Historical biography: Bertha Honore Palmer

Bertha Honore Palmer, wife of millionaire Potter Palmer, was a recognized social leader of fashionable society in Chicago during the 1800's.

The marriage of Bertha Honore and Potter Palmer united two of the most influential, wealthiest families in nineteenth century Chicago. Soon after the marriage Bertha Honore Palmer took her place in fashionable society by becoming a recognized social in Chicago.

Born as Bertha Honroe in Louisville, Kentucky, Bertha was also educated in the same place. She was of marked intelligence and had exceptional social graces. Bertha was a skilled musician, a proficient linguist, a brilliant writer, a skilled politician, and a fine administrator. She married millionaire Potter Palmer in 1871. While the marriage was a happy one, both were strong-willed individuals who used their economic power and social positions to carry out their personal visions.
Being a strong supporter of women’s rights, Bertha used her wealth and social position to advance feminist causes. She was chosen president of the Board of Lady Managers of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago and in the interest of the exposition visited Europe in 1891 and enlisted the interest and cooperation of many leading women of Europe. She was to use this position to have the various achievements of women fully represented at the 1893 World’ Exposition.

The Board of Lady Mangers of the Columbian Exposition ordered a portrait of Mrs. Palmer to have a place in the Assembly Hall of the Woman’s Building. Mr. Anders L. Zorn was commission as the artist. At the unveiling of the portrait, addresses were made by several of the prominent women. Among other things, this quote was in one of the addresses given: “In after times, when our names have been forgotten, those who come after us will look upon this portrait and see not only the likeness of our president but the attributes which surrounded her, that helped us to help the women of this century. Her genius has for three years led us over mountains of difficulty, through valleys of humiliation, to the crowning peaks of victory, never listening to such a word as “fail”....”

Bertha Potter was not only noted as a social leader of Chicago society, but was known for her philanthropy. Her gifts for state and local charities as well as private causes were in generous proportion with her fortune. She was also known as an shrewd art collector and many of the Art Institute’s Impressionist paintings were once a part of her personal collection.

After the death of her husband, Bertha became interested in the resort of Sarasota, Florida. One day when she was reading the Chicago Sunday Tribune, Bertha spotted and advertisement for land in Sarasota. She became captivated by vision of palm trees and soft gulf breezes and became one of the first “winter visitors” of reputation. Her love for the land of Sarasota helped the region to become the popular winter resort that it is today. At one point she owned about one third of Sarasota County, her property being named “The Oaks”. The name of her estate lives on today and is today the name of the bayfront subdivision in Sarasota for the rich and famous. Meadowcrest Pastures, the 30,000-acre cattle farm she established is now Myakka river State Park.

Bertha Honore Palmer died in 1918, leaving her vast estate in the hands of her two sons, Honore and Potter Palmer, Jr.