A Self-Guided Chicago Women’s History Tour

We’ve asked people to identify a Chicago woman of history beyond Jane Addams, Jane Byrne, Oprah, or Michelle Obama. Sadly, they get stumped. Here we spotlight places of women’s history that you may not have visited or heard of. Or that you wouldn’t necessarily know as a place of women’s history at all!

Marshall Field’s (111 N. State)

department store window Marshall Field's

The recent book A Shopper’s Paradise by Emily Remus has shined a light on Chicago women’s history at the end of the Gilded Age. The theaters and sidewalks of the Loop and the department stores of State Street, especially Marshall Field’s, were an active battleground over changing social customs. Women were not an active public presence in pre-fire Chicago. Social custom of the time dictated that genteel American ladies were domestic–the home was their castle. As such, it was incredibly rare for women to be in public without a male escort.

Field’s changed all that. Their famous motto–“Give the lady what she wants!”–obviously catered directly to the female shoppers who began flocking to the Loop. The sudden presence of women in the public sphere unleashed a tempest of controversy. We delve into an interesting story on this topic when we visit Field’s on the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour. Remus’s book spells out much more, especially the repeated attempts to ban female fashions like hoop skirts and feathered hats.

Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.)

Art Institute Chicago steps lion
Artist Lee Godie didn’t strive for traditional success, but made her name on the steps of the Art Institute. Image via Wikimedia.

A lot of Chicago women’s history revolves around the Art Institute. Even from its founding, it was an institution that contained strong female voices. That said, many women artists, from the White Rabbits to the Monster Roster, did not find mainstream success because of the AIC’s traditional nature. That didn’t stop one of our favorite women artists, Lee Godie, because she quite literally worked outside the walls of the academy. Godie was most often found outside the Art Institute, selling her artwork on the steps.

Godie rarely talked about her personal life, but her life spirit was unmissable. She unmistakably ruled the roost outside the Art Institute for roughly 30 years. Godie was often dressed in huge swatches of fabric or fur coats and bright orange circles painted on her cheeks. She sold her original paintings (which were inspired by Cezanne) on the steps. She often slept outside merely steps away. Multiple sources state that she was the most collected artist in Chicago in the ’80s. Indeed, Mayor Daley II proclaimed September 1991 to be “Lee Godie Exhibition Month” because her fame and acclaim were so great.

Rush More Mural (78 E. Washington)

Rush More Chicago Cultural Center Public Art on the mart
A mural tribute to Chicago women’s history. Photo by Alex Bean.

The backside of the Chicago Cultural Center is a monument to Chicago’s women. “Rush More” is a gigantic mural which honors 20 of the most influential women in Chicago history. The Detours staff have been huge fans from the drop, since we’re very into badass Chicago women as evidenced from our event for Women’s History Month. A non-profit called Murals of Acceptance commissioned the work from South Side artist Kerry James Marshall.

According to a DNAInfo story, the artist “aim[ed] to brighten up the narrow, alley-like street by adding a ‘parklike view’ with a bright sun and trees.” Visitors will definitely spot recognizable faces like Oprah Winfrey and Maggie Daley. I love that women a little further from the spotlight, like Sandra Cisneros, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Harriet Monroe, also made it onto our Rushmore.

Chess Records (2120 S. Michigan)

At 2120 S. Michigan Avenue is a landmark of Chicago blues history. People often highlight blues greats like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon. Let’s remember that the queen of Chicago blues, Koko Taylor, recorded there, too! Her performance of “Wang Dang Doodle” took fun to another level. Read more about her in “Three Chicago Musicians of Maxwell Street.”

Fine Arts Building (410 S. Michigan)

1893 World's Fair Tour Fine Arts Building Painting

Many women in the arts found work in this building, originally built in the late 1800s. Carrie Jacobs Bond had her music publishing company here. She had received rejections at every company she had approached. After she decided to go into business on her own, she became the most successful publisher of the era.

If you were to visit all of the above sites, it would surely comprise an afternoon for a tour of women’s history in Chicago!


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

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