Event—Public Programming

Collective Thought: Chicago Clubs and Their Patrons, 1880 to 1920


Arts Club of Chicago Guest Book for Alexander Calder Exhibition, 1919

Listen to an audio recording of this event.

Explore the proliferation of clubs and small arts organizations in Chicago from the 1890s through the 1920s to consider what clubs and “club-ability” contributed to Chicago art and design in the first decades after the Great Fire.

In a city that often seemed indifferent to aesthetics, an extraordinary number of clubs sought to establish the city’s cultural significance in a spirit of civic uplift. What was the lasting impact of these clubs, including the Little Room, the Whitechapel, the Fortnightly, the Caxton Club, the Women’s Athletic Club, the Friday Club, the Cliff-Dwellers, the Literary Club, and the Arts Club of Chicago?

5 pm: Pre-Event Display of Materials from the Archives

ITW Seminar Room (just west of Ruggles Hall)

On view will be materials from several different Chicago clubs, including invitations to club functions, postcards by artists, letters by club members, and photographs of interiors and performances.

6 pm: Panel Discussion

Three experts on Chicago’s cultural history will offer differing perspectives on what made the formation of these clubs unique to Chicago and particularly influential upon the art and design that emerged during this period.

  • Paul Durica, Director of Programs, Illinois Humanities, will discuss the midnight meetings of the all-male Whitechapel Club, a underground venue for journalists and writers; the Little Room, an informal group that met in the Fine Arts Building after a concert or play; and the Cliff Dwellers, an all-male alternative to the Little Room.
  • Celia Hilliard, cultural historian—who is also a member of a few of these clubs, and has written about their histories—will provide the unique perspective of an insider who understands how many clubs in Chicago have maintained their relevance.
  • Liesl Olson, Director of Chicago Studies, Newberry Library, will explore the role that clubs like the Little Room, the Fortnightly, the Literary Club, and the Arts Club played in nurturing a “Chicago style” among artists and writers.

Download a PDF flyer for this event to post and distribute, and check out a Quick Guide to related materials in the Newberry collection.

This program is part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago's art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

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