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Throughout Chicago's history, women have played an integral role in the city's development. This exhibit spans over 100 years to look at a few unique women whose stories help frame life in Chicago during that time from a variety of perspectives. 

Illustration. Mrs. O'Leary milking the cow

Perhaps one of the best known women's names in Chicago is history is that of Mrs. O' Leary. This image from a 1871 issue of Harper's Magazine depicts Mrs. O'Leary milking the cow after the Great Chicago Fire. Legend has it that Catherine O'Leary's cow started the fire on the evening of October 8, 1871 in the O'Leary family's barn at 137 DeKoven Street. A newspaperman later admitted he fabricated the story. Anti Irish sentiment in the city was high and the city needed someone to blame for the fire that killed over 300 people and left over 100,000 residents homeless, so the myth flourished. 

<br /><span>Women working in ordnance plants in World War I: making fibre powder containers for 3" Stokes gun - women crimping top on fibre containers at W.C. Ritchie &amp; Co., Chicago, Ill.</span>

While many Americans are aware of women's employment in factories during World War II through images like Rosie the Riveter, many people are unaware of women's work on the homefront furing the majority of wars throughout American History. Pictured here are women making fibre powder containers for a 3" Stokes gun at W.C. Ritchie & Co., in Chicago, Ill during the first World War. 

This video features footage from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair that includes a clip of a burlesque dancer in the Paris Pavilion (2:35 on). That dancer was actually Sally Rand, who was at the time the world's most famous burlesque dancer, best known for her fan dance seen here. Rand was arrested numerous times during the fair (once 4 times in one day) due to perceived indecent exposure. The sexualization of women is a prominant theme in this Paris exhibit.  

Clippings from the Chicago Defender, June 15, 1940

This clipping from the Chicago Defender dated June 5, 1940 with the headline "This Girl Band is Much Too Much with Swing and Jitter" is about the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female entertainment troupe that travelled the country. While the article does not specify, the fact that it was published in the Chicago Defender, an African-American paper, means that the troupe was likely not only all-female, but all-Black, with the exception of Millie Mae Lee Wong, an "Oriental saxaphone player." The Chicago Defender was perhaps the best known Black newspaper in existence and circulated throughout the US to provide both political and cultural news to a population that wasn't represented in traditional media. 

Showgirl serving men drinks

Showgirl Polly Parrot serves two ogling men drinks at Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel on February 2, 1944. While showgirls and revues are now associated with Las Vegas, back in the first half of the 20th century, the pink hotel in Edgewater featured numerous shows daily and attracted celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Charlie Chaplin among others. Big bands like Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman also often played there. For the women who worked there (and the women who visited) to be a showgirl in Chicago was to be the epitome of glamour. 

Sue the T. Rex (FMNH PR 2081)

Sue the T. Rex is the largest, most extensive and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen ever found at over 90% recovered by bulk. It was discovered in the summer of 1990, by Sue Hendrickson, a paleontologist, and was named after her. The fossil was auctioned in October 1997, for $7.6 million, the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil, and is now a permanent feature at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. Despite the fact that it's a common name, in Chicago Sue is immediately synonimous with dinosaurs and is one of Chicago's most famous female residents.