Commemoration of Women’s Contribution in the Public Sphere of Chicago

While walking the impressive streets of the city, one might receive an immediate masculine image of Chicago – with its high-rise, skyscrapers, gangsters history, and its sport teams. Thus, although the city is rich with women’s contribution, and its history was shaped and influenced by remarkable women, as does its present, it is poorly reflected with female representations in public spaces.

Nevertheless, here are some landmarks:
Most notable buildings in that regard are Hull House Museum and South Side Community Arts Center. Hull House used to be a famous settlement house, established and operated by Nobel Peace Prize winning social reformer Jane Addams. South Side Community Arts Center was the first black-art gallery in the country, co-founded by artist, poet and historian Dr. Margaret Burroughs, known as “First Lady of African American Art Movement”. Burroughs is also the co-founder of DuSable Museum.
Chicago’s public sphere is known to be filled with public art and many sculptures in the streets, adding an interesting angle to the special architecture and the unique buildings. However, while many of the statues are shaped according to men who contributed to this place’s history and society, the sculptures that were created in honor of women are not in their figure, except for a few, as Laura Liu sculpture in Ping Tom Park, and also Gwendolyn Brooks sculpture in Brooks (Gwendolyn) Park.
There is also a statue of Dorothy in Oz Park, only it references a fictional female character (it was designed after Judy Garland from the film “The Wizard of Oz”). L. Frank Baum, the author of Oz series of books, was a resident of Chicago in the 1890’s, hence it is after a female heroin but actually to honor the author and his canonical piece.

Still, few public statues that reference women’s legacy are presence around the city, such as Jane Addams, who is commemorated in the memorial sculpture “Helping Hands”, created by 80 years old artist Louise Joséphine Bourgeois in Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens in the South Loop. It is also recommended to go few miles north of Chicago, where there is Frances Willard House Museum and to take a self-guided tour about the women’s history in Evanston, following Addams’s legacy.
About 10% of the 580 Chicago parks are named after women, like Julia Porter park, Brooks (Gwendolyn) Park, Chi Che Wang Playlot Park. Those parks are named after women who devoted their lives to act in favor of the city and its development.

There are only few more notable statues inspired by the legacy of real women among Chicago’s famous public art installations.
An anonymous young female figure can also be seen in Lincoln Park. Called Fountain Girl, a memorial to Frances Willard. It is a replica of 1893 statue, originally commissioned by The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union to suggest fresh water as an alternative to drinking alcohol. After the original statue was stolen in 1958, a female resident initiated a fundraising campaign to re-install a new version of it in 2013. Another fountain-related sculpture in the park orchid house features a Greek goddess of youth Hebe, who can also be found in Grant Park.
Others are abstract female representations, the most famous of them is Miró’s Chicago at Brunswick Plaza, created by the Spanish master artist Joan Miró in 1981. It is a 40 ft. tall female figure that was originally titled “The Sun, the Moon and One Star”, but nicknamed “Miss Chicago”. The artist’s intention was to depict the ‘mystical force of a great earth mother’. The other world-famous public art installation that suggests a female spirit, is Pablo Picasso’s gift to Chicago: this 50 ft. tall sculpture in Daley Plaza looks like a long-necked face with a high ponytail, and is speculated to represent Picasso’s muse model Sylvette David.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who moved to Chicago as an infant, and was influenced by the city in her writing, was asked by Chicago mayor to write a poem for “Chicago’s Picasso”. The poem she created, with the same name, speaks more about the challenge to relate to contemporary art.
The state of Illinois was the first one to donate a statue of a woman to the National Statuary Hall Collection in US Capitol. It was honoring temperance and suffrage advocate Frances Willard, created from marble in 1905 by Helen Farnsworth Mears.

We invite you to search through our map to see the information we gathered about the legacy of women in the area you are wandering. Click here to learn about some of the women who left a mark on Chicago history.

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