2018 Badass Women of Chicago History Event Recap

Our Badass Women of Chicago History event on Monday, March 26, 2018, was awesome in many ways.

An Awesome Audience

chicago women history event audience smiling

Two hours before the event, we sold-out. Luckily we had a few standing room tickets available at the door. We were in an open space at the Den Theatre with a capacity of 75 seats. For the first time having done an event like this, we were pleased with the turnout.

We also particularly appreciated the presence of some older generation badass women in the audience, including tour guide Sonny’s 93-year-old grandma!

Storytellers for our Women of Chicago History Event

Each presenter offered his and her own take on their chosen badass subject. I started off the evening with a story culled from various archival readings on Kittie Smith, who I’ll explain more about below. Some were her own personal accounts and others were quotes from journalists. Then Kyle Ann Sebastian supplemented her story with videos to show the character and determination of activist Rev. Willie Barrows. Comedian Erin Grotheer read from a rather colorful word-by-word speech given by Carrie Jacobs-Bond almost a hundred years ago.

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Ashley Ray Harris presenting Charlene Mitchell. Photo credit: Amanda Scotese

Storyteller and founder of the Badass Black Women’s History Month Project, Ashley Ray Harris, offered her expertise with a comprehensive story of the badass-ness of Charlene Mitchell. Official Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago, Tim Samuelson, marked his presentation with his super fun and accessible approach to history. He peppered his presentation with lots of great archival images and even ads about Helen Fortney, whom he called “his badass girlfriend.” And then performer Krista Damico capped off the evening with an energetic, jam-packed story of Jeannette Ridlon Piccard.

The Cause Behind this Chicago History Event

That this event benefitted the Chicago Women’s Health Center, an Uptown-based organization, is historic in itself and most definitely badass. The CWHC is embedded in the history of the women’s health movement and feminism in Chicago. Today they are a leader in reproductive justice and health care.

We were able to give beyond the proceeds of the event and the raffle to CWHC. Super awesome!

Most of all, the Badass Women of Chicago History

Wow, such incredible stories were shared for our Chicago history event! Around the turn of the century, Kittie Smith had an accident in which she lost her arms, and then she learned how to do more skills with her feet than most of us can do with our hands. She could dress herself, comb her hair, type, draw, and even saw wood and hammer nails. Then with the help of an entire staff, she made a campaign to raise a ton of money to help support her. And on top of that, she likely was the first woman to vote in Cook County – and she did it with her feet!

Rev. Willie T. Barrow aka the Little Warrior earned her reputation as a fierce fighter for justice and community organizer. Although she is often overshadowed by men she worked with and mentored–like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama–she insured her legacy by establishing the Barrow Fund for Black Women’s Leadership.

Carrie Jacobs-Bond was one of the most successful composers in all of history. She had her parlor songs printed with her own publishing company, and ended up making a fortune off it. Her song “I Love You Truly” became a classic for weddings. “End of a Perfect Day” was like a WWI anthem. Before she died, she got her hands on her own obituary that the newspaper had already written, and gave a pretty hilarious speech in response to it that Erin Grotheer read for us.

Charlene Mitchell is an activist who pushed movements, from socialism to Civil Rights to feminism, to be more inclusive. Whether defying prison guards who prevented her from bringing cookies to her dad, or running her campaign for president–the first black woman to do so–while working in her friend’s bookstore, Charlene is a force whose work resounds in today’s movements for social justice.

tim samuelson chicago history event
Tim Samuelson presenting Helen Fortney. Photo credit: Amanda Scotese

Helen Fortney, originally of Lake Geneva, moved to Chicago with aspirations of becoming a body guard. She had very impressive biceps and loved shooting guns!

Jeannette Ridlon Piccard was a maestra of flight with an incredible lifetime of accomplishments. Ends up that in addition to collecting a series of degrees from organic chemistry to theology, she and her husband had all kinds of flying contraptions.

Thank You for Celebrating Women of Chicago History

We just want to give a quick thanks for all the Chicago Detours community, friends, tour guests, and new friends who made it out to celebrate these women. As we are in such sensitive times, it’s super special to be at a Chicago history event that brings people together to highlight figures who are just as important to Chicago history as the more famous ones. We are going to do it again for Women’s History Month next year, too!

— Executive Director Amanda Scotese


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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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