National Ice Cream Day

Hey Y’all, Happy National Ice Cream Day. Check out these two photos of historic cones from Skokie Public Library and Mount Prospect Public Library.

Girls Eating Ice Cream. c. 1920. Skokie Historical Society via Skokie Public Library. Skokie History Project.
Rober Ninnemann’s Ice Cream Parlor, 1925. Mount Prospect Public Library, Mount Prospect History.

More of Skokie can be found here, and Mount Prospect here. For everything on ice cream on the IDHH, click here.

June Weddings

Women Modeling their Wedding Gowns, nd. Sterling Public Library. Sterling and Rock Falls Local History Collection.

My family tells this story about a wedding at a trapeze artist’s house. The bride, the artist herself, had a trapeze installed in her house- an old farmhouse that they connected to the barn after moving it across their property. It was so hot at the wedding that eyeglasses were slipping off of people’s faces- the groom– somebody in investment banking sweat through his clothes and spent the rest of the wedding visibly damp. The pond near their house was alive with snakes trying to both sun themselves and get cool. 

It took time for me to actually understand what “wedding season” was- especially as it coincided with tourist season. The political economy of event planning was so foreign. Who doesn’t love weddings? Or even just photos of weddings, including the notalgia and trends in them, group pictures, flowers, wedding cakes. What makes a good wedding? What makes a good wedding photo beyond the traditional framing or poses that seemingly every married couple gets arranged in on their wedding day? Below are some of my picks of wedding photos from our contributors at Sterling Public Library, Cherry Valley Public Library District, Mclean County Museum of History, Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County, and Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park in cooperation with the Oak Park Public Library. 

Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway on their wedding day. 1921. Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park in cooperation with the Oak Park Public Library.  The Early Years – Ernest and Marcelline Hemingway in Oak Park.
Struckman Family. 1937. Sterling Public Library.Sterling and Rock Falls Local History Collection.
Yunek-Banks Wedding. 1956. Cherry Valley Public Library District. Cherry Valley Local History Collection.
Benjamin Wedding. 1944. Mclean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negatives Collection, 1940-1945.
Nurses and Soldiers,  General Hospital No. 28, Fort Sheridan, Illinois, c. 1919. Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County. Fort Sheridan.

National Corn on the Cob Day

Corn in Illinois will not be ready for harvest for another month, but the opportunity to celebrate our corn heritage is too enticing. It’s a small contribution, and a little bit of a deviation from the theme but this image of excess corn stored outside of an elevator from McLean County Historical Society via the McLean County Museum of History is too good to not share.

Excess corn stored outside elevator. C. 1950. McLean County Historical Society via McLean County Museum of History. Teaching with Cultural Heritage.

A dune of corn kernel surrounds the concrete elevator as less than ideal but temporary storage. Advances in industrial agriculture in the 1950’s and 60’s occasionally created such an abundant harvest that the infrastructure for storing corn struggled to keep up.

Husking Corn By Hand. C. 1910.  McLean County Historical Society via McLean County Museum of History. Teaching with Cultural Heritage.

In the same way that communities in Illinois revolved around coal, corn also was a community-wide touchpoint that was generously documented by everyday people and journalists. For more on corn in Illinois visit the IDHH.

June Flowers

The past few weeks have been shaky, but it’s truly spring. Although the outdoors are more forbidding than in previous springs, maybe you’ve found things to do around the house that still foster a little bit of that feeling of being in nature.  Images from the Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s  rare books have that perfect balance of spring energy and necessary homebodyness.

If you’ve been gardening, you can see how it and tree pruning was done in the later 16th century.

Giardino di agricoltura, Marco Bussato. 1593.  Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Used with permission from Lenhardt Library of Chicago Botanic Garden.
Giardino di agricoltura, Marco Bussato. 1593.  Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Used with permission from Lenhardt Library of Chicago Botanic Garden.

Or if you’ve taken a different route and are thinking of some retro interior design improvements inspired by early 20th century wood engraving such as these from Rudolf Koch’s Das Blumenbach:

Das Blumenbuch by Rudolf Koch. 1933. Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Used with permission from Lenhardt Library of Chicago Botanic Garden
Das Blumenbuch by Rudolf Koch. 1933. Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Used with permission from Lenhardt Library of Chicago Botanic Garden

Watching the blooms, so many people have unearthed their sketchbooks and pencils to work on their nature drawing skills in the prairie grasses. Helen Sharp’s 18 volume collection of watercolor sketches could help inspire the beauty, highlight some long-lost technique, or be the outlet for your stir-crazy, competitive spirit. 

Water-color Sketches of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910 by Helen Sharp. Volume 09. Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Used with permission from Lenhardt Library of Chicago Botanic Garden.
Water-color Sketches of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910 by Helen Sharp. Volume 15. Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Used with permission from Lenhardt Library of Chicago Botanic Garden.

There are so many floral indulgences in the IDHH .The rare books from the Lenhardt Library are great for browsing with studious intensity, keeping us company while we wait out the storm inside. For everything from Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library in the IDHH  click here.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day from the IDHH. We’re a little late on celebrating mothers, but still feel like a tribute should be made. Shelter-in-place has been particularly difficult, and we’re hoping that the distance between you and your loved ones is either not-far, or easily traversed. 

Mother and Daughter Performers on Menage Horses. 1950. Passion for Circus. Photographer, Sverre O. Braathen. Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.

To celebrate Mother’s Day we’re highlighting photographs of families of performers, especially mother-daughter performers from Illinois State University’s Passion for Circus Collection.  The photographs come from a collection of nearly 10,000 spanning from the 1930’s to the 1950’s from circus across the United States.

Performer and Employee with Parent. 1950. Passion for Circus. Photographer, Sverre O. Braathen. Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.

Below is just a small selection of performers and their families, mostly mother-daughter aerial and acrobatics acts, but also performers with their spectator, non-circus parents.

Mother and Daughter Circus Performers. 1949. Passion for Circus. Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.
Performer with Parent. 1951.Passion for Circus. Photographer, Sverre O. Braathen. Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.
Performers in Wardrobe. 1936.Passion for Circus. Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.
Aerialists in Wardrobe. 1945. Passion for Circus. Photographer, Sverre O. Braathen. Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.
Mother and Daughter Production Girls. 1944.Passion for Circus. Photographer, Sverre O. Braathen. Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.


For the full collection you can visit Illinois State University’s Milner Library webpage, or browse on the IDHH.

Nurses at the Graham Hospital School of Nursing

Graham Hospital School of Nursing students. 1946. Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library. Images from the Past. Permission to display given by Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library.

 Reports from across the country describe the effort of nurses as they continue to care for patients sick with Covid-19 and put themselves at risk. Thousands of nurses have themselves been infected with the virus Covid-19 during the pandemic while caring for patients in hospitals and nursing homes.
The Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library collections is the only collection in the IDHH dedicated entirely to nursing and nurse education. It contains 2,000 images and interviews from nurses who trained at the Graham Hospital School of Nursing in the 20th century, as well as images of and information about Graham Hospital, the history of medicine and the Graham Hospital and Canton Illinois community, as well as nursing and nursing education. Below are a few images. Thanks to nurses in Illinois and across the country.

Graham Hospital School of Nursing Student Delivering Flowers. 1951. Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library. Images from the Past. Permission to display given by Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library.
Graham Hospital School of Nursing Students Scrubbing. 1963.Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library. Images from the Past. Permission to display given by Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library.
Graham Hospital School of Nursing Students in Classroom. 1947. Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library. Images from the Past. Permission to display given by Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library.
Graham Hospital School of Nursing student with patient. 1945. Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library. Images from the Past. Permission to display given by Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library.

I hope that all the reader’s of the Highlights blog and everyone surfing the IDHH and DPLA are safe. For everything from the Graham Hospital School of Nursing Library on the IDHH click here, or for more on nursing from the rest of our contributors, click here

ON THIS DAY: Harold Washington’s Inauguration

On this day in 1983 Harold Washington was inaugurated the 51st mayor of Chicago. Washington was the first African American to be elected the Mayor of Chicago, and served until his death in November 1987. The Chicago History Museum Prints and Photographs Collection includes photographs from photographers and photojournalists from the 20th century through the present. The photographs in the collection capture both historic events in Chicago and the nation’s history, to everyday life in the neighborhoods. We chose these pictures taken by Richard Gordon, who covered the 1983 Mayoral Race from nearly every angle, with an especially keen focus on Harold Washington. 

Harold Washington Shaking Hands with Two Women on Lasalle Street. 1983. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Photograph by Richard Gordon. Permission to display given by Chicago History Museum.

The story of Washington’s election has been told numerous times, as a victory in the history of Chicago and Black History, and as a restorative moment in black leadership in electoral politics.  After serving in the Illinois House and Senate for 15 years Washington cast a bid in the 1977 special election against Mayor Daley’s successor Mayor Bilandic. 

His platform was progressive even by today’s standards. He resolved to work against the democratic party machine where career politicians had capitalized on their political stature and created public programs to ensure affordable rent and more control for public housing, a civilian oversight board to screen and investigate complaints about Chicago Police conduct, and stimulus to the Chicago Transit Authority which was consistently losing ridership. 

After losing the 1977 mayoral primaries to Jane Byrne, Washington was elected to represent the Illinois 1st Congressional District in Congress.

Jane Byrne at a campaign event during the Democratic mayoral primary race.1983. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Photograph by Richard Gordon. Permission to display given by Chicago History Museum.

Running for mayor would be a loss in political stature and relative comfort. Washington did not run in 1983 on his own volition. When approached by community organizers to run for mayor, he agreed to run if they registered 50,000 new black voters. They responded by registering 100,000 new voters.

Richard M. Daley campaigning for election.1983. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Photograph by Richard Gordon. Permission to display given by Chicago History Museum.

His campaign faced incredible and open racism at the hands of the city council that provoked the unexpected crossing of party lines in deeply blue Chicago. “ It would be the worst day in the history of Chicago if your candidate was not elected. It’s a racial thing, don’t kid yourself. I’m calling on you to save your city, to save your precinct. We’re fighting to keep the city the way it is.” Alderman and Chairman of the Cook County Democratic party Edward Vrdolyak said during a get out the vote rally ahead of the Democaratic Primary Election. The rally was supposed to be for mayor Jane Byrne’s reelection, a chance to give her a boost in the primary elections above Washington and Daley– but with this outburst, the racist spirit of the rally was clear.  Even after winning the primary, many of Chicago’s democratic aldermen, including Vrdolyak, put their support behind Washington’s Republican opponent, Bernard Epton.

Democratic supporters for Republican mayoral candidate Bernard Epton riding in a campaign vehicle. 1983. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Photograph by Richard Gordon. Permission to display given by Chicago History Museum.

Even after the election, this confederation of aldermen created a hostile political situation that would continue through Mayor Washington’s tenure, effectively limiting Mayor Washington’s impact.

Harold Washington and supporters walking down stairs. 1983. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Photograph by Richard Gordon. Permission to display given by Chicago History Museum.

Washington’s charisma comes through in many of the photographs Gordon took of him. But this photo of Muhammad Ali, campaigning for Washington is particularly special. In a moment of Chicago’s politics known for the alliances known as the “Political Machine” the faces of the anti-machine were powerful in garnering attention and trust.

Muhammed Ali campaigning for Harold Washington.1983. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Photograph by Richard Gordon. Permission to display given by Chicago History Museum.

Introducing the Pantagraph Negative Collections

Alfalfa Show. 1937. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1930-1939). Photograph by Olin Piercy. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.

Now included in the IDHH are two collections from the McLean County Museum of History. The Pantagraph Negative Collection 1930-1939 and 1940-1945 include roughly 48,000 scanned negatives from the Pantagraph, a newspaper headquartered in Bloomington. The collections include scans of negatives created by photographer-reporters between 1932 and 1945. The Pantagraph’s origins date back to 1846 and was known for its coverage of regional agricultural concerns, local sports, and community social events in 10 counties surrounding McLean County.  

Family Circle (Pantagraph In House News).1938. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1930-1939). Photograph by Charles A. Mercier. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.

The collection, donated to Mclean County Museum of History by the Pantagraph, preserves vivid images of the early and mid 20th century, including the rise of industrial agriculture and the Great Depression in Central Illinois. Here’s a few of the gems from their collection: 

YWCA Swim Meet. 1938. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1930-1939). Photograph by John S. Bowman. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.
Cornhusking Contests. 1938. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1930-1939). Photograph by Frank Bill. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.
Danvers, IL pet squirrel. 1940. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1940-1945). Photograph by Harlan Stranger. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.
Along the Road, Chenoa. 1941. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1940-1945). Photograph by Glenn Steeleye. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.
Boxing, Moline vs. Bloomington, Illinois. 1938.McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1930-1939). Photograph by Percy Olin. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.
Fifth Columnists. 1942. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection (1940-1945). Photograph by Ralph O. Baird Jr. Permission to display given by McLean County Museum of History.

For more of these two collections, visit the IDHH.

Women’s History Month: Mary Salome Ott Brand

Happy Women’s History Month. At the IDHH, we’d like to introduce Mary Salome Ott Brand –a childhood immigrant from France and an early settler of the North Shore of Chicago who cast her first ballot to vote at the age of 91. 

In 1913, Illinois became the first state in the nation to grant women the right to the presidential vote. Women’s suffrage had slowly evolved since the 15th amendment in 1870 leading to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The right to vote was won in large part by the organizing and lobbying of woman’s clubs in communities across the nation. The diversity of materials in Highland Park Public Library’s Highland Park History Collection shows different elements of women’s history, both at the collective and political while also in the lives of individuals. The collections include women’s club minutes, photographs, and biographies constructed of newspaper clippings and stories transcribed by local historians and family members.

On Election Day 1916, Mary Salome Ott Brand left her house on N. Second Street in Highland Park to vote for the first time. At 91, she was accompanied by her son Orson, who documented his mother’s first time to the polls. 


Mary Salome Ott Brand, 1825-1921. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

Grandma Brand, Age 91. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library. 

The fight for women to vote had been long fought. With Suffragette figures such as Susan B. Anthony well known, the struggle to vote was also fought by women in local communities through woman’s clubs and federations of woman’s clubs. Women in Lake County had been active in the conversation and activism of women’s right to vote. In 1916, The Woman’s Civic Club  –later renamed the Ravina Women’s Club joined forces and merged with the Highland Park Woman’s club in in the 1960s –wrote they were “in favor of full suffrage for the women of Illinois as speedily as possible, therefore favor the adoption of an amendment to the constitution to that end” –meaning presidential suffrage –that would eventually become the 19th ammendment. Highland Park Public Library has several collections from Highland Park area womans’ clubs dating back to the early 20th century, including the Ravina Woman’s Club Records and Highland Park Woman’s Club Records.

Living in the North Shore during the civil war, the great migration, the fight for unions, and the fight for women’s vote, Brand’s life was certainly impacted by the changing political landscape and political awareness. The right to vote, at 91, was certainly reason enough to document.

Here is Brand at the polls.

Grandma Brand, Age 91. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

In the obituaries that were included in Ms. Brand’s biographical file- along with stories she told a local historian, they universally describe Brand as a life-long resident of Lake County –which she was, after moving there. Photographs of her home continue to document  what life in Lake County was like in the earliest part of the 20th century. For example, this picture taken by George D. Rice –another local documentarian I mentioned in a post in January.


Mary Salome Ott Brand and Children in Front of a House. n.d. Highland Park History. Photograph by George D. Rice. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

Compared with her stories of the prairie as it was in the 1840s-60s, the rapid change from prairie to the north Chicago suburbs is immediately apparent.The Highland Park History Collection is definitely unique among the collections within the IDHH  for having so many different forms of historical documentation. Meeting minutes, written local histories, and, of course, photographs build a well-rounded picture of subjects at the micro-local. The biographical files created by local historians in Highland Park and more broadly Lake County cover the lives of women during the early 20th century.  Here is Mary Salome Ott Brand’s assembled biography.


Biography of Mary Salome Ott Brand. C.1925.Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History.  Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library.

Lastly, here’s a picture of her and her son together: 


Orson Brand and His Mother, Mary Salome Ott Brand. 1916. Highland Park Public Library. Highland Park History. Photograph by Orson Brand. Permission to display granted by Highland Park Public Library. 

For more of any of these kinds of documents please visit the IDHH. The papers of women’s social and political organizations are linked above, but here are more of the local biographies created by historians and more photographs by Orson Brand. 

March 15th 1959: The Photography of Irene Gillette

61 years ago yesterday, it snowed 25.5 inches in Galena Illinois. Irene Gillette set out with her camera to document the snowfall and show its impact on the streets of Galena.

The Galena Public Library District’s Galena Area Historic Photos Collection includes 1,100 photos of Galena from the late-19th to mid-20th centuries. Of the photos in the IDHH, 370 of them are Gillette’s photos of the everyday. From cocker-spaniels laying in the grass, and self portraits with quippy captions written on the reverse, Gillette’s attention to her surroundings seems to come from an intense familiarity with them, where mapping her town is less the point than showing its eccentricities; documenting unique and noteworthy moments, such as a historic snowfall, her photographs historicize everyday life.

Here are five photos from her walk around Galena on March 15th, 1959:

Big Snow of March 15th, 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Public Library District. Galena Area Historic Photos.  Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.
Snow on a mailbox at the intersection of Main Street and Washington Street in Galena, Ill. 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Public Library District. Galenea Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

Snow on Green Street Steps. 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette.Galena Public Library District. Galene Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

Snow in the alley off HIll Street Between Main and Bench Streets. 1959. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Public Library District. Galena Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

The Big Snow. 1959. Galena Public Library District. Photograph by Irene Gillette. Galena Area Historic Photos. Permission to display was given by Galena Public Library District.

The rest of the Galena Area Historic Photos can be found at this page and all of Irene Gillete’s photos in the IDHH here. She’s one of my personal favorite photographs on the IDHH site. It’s always exciting to find a new photographer in the IDHH whose work in some way creates an image about the culture of their town. The entire Galena Area Historic Photos Collection is particularly unique, containing the photography of multiple amateur community documentarians.