FrouFrou 4 YouYou

Chicago Millinery History: Conventions in Chicago; 1800s February 26, 2016



Political conventions have been held in Chicago since 1860. The fourteen Republican and eleven Democratic conventions held here beats the closest city of Baltimore with a distant total of ten conventions.

What people wore to conventions has changed over the century plus of events. We shall give lip service to men, then jump into women’s fashions, particularly hats.

The male attendees have changed from waistcoats, and powdered wig of the 1700’s to the current business casual or just casual wear. If you are a candidate hopeful or scheduled speaker, then wearing the traditional tailored suit and tie is now the norm. For headwear the synthetic foam boater hat still exists to a degree, but the baseball cap has gained a foothold. Small metal pins and doodads or paper signs are sometimes added to these hats.

What women wore is a shorter history. Few women attend conventions for the majority of the years from our country’s beginning. In 1876 Miss Phobe Couzins addressed the group. As a lawyer and supporter of suffrage, she was allowed 10 minutes to speak to that hotbed topic.


Women delegates were not part of conventions until? Some digging may still reveal that tidbit of information. Even the wives of candidates were not always present. With the exception of Jackie Kennedy, who was pregnant and due in Dec, since then hopeful presidents and vice presidents have had their wives present.

NBC was first to broadcast a convention, the Republican convention in 1940. Before that time movie shorts, the newsreels sufficed for some. Chauncey Depew, Senator Perkins, and Governor Whitman of New York are shown at GOP Convention, 1916, Chicago, Il, which ran 2 min.

Primarily word of conventions came from newspapers. Although Chicago has a rich history of newspapers, much was lost in the fire of 1871, the year the Chicago Tribune started publication.

WIGWAM, 1860
Chicago has been the nation’s most popular political convention city, in part because of its geographic centrality. Between 1860 and 1996, Chicago hosted Republican and Democrat presidential nominating conventions, plus one notable Progressive Party assembly. Chicago’s closest competitors for the most presidential conventions are Baltimore with 10, followed by Philadelphia’s 9.


Wigwam # 1

Chicago’s first presidential nominating convention, the Republican National Convention of 1860, was held in the “Wigwam,” a temporary two-story wooden structure. Last-minute backroom deals, plus a successful scheme to pack the galleries with holders of counterfeit tickets, brought unexpected victory to Abraham Lincoln. If there were women present, they would have been in the gallery. They would have been wearing bonnets, as a proper woman would not be outside her home without one.



Democrats convened for the first time in Chicago in 1864, when they nominated General George B. McClellan and passed an antiwar platform. Republicans returned to Chicago in 1868 to unanimously nominate, at the Crosby Opera House, the victorious General Ulysses S. Grant.


1864 Peterson’s magazine


In 1880, Republicans convened in the Interstate Industrial Exposition Building on Michigan Avenue to nominate former speaker of the House of Representatives James A. Garfield, on the thirty-sixth ballot. Four years later, Chicago hosted its first double convention in the Interstate Industrial Exposition Building. Republicans nominated James G. Blaine, of Maine, secretary of state for the assassinated Garfield, on the fourth ballot. Democrats nominated New York governor Grover Cleveland, who became president.



This Harper’s Weekly from June 1880 shows in detail the intensity of the crowd. Drawings by Frank H. Taylor. A big thank you to Mr. Taylor for including those women in their bonnets in the left bottom corner.


The Leslie’s Illustrated magazine June, 1880 drawings by W. Parker Bodfish tell the story almost as well as a photograph.


Another drawing by Mr. Bodfish in the Leslie’s Illustrated of June 1884 shows great joy at the nomination. If one looked carefully, in the upper left corner, there is one woman in this picture. She  is holding both a flag and her parasol. She might have been rather dangerous in a crowd.

In 1884, Republicans met, but their nomination from Maine, Speaker of the House James G. Blaine was an unsuccessful candidate against Cleveland. Back room bargaining had been taking place at the highly regarded Grand Pacific Hotel, where just the year before, Standard Time had been adopted. Even if everyone was not on the same page politically, at least everyone knew what time it was.



Harper’sWeekly, June 1884 convention outside at night.


Harper’s Weekly June 1884 shows  Michigan Ave, outside the convention. Drawn by Schell and Graham, it indicates a parade was of great interest.  The women have the bustle in the back,  dresses with highly corseted waistlines. Parasols are also seen used by girls and women. Keeping the sun off the face helped keep the porcelain complexion, which was highly desirable, long before concerns for sun damage to the skin.


Another Harper’s Weekly drawing of the Palmer House Hotel can still stand in that same space today, and enjoy the lobby for which it has become well known.


Harper’s Weekly:  Journal of Civilization, June 7, 1884 paid tremendous attention to the convention, with it featured on the cover.

In 1888, Republicans met in the still-unfinished Civic Auditorium to nominate Senator Benjamin Harrison, of Indiana, on the eighth ballot. He lost the popular vote in the general election but beat President Cleveland in the Electoral College.

In 1892, Democrats met in a temporary “Wigwam” in Lake Park to nominate Cleveland for a third time. He regained the presidency. (See bottom of page for photo of unused ticket.)

A fine reference exists by R. Craig  Sautter, and Edward M. Burke. Inside the Wigwam: Chicago Presidential Conventions, 1860–1996.

The 1896 Democratic convention, held in Chicago’s first Coliseum on 63rd Street, was the most unpredictable of the nineteenth century, next to Lincoln’s. William Jennings Bryan, just 36 years old, captured the hearts of delegates with his spellbinding “Cross of Gold” speech and won the nomination on the fifth ballot. He lost a dramatic election to business-oriented William McKinley

Buildings of the conventions:
Wigwam #1 at Lake and 1860, destroyed between 1860-1871.

Wigwam # 2

Interstate Exposition Building 1884. See blog of February 16, 2016 for more details.

History: the first Coliseum
The first Coliseum hosted horse shows, boxing matches, and circus acts beginning in 1866. Typical of most nineteenth century cities, Chicago had a flourishing bachelor subculture, which made events at the Coliseum often rowdy affairs. The arena’s history is hazy as there is no knowledge as to when it was opened and when it closed down.[1]

The second Coliseum

The second Coliseum, situated in Woodlawn on the south side, had a difficult history. Initial construction began early in 1895 on a 14-acre (57,000 m2) site of the World’s Columbian Exposition, but in August of that year the incomplete structure collapsed, and builders had to start over. Construction of the 300-by-700 foot building entailed the use of 2.5 million pounds of steel, 3.2 million feet of lumber, and 3 million bricks, and was finally completed in June 1896. The building was impressive in size for its day, twice as large as Madison Square Garden; its interior was supported by 12 massive arches, 100 feet high with a span of 230 feet. There were seven acres of interior floor space.

Not only Democrats and Republicans chose Chicago for their conventions.
Other parties=15 other conventions in Chicago
Greenback 1880=1
Independence 1908=1
Progressive 1912, 1918=2
Farmer Labor 1920,1928=2
Prohibition 1900, 1928, 1940, 1964=4
Socialist 1904, 1908, 1956=3
Libertarian 1992=1
Green 2008=1

Ticket costs back in the day are unknown. Fortunately some have survived, and at times appear for sale online.

Democratic ticket available in 2016 from 1892= $800 on eBay. The Republican 1884 ticket shown at the top of the page had an opening price for auction on eBay for $175 on Feb. 25, 2016.

Democratic ticket available in 2016 for a ticket from 1932=$12 on eBay. Clearly these are not as popular, or many still exist.

Want to know more? Presenting programs on Chicago’s millinery history is a fun experience for Mary Robak, the author of this blog. In 2016 a new topic has been added, Political Conventions and Hats. If you would like more information about such a presentation, please add a comment and let the fun begin.

Coming soon, the blog on Chicago Millinery History:Conventions 1900s 


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