utah’s displays in the Women’s Building and the Utah Building, Utah’s women leaders commissioned the publication of various books and pamphlets for distribution among fair visitors. Indeed, these state publications certainly fell in line with the larger motives of boosterism, of recruiting new residents to western states, and of promoting regional economic development. But Utah’s women, and especially Relief Society leaders, had the added motive of showcasing a positive public image of Mormon women as progressive and patriotic suffragists, while also attempting to counter the common stereotype of duped and oppressed polygamist wives. To that end, Utah’s women leaders commissioned three books: Songs and Flowers of the Wasatch and Charities and Philanthropies of Utah were both compiled and edited by Emmeline B. Wells, and meant to highlight the cultural and religious contributions of Mormon and non-Mormon Utah women. The third, The World’s Fair Ecclesiastical History of Utah, was compiled by an interfaith committee headed up by famed Mormon Relief Society and suffrage leader, Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball. All three books are incredibly rare and valuable, not just monetarily, but as part of the rich story of Mormon women’s organizing efforts at the Chicago World’s Fair.
Imagine my surprise one Saturday when I took my children to Rexburg’s own Deseret Industries store on a routine run-through for whatever we might find there. (For our non-LDS readers, this is a consignment store of locally-donated items meant to help raise money for church humanitarian efforts, while also giving employment opportunities to local youth). We usually go straight to the famous D.I. locked glass case, to examine the treasures there. (The “locked case” is where specialty, collectible, antique, and other more valuable items are kept.) Lying on a top shelf was a copy of The World’s Fair Ecclesiastical History of Utah—right here in River City. Excitedly, I called a store attendant to pull the book for closer examination. When I opened it, I found inside an inscription addressed to a Mrs. M.A. Wallace, dated June 1893, and signed by Jane S. Richards—THE Jane S. Richards. (And this is the cue for my dozen or so colleague-historians of Mormon women, who actually know who she is, to be duly impressed. I myself got visibly emotional right there on the spot. The poor store attendant didn’t quite know what to do with me.) Richards was one of Utah’s foremost Relief Society suffrage leaders who attended the World’s Congress and presented as part of the Relief Society session; she was the Ogden Stake Relief Society president, and also a plural wife of Apostle Franklin D. Richards, mother of church attorney Franklin S. Richards, and mother-in-law of Emily S. Richards, who was also a suffrage leader (see above). This was a spectacular find. Of course, the various inscriptions led to an investigative conversation with Ardis Parshall, aiming to identify “Mrs. Wallace,” as well as another name in the book, May Packham, who had also signed and dated in 1925.
A second part of this story has to do with Ardis’s great historical detective skills being put to use—almost at that very hour of discovery—for exploring Mrs. Wallace’s identity and her lifelong friendship with Jane S. Richards, beginning when both families had settled Ogden, Utah. I will leave that story for a later blog post, either by myself here at JI, or perhaps as a collaboration with Ardis over at Keepa, if she’s inclined. Imagine it: an original of The World’s Fair Ecclesiastical History of Utah—signed by one of Mormonism’s preeminent 19th-century female leaders—was found at a small and unpretentious Church consignment store, on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Rexburg, Idaho, while shopping with two small children. This experience got me to thinking about our historical collectibles– how we acquire them, how we preserve and cherish them, and how we use them. So I will leave this post with these questions for our readers: What are your own great historical object discoveries, or accidental encounters with memorabilia, rare books, documents, or other finds? Where are the most unexpected places you have found historical treasures? And how have these discoveries added to your research, or helped to launch you into new lines of historical investigation? Perhaps you might just want to top my D.I. story with your own account of a spectacular find at Deseret Industries or some other consignment store. We would love to hear it!– Please share your best stories, or comment on mine.