|Central court of the Columbian exposition, with view of the back of the statue of the Republic, looking toward the Administration Building, 1893|
At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893, a gigantic statue by Daniel Chester French, a 65-foot female figure on a 35-foot base, represented the Republic, and by extension, the nation, as a type--a particular type of womanhood. We've already seen several different image-types of women, being used to communicate narratives or myths about the country: the captive, the Republican mother, the American girl (beauty or charmer), the True woman, and by the 1890s, the New woman. Narratives of women's lives were changing, but the Exposition revived the Republican mother because it fit with the overall messages of the fair. But this image may have been more successful as a symbol of the fair than as a symbol of the lives of women in the end of the century.
In general, the Columbian exposition
was committed to displaying American cultural and technological achievements
and communicating a sense of national pride and unity. Although this
message was intended as a message to the world community, it was also an
attempt to counteract the loss of faith in American institutions that people
were experiencing by the late 19th century. International fairs had
been growing throughout the 19th century, and the Columbian was the largest
of them all. No longer a single building, this fair was large enough
to be an entire city, which is how most visitors saw it. And in fact,
it became a testing ground for ideas about city planning that would influence
town and urban development in the U.S.
|Administration Building (designed by Richard Hunt); dome height = 277.5 feet||Agriculture Building (McKim, Mead and White)|
The basis for the design of the fair was a central court surrounding a lagoon, with buildings in a formal and monumental style. Neoclassicism was chosen as the primary style. This made the fair seem to have more in common with Versailles and European baroque cities than with the new styles of architecture developing in the United States. It was a somewhat controversial decision, given that the fair was dedicated to the celebration of the discovery of America and that it was located in a city believed to be the home of modern architecture.
The central court (the lagoon and
its classical and monumental buildings) housed the accomplishments of white
European-Americans. Stretching from the center was a strip of land
called the Midway Plaisance. Here one could find replicas of
villages and markets and other gathering places of non-white, non-western
ethnic groups. In other words, the center was dominated by Anglo-Saxon
male culture, most notably American, while the cultures located at the
point farthest from the center were Oceanic, native American-Indian and
African. It may be significant to note that the transitional building,
located between the Midway and on the edge of the exposition core, was
the Woman’s Building.
|Fine Arts Building, 1893 (Charles Atwood) (the only building which still stands, today it is the Museum of Science and Industry)|
The fact that the largest buildings
were neoclassical and American, and that they were designed with a consistency
not seen in the eclectic collection of pavilions representing other countries,
allowed the architecture to communicate a message about the new role of
America as an imperial power. Sullivan's Transportation Building,
with its golden arched entrance and polychromatic walls, was the single
exception to the white walled, classical design of the rest of the central
|Transportation Building (Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler)||illustration from Art and Architecture (The Official Illustrated Publication, 1893)|
|cover, Art and Handicrafts in the Woman's Building, 1893||Sophia Hayden: Woman's Building, 1893|
When the managing board of the fair agreed to "allow" women to participate, they created a separate Board of Lady Managers and allocated space for a woman's building. Upon becoming president of the Ladies' Board, one of the earliest decisions Bertha Palmer made was to insist that the architect of the woman’s building be the winner of a competition open to women only. She overcame Daniel Burnham’s objections by assuring him that the women entrants would be trained architects. The winner, Sophia Hayden, had recently graduated from MIT with a degree in architecture but had not yet begun to practice. This was her first commission and as it turned out, her last. She had entered the contest at the urging of her friend, another architect with somewhat more experience than she had, but did not hope to win. She submitted a design based on her thesis project for a fine arts museum in an Italian Renaissance style. Her design for the fair building included balconies and loggias and was perceived as “light and gay,” in the words of one of the judges, qualities deemed appropriate for a festive event.
Unfortunately, the story goes downhill after that: compelled to reduce the scale of her details because of the size of the building, forced to make changes on short notice and with little time, and operating in the glare of more attention than a new architectural graduate may have wanted, her building was both positively and negatively reviewed by architectural journals for the same reason: it was made by a woman. Whatever its problems may have been, in comparison with the last-minute, rickety wooden construction which housed the women's pavilion at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, this was a far more substantial commitment and building for the display of women's achievements than any fair had previously made.
How they dressed and how they might
|high fashion in the 1890s||healthy fashion? the American costume|
What they saw outside: Allegorical,
classical ideals of womanhood (the "type" of Republican matriarch and the
"type" of the virgin explorer of new lands)
|Daniel Chester French: statue of the Republic, front view, 1893||F. MacMonnies: The Barge of State (also called the Columbia Fountain)|
The Statue of the Republic resembles the Statue of Liberty although the Republic statue lacks the grace of Liberty. Slightly smaller than Liberty, she was an extremely large statue and an impassive, commanding figure, countered in her imposing majesty by the Barge of State (also called the Columbia Fountain) which was facing her. Columbia sits on top of a throne, balanced on a barge which is steered by Father Time and rowed by eight female figures representing the arts and the sciences. Putting them together, we have a myth about the virgin wilderness, the growth of culture, and eventually, the nurturing Republic.
Although the murals inside the Women's building also suggesting an evolution from "primitive" to modern, it was an evolution of very different sort--one which centralized the education of women and one which re-made the allegory in modern fashion. We will continue with the Fair's allegorical murals of women in the next unit.