A Celebration of Women Writers

"Mrs. Palmer's Portrait."
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893.. Chicago, ILL: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 816-819.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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The Board of Lady Managers having ordered a portrait made of Mrs. Bertha Honoré Palmer, to be placed in the Assembly Hall of the Woman's Building, with other distinguished women, and after the close of the Exposition to be permanently installed in the Woman's Memorial Building, Mrs. James P. Eagle and Mrs. Mary S. Lockwood were appointed a committee to see that the order was executed.

The following are the remarks made by Mrs. Lockwood, Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Wheeler at the unveiling of the portrait:


When the question arose among the lady managers, "What can we do that will best commemorate the work of women in the Exposition?" this happy thought came to us: We have in our midst the foremost artist of the age, Mr. Anders L. Zorn, who could put upon canvas the embodiment of that genius that has led us for three years over mountains of difficulty, through valleys of humiliation, to the crowning peaks of victory, listening to no such word as "fail," always helpful in voice and heart, ever ready to encourage in our days of discouragement, and always just in her verdict of "Well done!"

In the after-time, when our names have been forgotten, those who will come after us will look upon the portrait we now present to you, and see not only a likeness of our president, but the attributes which surrounded her, that helped us to help the women of this nineteenth century.

We thank her for the time and opportunity she has given us to accomplish our wishes. We also thank the artist for what he has done to commemorate the work, the life, the likeness of our president of the Board of Lady Managers of the World's Columbian Exposition, Mrs. Bertha Honoré Palmer.


The most important work of the Board of Lady Managers is now drawing to a close. Some have called this last day a funeral day, since such a sense of sadness must steal into each heart when we think of the separations, and of our beautiful Woman's Building being robbed of its wealth of paintings, statuary, lace, wood carving, libraries, statistics, all these and more that have been exhibited to the credit, honor and advancement of the women of every land.

We have not claimed perfection in any department of our work. We have not reached our ideals. We very seldom do in any undertaking; but the visible work of the board has overstepped the expectations of the most enthusiastic and friendly; while the unseen and incomputable has touched the hand of woman in every nation to lead her to greener pastures and richer fields. The seed-time is just over. A little patient resting and waiting, then comes the ripened harvest.

Here have communed together women from every state and almost every nation. More than twenty nations have spoken from this platform for the Committee on Congresses, and almost every state has sent a representative. Other committees have been instrumental in bringing together many people from many lands.

As a member of the Board of Lady Managers I hope I may be excused for reference to questions so nearly personal. There are one hundred and fifteen members of that body, and I believe there never was such singleness of purpose in a body so

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[Page 817]  large to do the best things in the best way. There has been the greatest harmony of action, the majorities on almost every question being so large and so pronounced that very seldom has the chair been "in doubt" as to the result. On very few vital questions has there been a close vote. You will be charitable enough to admit that this first national board of women has existed under the searchlight of criticism. The commission owes us a vote of thanks for claiming public attention, when, except that a woman's board was more novel, that body could have furnished much more sensational reading.

When I compare the Board of Lady Managers with the great number of organized bodies with which I have been familiar I am proud of the board. As individuals, or as an organized body, it does not suffer by comparison. When I compare its officers with the officers of other bodies we have the advantage; but when I compare its president with the presidents of any and all organizations, the gold medals are our own, with the chromos added.

We covet not titles of rank in this land of ours, where every woman may be a queen, and when the women of America choose a leader and representative she is not only a queen, but queenly. This day of sorrow we would turn to joy, and make it our coronation day. If we can not crown Our Queen we will present to you Our Queen, already crowned. [The veil is withdrawn from the portrait.]

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Mrs. President and Ladies of the National Board: I am glad to have had someone speak of this new possession of women. Who knows just how rare a possession it is? We all know when a picture pleases us, and a few know why, but it is very few who know whether it is intrinsically good, and why it is so. Miss Hallowell does, and, consequently, she is a dread or a joy to painters. She is like one of those men who are employed by great importers, and whom they call "tea tasters," and to whom they pay fabulous salaries. Of course, everybody drinks tea, and everybody knows when they like it; but only one in ten thousand or so can tell, when they hold a drop of tea on their tongue, exactly how much it is worth a pound. The tea taster by some subtle divination connected with that one drop can tell just where the tea was grown, from what stock, and from what soil. He can almost tell the color of the man who tended it, and, certainly, he can tell what proportion of rain fell and sun shone and airs blew around it as it grew, and what all these conditions make it worth. That is exactly what Miss Hallowell can do for pictures. She is an "art taster." She can tell what the artist knows by what he paints–what he holds back as well as what he puts into it; and it is often what the artist holds back–what he knows of character and people by intuition, that makes his work valuable. Sir Joshua Reynolds said that a man could not put more into his picture than he had in his head, and that is true, but if he knows more than he has put into the picture, certainly it is all the better for it. Now, when Miss Hallowell looks at a picture, she sees exactly how much the artist knows, and that is why some artists are afraid of her, for we do not all like to have our brains gauged. What she has said about this portrait is as true as truth–as true as knowledge. The success of a picture, the fact that it is, or is not, a great work does not depend alone upon the method of the painting or even the capacity of the painter. It depends upon the fact of whether or not it makes us feel, of whether it can strike a spark from the electric girdle which encircles the body of collective humanity, the subtle, unnamed element which makes feeling rise to the eyes and the throat and suddenly suffuses us with warmth and tenderness. If a picture can do this it is great, even if it flies in the face of all precedent painting. We all know there are emotions which compel response, certain thoughts and moods in their expression upon the faces of friends or even of strangers can call up exactly the same thought, the same mood in us. And here comes in the miracle of the painter–that he can sometimes paint that thought, and make it so alive that it can compel the answering thought in us. We respond to the picture which is the work of man as we respond to the emotion which is a part of nature.

I think we all know how we feel when we sit in front of Mrs. Palmer as an audience, and she, standing on the platform, prefaces any uttered word with a smile. It is really a thought which rises to her face and greets the audience, and every face in the house responds. I have watched this wordless thought make its greeting and receive its instantaneous response many times, but I never expected to see it painted, and painted in such a manner that it will go on making its still friendliness touch the heart of everyone who sees it, long after we, her first audience, have grown familiar with the language of Paradise.

This picture which is here unveiled is not simply a portrait of a woman to whom [Page 819]  we are all bound by ties of love and loyalty, and a picture which has the power of evoking feeling. It is more than this–it is the materialization of the dignity of a great office–the first world office made and bestowed by women.

Ladies of the National Board, at the close of your appointed efforts, I congratulate you upon the selection of a president who has justified your hopes and made a reality of your dreams, and upon the choice of a painter who has made the dignity you created a perpetual one.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom