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Markers of Distinction

Bertha Honore (1849–1918)
and Potter Palmer (1826–1902)
Philanthropists and entrepreneurs

The 1870 marriage of Bertha Honore and Potter Palmer united two of the wealthiest and most influential families of 19th century Chicago. Both were strong-willed individualists who used their economic power and social positions to carry out their personal visions.

Potter Palmer’s contributions to Chicago were aggressively entrepreneurial. In 1852, he opened a high-quality dry-goods store that later became the famed Marshall Field’s department store. After retiring from the dry-goods business in 1865, he speculated in Chicago real estate and was singularly responsible for establishing State Street as Chicago’s principal retail thoroughfare. Rebuilt three times, the Palmer House hotel has been a landmark for more than 125 years.

Bertha Honore Palmer leveraged her position as a respected leader of Chicago society to advance reform and feminist causes. She was a strong advocate of women’s rights and actively worked to have the diverse achievements of women fully represented at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Mrs. Palmer also was an astute art collector and many of the Art Institute’s Impressionist paintings once were part of her personal collection.