I am heading to the Windy City tomorrow to continue work on a project which I began last summer. This project deals with Bertha Palmer’s book collection at The Ringling Art Library, and this trip will give me some time in archival repositories to finish my work. You may recall that the project dealt with the books that belonged to Bertha Palmer which are now in The
Ringling Art Library. I ended my summer internship having examined the condition of the books in the collection, identifying items for conservation, and just scratching the surface of what this collection might say about Bertha’s interests, opinions, and personality.
What the collection at The Ringling Art Library doesn’t tell us, and what I aim to find out, is what other books Bertha Palmer owned and read. I was able to scratch the surface of that topic through great documents in the Bertha Palmer manuscript collection at the Sarasota County History Center. But these documents only covered her time in Sarasota (1910-1918), and when she died her estate was filed in Cook County, Illinois, meaning records of her estate were not readily available.
The purpose of this trip is to explore those documents which relate to her life before Sarasota, and the records resulting from the settlement of her estate. I will focus on three main repositories: The Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago HIstory Museum, and the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court.
The Art Institute’s collections are heavy in Bertha Palmer’s materials surrounding the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Much of Bertha’s work on the Exposition dealt with establishing a women’s library, and I hope that correspondence found in these collections will include correspondence about books that she was interested in seeing in the library or that she was aware of or reading herself.
The Chicago HIstory Museum is the de facto repository for all things Chicago, and as you can imagine, it has a large amount of materials from the Palmer family. There are not only manuscript collections, but also art objects, clothing, and other ephemera. Of particular use here are the Bertha Honoré Palmer manuscript collection and the Bertha Palmer and Palmer Family Research Collection. These two collections contain correspondence, household records, ledgers, and other materials which I think might give insight into books being purchased by the family.
Finally, I hope that the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court will yield some good tangible information. When Bertha Palmer died in 1918 in Manatee County, Florida (her home was on land which would, in 1921, become part of Sarasota County), her estate was handled in Cook County, Illinois. It was common at this time for wealthy people to have an inventory conducted in order to properly value their estates. For example, this happened with John Ringling when he died in 1936, and his inventory included a thorough list of the books found in his home. I have no doubt that this happened with Bertha Palmer’s estate, too. I have a copy of an abstract of the estate which was prepared by the Chicago Title and Trust Company on March 30th, 1921. This abstract lists an inventory as being part of the probate record, and this is the document I hope to find. As you can imagine, the estate was huge and the probate file is equally massive; I believe it to be over 2,000 pages. I have no idea what I will find when I delve into the file, but my fingers are crossed that the estate inventory will surface and will prove useful.
Keep checking back for some (hopefully) exciting updates soon!