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The Life of Mrs. Potter Palmer - At the time of the Chicago fire of 1871, Mrs. Palmer was a new bride of fourteen months.  She was passing a quiet Sunday evening by herself as Mr. Palmer had just left to attend the funeral of  one of his sisters in New York. It had been a particularly dry summer and the grass on lawns would have been dry as tinder.  Mrs. Palmer noted the glow of a fire hanging over the city. She was alarmed for her parents' safety. Soon homes, shops, churches, factories were going up like matchsticks. The downtown business area was quickly enveloped. The wedding gift she'd received from her new husband, The Palmer House, was one of the first large buildings to go.

Mrs. Palmer's parents survived, but
three hundred people died in the fire.  Ninety thousand people were homeless, seventeen thousand buildings destroyed and property loss of nearly two hundred million dollars (one-third the wealth of Chicago).
All but five percent of Mr. Palmer's new buildings were burned.

Potter Palmer moved forward with all the powerful drive for which
he was known. His credit enabled him to borrow from the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company $1,700,000. From the time of the fire he had a rare helpmate in his wife, whom he called, Cissie.

The Palmers were just getting on their feet again when the financial panic of 1873 struck them hard. Mr. Palmer sold some of his land to save the greater part of their holdings. Bertha watched and learned as her husband maneuvered through this financial crisis. She was an astute student. She engaged her husband in talk. He was usually a quiet man, but he grew quite eloquent with her, speaking of his work and his aims. She listened attentively. She remarked later that she had learned all she knew of business during these times during their early marriage. She was swept into the area of public work and philanthropy.
She was never indifferent to a good community cause.

She championed women's rights. Equal pay for equal work made sense to her. She was quite interested in women's and girl's education.

Mrs. Palmer became an avid collector of art. She was influenced by Mary Cassatt, who was pushing the Impressionists for all she was worth. Mrs. Palmer's first purchase of modern art was "On the Stage," by Degas. She bought this in 1896 for five hundred dollars. She was fond of Degas' s work.  Mr. Palmer liked to prowl in the art shops when he did not go to the races. It was Mrs. Palmer, however who conversed easily with the artists in their own language. Some of the Palmers' choicest pictures graced the Chicago World's Fair. Mrs. Palmer was chairman of the board of lady managers of the fair. The Palmer name is associated with the Italian Renaissance building, which combines schools, libraries and a museum and houses a considerable part of the Palmer collection at the Chicago Institute of Art. The younger Potter Palmer served as president of the Institute from 1925 to 1943.

Mr. Potter Palmer, Bertha's husband, died unexpectedly from edema of the lungs on May 4, 1902, at his home on the Drive. He had been ill but his condition was not considered alarming until three hours before the end. His wife and two sons were at his bedside when he died. Mr. Palmer left all of his fortune to his wife without any strings. She and her brother Adrian were made trustees of the eight-million-dollar estate, which consisted largely of real estate. It was divided into two parts. The first, was to be administered by the trustees and given to Honore and Potter such funds as Mrs. Palmer deemed advisable. Mr. Palmer was seventy-six when he died. Bertha was then fifty-three.

Mrs. Palmer was sixty-one when she decided to seek a simpler life for herself in a wilderness close to the small town of Sarasota, Florida. "You must realize that the Palmer family is quite an institution," she told A.B. Edwards, a Sarasota real estate dealer, after she had bought up thousands of acres of land in Florida. "The very foundation of the family is real estate.  That is why we have invested so heavily in land down here."

She became the builder, the planner, the doer. It was not enough to create a beautiful estate. She expected to make money as well as to head a sylvan community. Her father had followed Henry M. Flagler's development of the east coast with interest.  Mrs. Palmer had been advised by her husband to invest her money in real estate. She would bring order out of the wilderness, cultivate citrus groves, create a model community of fruit and truck farms, and build an Italian villa in the heart of the jungle.

Of interest to the development of the City of Venice is the fact that she stipulated in the purchasing contract for fifty thousand acres, that a railroad spur must be built from Sarasota to her property. Pressure was brought to bear on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad to make this gesture for Mrs. Palmer. Within thirty days the spur was under way, running from Sarasota to Venice, and serving her property.

Mrs. Palmer died at her Osprey home, The Oaks, on May 5, 1918.  That was within a day of the sixteenth anniversary of her husband's death. She was sixty-nine years old. Her family was with her when she died.

Silhouette in Diamonds The Life of Mrs. Potter Palmer - At the time of the Chicago fire of 1871, Mrs. Palmer was a new bride of fourteen months. She was passing a quiet Sunday evening by herself as Mr. Palmer had just left to attend the funeral of one of his sisters in New York. It had been a particularly dry summer and the grass on lawns would have been dry as tinder. Mrs. Palmer noted the glow of a fire hanging over the city. She was alarmed for her parents' safety. Soon homes, shops, churches, factories were going up like matchsticks. The downtown business area was quickly enveloped. The wedding gift she'd received from her new husband, The Palmer House, was one of the first large buildings to go. Mrs. Palmer's parents survived, but three hundred people died in the fire. Ninety thousand people were homeless, seventeen thousand buildings destroyed and property loss of nearly two hundred million dollars (one-third the wealth of Chicago). All but five percent of Mr. Palmer's new buildings were burned. Potter Palmer moved forward with all the powerful drive for which he was known. His credit enabled him to borrow from the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company $1,700,000. From the time of the fire he had a rare helpmate in his wife, whom he called, Cissie. The Palmers were just getting on their feet again when the financial panic of 1873 struck them hard. Mr. Palmer sold some of his land to save the greater part of their holdings. Bertha watched and learned as her husband maneuvered through this financial crisis. She was an astute student. She engaged her husband in talk. He was usually a quiet man, but he grew quite eloquent with her, speaking of his work and his aims. She listened attentively. She remarked later that she had learned all she knew of business during these times during their early marriage. She was swept into the area of public work and philanthropy. She was never indifferent to a good community cause. She championed women's rights. Equal pay for equal work made sense to her. She was quite interested in women's and girl's education. Mrs. Palmer became an avid collector of art. She was influenced by Mary Cassatt, who was pushing the Impressionists for all she was worth. Mrs. Palmer's first purchase of modern art was "On the Stage," by Degas. She bought this in 1896 for five hundred dollars. She was fond of Degas' s work. Mr. Palmer liked to prowl in the art shops when he did not go to the races. It was Mrs. Palmer, however who conversed easily with the artists in their own language. Some of the Palmers' choicest pictures graced the Chicago World's Fair. Mrs. Palmer was chairman of the board of lady managers of the fair. The Palmer name is associated with the Italian Renaissance building, which combines schools, libraries and a museum and houses a considerable part of the Palmer collection at the Chicago Institute of Art. The younger Potter Palmer served as president of the Institute from 1925 to 1943. Mr. Potter Palmer, Bertha's husband, died unexpectedly from edema of the lungs on May 4, 1902, at his home on the Drive. He had been ill but his condition was not considered alarming until three hours before the end. His wife and two sons were at his bedside when he died. Mr. Palmer left all of his fortune to his wife without any strings. She and her brother Adrian were made trustees of the eight-million-dollar estate, which consisted largely of real estate. It was divided into two parts. The first, was to be administered by the trustees and given to Honore and Potter such funds as Mrs. Palmer deemed advisable. Mr. Palmer was seventy-six when he died. Bertha was then fifty-three. Mrs. Palmer was sixty-one when she decided to seek a simpler life for herself in a wilderness close to the small town of Sarasota, Florida. "You must realize that the Palmer family is quite an institution," she told A.B. Edwards, a Sarasota real estate dealer, after she had bought up thousands of acres of land in Florida. "The very foundation of the family is real estate. That is why we have invested so heavily in land down here." She became the builder, the planner, the doer. It was not enough to create a beautiful estate. She expected to make money as well as to head a sylvan community. Her father had followed Henry M. Flagler's development of the east coast with interest. Mrs. Palmer had been advised by her husband to invest her money in real estate. She would bring order out of the wilderness, cultivate citrus groves, create a model community of fruit and truck farms, and build an Italian villa in the heart of the jungle. Of interest to the development of the City of Venice is the fact that she stipulated in the purchasing contract for fifty thousand acres, that a railroad spur must be built from Sarasota to her property. Pressure was brought to bear on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad to make this gesture for Mrs. Palmer. Within thirty days the spur was under way, running from Sarasota to Venice, and serving her property. Mrs. Palmer died at her Osprey home, The Oaks, on May 5, 1918. That was within a day of the sixteenth anniversary of her husband's death. She was sixty-nine years old. Her family was with her when she died.

Object Type: Library