Bertha Palmer bigraphy, stories - Collectors

Bertha Palmer : biography

May 22, 1849 - May 5, 1918

Bertha Palmer (May 22, 1849 – May 5, 1918) was an American businesswoman, socialite, and philanthropist.


Upon her death at her winter residence, The Oaks in Osprey, Florida, her body was returned to Chicago to lie in state at the Castle, the sumptuous mansion Potter Palmer had built on Chicago's Gold Coast. Bertha Palmer is buried alongside her husband in Graceland Cemetery.

Florida Real Estate Pioneer

Bertha Palmer became interested in the winter climate of Florida and in 1910 bought up over 80,000 acres of land in and around Sarasota, Florida — about one-third of the land in what was then the massive county named Manatee. In 1914, she bought of land as an exclusive hunting preserve called "River Hills" in Temple Terrace, Florida. After her death, her sons inherited the land and eventually sold it to developers who created the Mediterranean Revival golf course community of Temple Terrace, Florida. She became a progressive rancher, land developer, and farm developer who introduced many innovations to encourage the Florida ranching, citrus, dairy, and farming industries. Palmer was one of the first famous people to winter in Florida, beginning a now-common practice. She encouraged wealthy friends and associates in her international social circles to spend winters along Sarasota Bay and her other Florida land interests and promoted the development of many land parcels; today much of that land is still known as Palmer Ranch. The major roads through her property were named by her as well as some connecting to the existing communities. Those names remain unchanged as Honoré, Lockwood Ridge, Tuttle, Webber, and Macintosh. She proved herself to be an astute businesswoman: within sixteen years after her husband's death, she managed to double the value of the estate he had left her. After her death, a large parcel of her land was donated (donated according to Sarasota County, sold according to the state) by her sons to become Myakka River State Park.


Bertha Honoré married the Chicago millionaire Potter Palmer in 1870. She was twenty-one, he was forty-four. Palmer was a Quaker merchant who had come to Chicago after failing twice in business. In Chicago he learned to please his clients, many of whom were women. He made customer service a priority and carried everything from dry goods to the latest French fashions for ladies. Palmer sold his vast store to a consortium and it would eventually become Marshall Field's. Palmer then opened a luxury hotel, Palmer HouseNow the Palmer Hilton. and invested in real estate, eventually owning a vast portfolio of properties. Soon after their marriage, the Chicago Fire wiped out the Palmer House and most of their holdings and Bertha Palmer had to rush off to wire the east so that Palmer could re-establish credit, borrow money and rebuild his holdings. Bertha Palmer was unusually poised for one so young and together, the Palmers re-established their fortune and despite her age, she quickly rose to the top of Chicago society. "She was beautiful, dashing, quick, and smart; and more than that, she was sure of herself," wrote historian Ernest Poole.For background biography, see Mounted on a Pedestal: Bertha Honoré Palmer by Hope L. Black 

Portrait titled "Mrs. Potter Palmer" by [[Anders Zorn, 1893]] In 1874, she gave birth to son Honoré, and in 1875, she gave birth to son Potter Palmer II. Both sons went on to have sons named Potter Palmer III, as well as other children. See Who's Who in Chicago (1931).

She was an early member of the Chicago Woman's Club, part of the General Federation of Women's Clubs; this group of working women met to discuss social problems and develop solutions. They supported kindergartens until the city made them part of the school system, and campaigned for inexpensive milk for impoverished children and better care for children of imprisoned mothers.

Chicago World's Fair & The Women's Building

In 1893, Chicago would be site of the World's Columbian Exposition, a celebration of the discovery of the New World by Columbus.Yes, we know that others were there first, but they were celebrating Columbus. It would also mark the city's recovery from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Women would have a large presence in the fair and the plumb position was the President of the Board of Lady Managers, which Bertha Palmer was selected to lead in 1891.See World's Columbian Exposition, Board of Lady Managers, Addresses and Reports, Chicago, 1893 While the positions were honorary, the women had a great deal of work to do. The board chose Sophia Hayden as architect for the women's building and designer to supervise the interior decoration. Candace Wheeler to supervise the interior decoration. The Chicago art curator Sarah Tyson Hallowell (1846-1924)See Jeffrey Morseburg's The Indefatigable Sarah Hallowell essay for general background and influence. She introduced French Impressionism to Chicago in 1890. worked closely with Palmer on the art exhibits and the murals. Apparently, it was Palmer who chose the theme of "Primitive Woman" and "Modern Woman" for the two murals and Hallowell and Palmer's first choice for both murals was Elizabeth Jane Gardner (1837-1922), an experienced academic painter and the paramour of William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). However, the time to paint the two huge murals (12' x 54') was short and the artist did not feel that she had the energy to complete the project. Hallowell then recommended the young academic painter Mary Fairchild MacMonnies and the Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt to do the two murals and after their initial rejection of the contracts, the women only had a number of months to complete the murals and have them shipped to Chicago.Eve's Daughter, Modern Woman: A Mural by Mary Cassatt has an extensive play by play in the chapter World's Columbian Exposition. Following the opening of the Exposition, Palmer sat for the fashionable Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920), who was commissioned by the Board of Lady Managers from the fair.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine