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 Bertha <I>Honoré</I> Palmer

Bertha Honoré Palmer

Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, USA
Death 5 May 1918 (aged 68)
Osprey, Sarasota County, Florida, USA
Burial Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Memorial ID 6424 · View Source
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Socialite, Philanthropist. She was the wife of the millionaire business magnate and real estate developer Potter Palmer, who founded a dry goods business in Chicago, Illinois that would eventually become Marshall Field's. Born Bertha Matilde Honoré on May 22, 1849 in Louisville, Kentucky, her father was businessman Henry Hamilton Honoré who moved to Chicago in 1855 and made his fortune in real estate. Known as "Cissie" within her family, she studied in her home town and achieved a reputation as a skilled musician, a proficient linguist, a brilliant writer, a skilled politician, and a fine administrator. She married Potter Palmer in 1870 and soon after their marriage, the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 of wiped out most of their real estate holdings and she immediately contacted East Coast lenders so that her husband could re-establish credit, borrow money and rebuild his holdings. She was unusually poised for one so young, they were able to re-established their fortune and despite her age, she quickly rose to the top of Chicago society. An early member of the Chicago Woman's Club, that was a part of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, they focused on social problems and sought to develop solutions. They supported kindergartens until Chicago made them part of the school system, and campaigned for inexpensive milk for impoverished children, fair treatment of women and children in hospitals, prisons, poorhouses, and impoverished neighborhoods, and helped organize female factory workers and coordinate a strike. In 1885 her husband began construction on their elaborate residence, known as the Palmer Mansion, on Lake Shore Drive, once the largest private residence in Chicago. The costs eventually exceeded $1 million dollars. She also maintained homes in London, England and Paris, France. In 1891 she became President of the Board of Lady Managers in preparation for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition which was to be held in Chicago, and was instrumental in commissioning art work, acquiring paintings, and establishing a commemorative coin (the Isabella quarter, produced by the US Mint) for the event. She and her husband were avid art collectors and owned an extensive collection of paintings and other art work. A lavish spender, her jewelry was legendary and she travelled throughout Europe, dining with royalty and mixing with industrialists and statesmen. After her husband's death in 1902, she became interested in the winter climate of Florida and in 1910 bought up over 80,000 acres of land in and around Sarasota, Florida, about one-third of the land in what was then the massive county named Manatee. In 1914 she bought 19,000 acres of land as an exclusive hunting preserve called "River Hills" in Temple Terrace, Florida, and she became a progressive rancher, land developer, and farm developer who introduced many innovations to encourage the Florida ranching, citrus, dairy, and farming industries. She demonstrated herself to be an astute businesswoman, and within 16 years after her husband's death, she managed to double the value of the estate he had left her. She became one of the first famous people to winter in Florida, which started a now-common practice for people who live in the colder parts of the US. She died at her winter residence "The Oaks" in Osprey, Florida on May 5, 1918 at the age of 68. After her death, a large parcel of her Florida land was donated (donated according to Sarasota County, sold according to the state) by her sons to become Myakka River State Park. Additionally, she bequeathed her personal art collection to the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1950 the Palmer Mansion was demolished and replaced by two 22-story high-rise apartment buildings.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 19 Sep 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 6424
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Bertha Honoré Palmer (22 May 1849–5 May 1918), Find A Grave Memorial no. 6424, citing Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .