FrouFrou 4 YouYou

Chicago Millinery History:Political Conventions 1900-1996 March 3, 2016


The 1904 Republican-1916 Republican Convention.

In 1904, the Republicans gathered in the second Coliseum on South Wabash, to unanimously nominate President Theodore Roosevelt, who had assumed office after McKinley’s assassination. In 1908, Republicans returned to the Coliseum to nominate Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, William Howard Taft. Roosevelt challenged Taft in 1912, winning almost all the primaries, but was rebuffed by Republican leaders. Fearing violence from Roosevelt supporters, hundreds of Chicago police were on hand, and barbed wire was strung beneath the bunting of the podium. Roosevelt refused to drop out, and two months later the Progressive Party nominated him in the same building. New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson won in November. In 1916, the Republicans returned to the Coliseum, again rejected Roosevelt, and nominated Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes on the third ballot.

The 1920 Republican Convention

In 1920, the Republicans met again at the Coliseum. The convention was mired in a stalemate until a “senatorial cabal,” meeting in “smoke-filled” rooms 408–10 of the Blackstone Hotel, selected Senator Warren G. Harding. The delegates ratified him on the tenth ballot.

The role of Mrs. Florence Harding was perhaps more aggressive than most, if not all, previous First Lady hopefuls. The campaign headquarters at their OH home allowed for the press to have daily updates. She had been certain to have another structure built on the property to house the press. For years she had run the family newspaper, and knew how to use the press to their advantage. It is rather likely she had worked over a few of those fellow senators of her husband’s peer group herself.


This gown, in the Smithsonian Museum, was not for the inauguration. One wonders if she had it made even before the election, but perhaps not as early as the nominating convention.

The 1932 Democratic Convention 

Chicago hosted another double convention in 1932. First, Republicans glumly gathered in the new Chicago Stadium during the depths of Great Depression to renominate President Herbert C. Hoover. Two weeks later, Democrats gathered in the same hall and selected Franklin D. Roosevelt over Al Smith on the fourth ballot. Roosevelt flew to Chicago to deliver the first-ever convention acceptance speech.

In 1940 and 1944, Roosevelt was renominated for his third and fourth terms in the Stadium. Republicans challenged him in 1944 with New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, also nominated in the Stadium.

The 1940 _____ Convention

What party? The one with Gracie Allen.

Gracie Allen, the better half of the Burns and Allen comedy duo made an announcement she would run on the Surprise Party ticket. This started as a bit for their radio show, but blossomed. She went from ” I’m tired of knitting this sweater. I think I’ll run for President.” To a special train car fitted for the whistle stop campaign, from Hollywood with 30+ stops, all the way to a national convention for 4 days in Omaha, NB. No, this was not in Chicago, but it certainly had to be a great source for conversation at the conventions held in

The election outcome? Perhaps 40,000 actual votes. Her picture showed her wearing a top hat, as well as fashion of the day hats.


The 1940 Democratic Convention

File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 4.0

1940 delegates at the Democratic convention, with one wide brim hat see near the top. Poor girl in bottom right might have been texting, if she had a cell phone.

The 1944 Democratic Convention

Roosevelt was nominated for a fourth term as President. The big question was who would be nominated for Vice-President. What was of concern was the chance that Henry Wallace could be selected. There was opposition by some , which led to the nomination of Harry Truman.

The 1952 Republican Convention


Republican television coverage allowed viewers to see a fist fight of delegates who supported Taft, vs Eisenhower, who won on the first ballot. This convention was held at the International Ampitheater, where wrestling and boxing matches were held, so perhaps the delegates were unclear that a fist fight was not at the right time, if even at the right place.

Political conventions had a new thing happening on television, with Eisenhower benefiting from the use of 20 second commercials. Democratic convention coverage was tamer, but  Aldai Stevenson had a bad outcome with his 30 minute television broadcast, as it interrupted the I Love Lucy program, and viewers wrote to express their dismay.



Television advertisements in the Chicago Tribune in June 1952 were there to entice the impulse buyer.

In 1956 the Democrats met in Chicago to nominate Adlai Stevenson, just as they had in 1952, not that it would turn out any better this time.

News coverage on television took on a more prominent role, as there were more TV’s in households than in 1952. “Perhaps no phenomenon shaped American life in the 1950s more than TELEVISION. At the end of World War II, the television was a toy for only a few thousand wealthy Americans. Just 10 years later, nearly two-thirds of American households had a television.”

Chet Huntley and David Brinkly did the NBC convention coverage, and were so well received they went on to remain paired as news commentators for the network until they retired in 1970.

“The highlight of the 1956 Democratic Convention came when Stevenson, in an effort to create excitement for the ticket, made the surprise announcement that the convention’s delegates would choose his running mate. This set off a desperate scramble among several candidates to win the nomination; a good deal of the excitement of the vice-presidential race came from the fact that the candidates had only one hectic day to campaign among the delegates before the voting began. The two leading contenders were Senator Kefauver, who retained the support of his primary delegates, and John F. Kennedy, who, as a first term Senator of Massachusetts, was relatively unknown at that point. Kennedy surprised the experts by surging into the lead on the second ballot; at one point he was only 15 votes shy of winning. However, a number of states then left their “favorite son” candidates and switched to Kefauver, giving him the victory. Kennedy then gave a gracious concession speech. The narrow defeat raised his profile and helped Kennedy’s long-term presidential chances, yet by losing to Kefauver he avoided any blame for Stevenson’s expected loss to Eisenhower in November. As of 2015, this was the last time any nomination went past the first ballot.”


Souvenirs are popular at any large special event. Folks like to have something concrete to relive those wonderful moments of their lives. No idea who sold the cigar that was inside this wrapper, but the paper band has survived.

In the 1950s a lady would not likely have desired a cigar as a souvenir. She would have opted for a handkerchief. Hankies, as they are oft called, were small squares, usually of cotton or linen. The linen were popular for lace or  crochet work around the edges, and the cotton for printed images. Flowers were the most popular, and as seen below, for a political statement.

donkey hankyrepub hanky

Although they would only have likely been priced about $2 when released in the 1950s, the GOP one is now listed for $200. Perhaps it comes without the tears the GOP members felt after 1960.

“Handkerchiefs were even employed for advertising in political campaigns.  One historian claims Martha Washington created a handkerchief to help promote the election of her husband.

Apparently she had “George Washington for President” hankies printed for distribution at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  To this day, handkerchiefs are printed depicting both Republican and Democratic parties, as well as coronation handkerchiefs for royalty.”

In case you are even more curious about patriotic hankies, there is a delightful blog.

And what were women wearing that 1956 summer to the big city? They had been entranced by a new Broadway play, My Fair Lady. The play opened in March and ran to 1962, a record at the time. The movie from 1964 had the same impact.

For 1956, ” The most important item on every woman’s spring shopping list was a hat; not the demure Easter bonnet of previous springs, but a big, important hat—it had to be a head high or two heads wide, or it did not count. The simplicity of the slim Empire body line led all the interest up to the head, and the milliners made the most of the opportunity. Exotic, heretofore incompatible colors (pink and orange, turquoise and green) were intertwined in high silk turbans or chechias; gardens of improbable flowers grew on wide-brimmed straws; and romantic Leghorns were wound with chiffon in melting shades and set with a single pink rose. All this romance was immensely becoming—the faces beneath the hats bloomed as prettily as the flowers on the hats, and, for the first time in years, women who had never worn a hat willingly flocked to the milliners. Since these hats were alive with detail and color, the clothes beneath them were subdued. Black, gray, and pale beige were the spring col-ors, pushing navy almost completely out of the picture. Summer clothes stole many colors from the liveliest spring hats and were mainly Empire in feeling; a gentler, more civilized summer dress appeared, ladylike and, at the same time, seductive.”

The 1960 Republican Convention


Booklets of the convention were important to keep track of keys aspects.

1960 Republican convention newsreel clip shows a rousing parade, including a few grand hats.

“Republicans made their final appearance in Chicago in 1960, nominating Vice President Richard M. Nixon. After Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley’s legendary role in swinging that year’s close national election to John F. Kennedy, Republicans have declined to return to the city of their first presidential triumph.” R. Craig Sautter


This 1960’s dress could well have been worn for events to support the Republican Party. It was found in a Cincinnati, OH estate sale.

The 1968 Democratic Convention

“The Democratic convention of 1968 was held at the Amphitheater in the midst of the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. When the party endorsed a pro-war platform, violence between thousands of antiwar protestors and Chicago police broke out on Michigan Avenue in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. The events reached a national television and international audience and caused turmoil on the convention floor. The conflicts inside and out of the convention were contributing factors to Hubert Humphrey’s narrow defeat in November to Richard M. Nixon.”

“Twenty-eight years passed before another presidential convention came to Chicago. Democrats renominated President William J. Clinton at the United Center in 1996. While nominating and seconding speeches were but a sentence long at Chicago’s first presidential nominating convention, they lasted all night 136 years later.” R. Craig Sautter

The 1996 Democratic  Convention

The 1968 Democratic convention and riots in Chicago were certainly more than a blemish on the city’s desirability for further conventions. It was not until 28 years later that the Democrats returned in 1996.

The 1996 Chicago convention for reelection of President Bill Clinton went well. It must have been a relief in some respects that there was only one other other candidate for the actual election. One convention in 1992 did not happen, because Ross Perot was an independent. He ran against incumbent George Bush and Bill Clinton. While the Clinton nomination came in NY, at the time of the convention it was a period after Perot had withdrawn, and had not yet re-entered the race. It was a very perplexing election.


What about hats?

Researching the leading two milliners of my era in Chicago, Benjamin GreenField of BesBen, and Raymond Hudd led me to constantly search online for paper ephemera as well as Chicago made hats. A couple items of convention head-wear have come my way. Curious to see some? Email and perhaps we can work out a traveling exhibit, or a presentation.

Wondering about the medal at the top of the page? Looks old? How about this one?


The one at the top of the page was from the 1996 Democratic convention created by the Sheraton Hotel Bar. The bottom medal was for an alternate at a long ago convention.



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