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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bertha Honore Palmer ..."A Social Awareness Which Impels to Action"

Bertha Honore Palmer

This evening I enjoyed watching Love Under Fire: the Story of Bertha and Potter Palmer.  Known in the 19th century as the "Princess of the Prairie", Bertha Matilde Honore was born on May 22, 1849 in Kentucky to Eliza Dorsey Carr and Henri Hamilton Honore. As a young girl she was called Cissie.  Her parents moved from Louisville, Kentucky to Chicago in 1855 where her father made his fortune in real estate.  

Potter Palmer was invited to the home of his business associate Henri Honore for dinner one evening and met Bertha who was 13 years of age at the time. By all accounts Palmer was smitten with the attractive and intelligent young lady. It was also around this same time period that Bertha was sent to the Convent of the Sacred Heart located on West Taylor Street in Chicago,  Although the school had only opened in 1858 the Madames of the Sacred Heart were well know for providing a good education. 

Potter Palmer was know as the most eligible bachelor in Chicago at the time however, he patiently waited until Bertha had turned 21 before he began to court her.  The two were soon married in Bertha's family home on Michigan Avenue, she was 21 and Palmer 44.  

Shortly after their marriage the great Chicago Fire destroyed most of the city including the newly constructed Palmer House Hotel which was Bertha's wedding present.   Palmer got a loan and rebuilt the hotel to an even grander scale than before.  

In 1891 Bertha was appointed as President of the Board of Lady Managers for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She was also an early member of the Chicago Woman's Club. Bertha traveled throughout Europe (note passport application below) and her extensive art collection was donated after her death to the Art Institute of Chicago

Major General Frederick Dent Grant and his wife Ida Marie Honore Grant
(Bertha's sister)

While searching I discovered that Bertha's sister Ida Marie had married Frederick Dent Grant the eldest son of President Ulysses S. Grant and it was this brother-in-law that signed Bertha's passport application (below).

Bertha's brother-in-law (F. D. Grant) certified that the information
on her passport application was correct (dated July 22, 1889)

Courting Bertha, a feature film based on the early romance of Bertha and Potter Palmer through the devastation of The Great Chicago Fire is currently in development.  For more info click here.


  1. Maureen, where can I view this film which you discuss?

    1. Click on the links for more info - and!future/c183y