Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Growing Into the Twentieth Century

Between the 1893 World’s Fair and World War I, the Society grew, and as it did, it developed initiatives that it continues today: philanthropy, education, providing leadership opportunities for women, and featuring cutting edge technology as part of its flower shows.

One of the Society’s philosophical beliefs was about connecting bridges and filling gaps between socioeconomically divergent groups. The Society was involved with many philanthropic causes that were included in the flower show of 1899.  The Society manned booths for a charitable bazaar, selling books and stationery for hospitals, the Visiting Nurse Association, the Chicago Exchange for Woman’s Work and more. By the end of the century, the Society flower shows had reached several new audiences and became a highly anticipated tradition.
Education became a paramount facet of the Society. The flower show programs provided a number of lectures, model gardens, and educational programs. Horticultural design and botanical art were vastly important to the Chicago Horticultural Society. Some artists and designers studying at the Art Institute of Chicago were known to the Horticultural Society as well. Allen Erskine Philbrick (1879-1964) designed the Society’s beautiful Art Nouveau Chrysanthemum Flower Show Poster of 1900. Today there are hundreds of classes and programs offered at the Chicago Botanic Garden including botanical illustration, landscape design, photography, horticultural therapy, and nature studies. Early childhood education includes a nature preschool and STEM programs for Chicago Public School students.

The Horticultural Society provided leadership opportunities for women at a time when these were few and far between. Women were becoming more involved with gardening and were gaining more responsibility as flower show and charity organizers and flower show judges. Flowers were being named after prominent Chicago women, such as the ‘Mrs. Potter Palmer’ and the ‘Mrs. Marshall Field’ chrysanthemums, as these women took on significant roles in the Society and other charitable organizations.

One way the flower shows helped maintain optimism in the face of national economic depression in the 1890s was to feature new technology alongside plants. The 1898 International Chrysanthemum Competition used lantern slides from the International Color Photo Company to show hand-tinted projected images of plants and gardens for exhibitions and lectures, and over the next 15 years the flower shows highlighted the latest in new technological innovations, such as photography, manufacturing, and automobiles.  Other gardening innovations like hybridization were becoming more recognized through new plant and crop introductions. Plant breeder Luther Burbank introduced new varieties of plums, berries, lilies, and of course the Burbank potato.

Use the cards at the bottom of each page to explore various parts of the "Seeds of Change" chapter. There will always be a card to take you back to the chapter introduction or you can go back to the Wild in the City overview.

This page has paths:

This page references: