May 1, 2014


old journalThis week marks an amazing event in Chicago history, and if it weren’t for finding this hope chest I would’ve never learned of this first-hand account from someone who actually attended!  Inside a very old journal kept in the chest I found an entry that Mary herself wrote about her incredible experience at The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893….


trolleycarMiss Mary Thorsen stepped out the front door of the home she shared with her family and made her way down a Chicago sidewalk one fair May afternoon in 1893.  As she made her way toward the electric trolley, which had recently been converted from cable car and horse car previous to that, she was swimming with anticipation and delight.  She enthusiastically met with friend Wilhelmine Pheiffer and the two eagerly boarded the car to make their journey south.


Worlds Fair TicketHer hometown had been through many new changes since the Great Fire just twelve years earlier.  With determination the city had rebuilt since that fateful night, and in 1890 had been awarded a magnificent achievement by beating out New York, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. for the honor of being named the next site of The Chicago World’s Fair.  On this particular May day Mary and Wilhelmine excitedly rode to Jackson Park with tickets clutched securely in hand.


woman at World's FairLike the city she loved, Mary had also gone through many changes in her life as well.  In 1891, when she was just eighteen, she joined her grandmother Emma and eleven other women in forging a society to help elderly Danish-Americans in Chicago.  Inspired by her grandmother’s benevolence and enduring vision to organize the society, Mary herself became a very philanthropic and independent woman for her age.  Two years after joining this group of 11 women as a member of the Society for the Danish Old People’s Home (which would eventually open its doors to all and become The Danish Home of Chicago), Mary was on her way to becoming part of another very historic Chicago event.


Worlds Fair posterThe World’s Columbian Exposition, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in America, opened 121 years ago this week.  Running from May 1st to October 30th, 1893, it was a tremendous achievement for the city and it’s more than 1 million citizens.  Despite its many hitches and setbacks, even today it is known for being a crowning achievement in Chicago’s history, and is largely credited for ushering in the City Beautiful movement and planting the seeds of modern city planning.


programofworldfairspeakersIn addition to her interest in seeing the Danish Pavilion, one of 46 countries represented at The World’s Exposition, Mary noted that she was very interested in seeing her idles Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone & Susan B. Anthony.  According to the program found along with her journal entry, they were all scheduled to speak.  As described in this post back in January, Mary was a proud advocate for the Women’s Suffrage Movement.


I can only imagine what it must have been like to visit such a colossal event, or what Chicago must have been like back then, but it’s wonderful to be able to imagine it through Mary’s eyes.

World's Fair

Would you have attended the World’s Columbian Exposition?  View our newest Pinterest board to see the highlights!