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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.



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