publisher colophon
  • A Woman's Place at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition
Abstract

I argue that women were integral to the success of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1898. Women were the planners, organizers, workers, and bodies exploited and displayed throughout the fair. This article adds to the Trans-Mississippi Exposition scholarship by writing women into the narrative when the focus has historically been on the male organizers and the impressive Indian Congress held at the fair. Much of the analysis focuses on the Rinehart photo collection to reconstruct women's roles at the fair. World's fairs were cultural havens for exploring a region, society, and even a nation's identity. The Trans-Mississippi Exposition's mission was to celebrate the "conquest and civilization" of the West at an integral time in Great Plains history. Women were vital to the settlement of the area, and to this particular encapsulation of that settlement through the fair.

Key Words

American Indians, Nebraska, Omaha, women of color

As Omahans prepared to open the gates of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in the spring of 1898, a Salvation Army lieutenant and ensign conspired to take direct action against "the statues on the Arch of States at the exposition grounds [which] contained objectionable features."1 These "objectionable" statues were nude females blowing into trumpets, symbolizing the triumph of the conquest and civilization of the American Great Plains. The statues were situated on top of the Arch of States, characterized as a "very imposing gateway" built in a Romanesque style and topped with a "frieze composed of the coat of arms, in color, of the twenty-four transmississippi [sic] states, the whole to be surmounted by sculptured figures bearing the United States shield" (see Fig. 1).2 The two Salvation Army crusaders conspired together to censor the statues. On the evening of May 23, just eight days before the opening-day ceremonies of the exposition, they scaled the walls of the fairgrounds with axes and "approached a nude figure that was proclaiming from a trumpet the story of the great west and attacked it vigorously."3 The lieutenant had hacked the arm and leg off one kneeling nude statue and moved on to another when a watchman discovered the vandalism and stopped the vandals' progress (see Fig. 2). [End Page 61]

The two vandals, or crusaders, who took dangerous actions to reform the seemingly provocative displays at the exposition were women. Lieutenant Dorothy Mauer was arrested at the scene, and her accomplice, Ensign Ewing McCormick, was apprehended later. When arrested, Mauer declared that she was "simply performing a duty that had been pressed upon her conscience."4 Her conscience led her to take an extreme action to regulate the morals of the exposition and, had they the chance, they "would have chopped every statue in pieces" to rescue young souls from damnation.5

Predating Carry Nation, these two "hatchetations" symbolize the influence that women imposed on the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition (hereafter "the Exposition").6 The moral crusaders were only two of the many Omaha women who contributed to the plans, work, entertainment, and destruction of the Exposition. Many women promoted not only their vision for the future, but also carved out their own piece of the Exposition through the negotiation of women's spaces. But women did not exhibit complete control over these spaces, despite their best efforts. Likewise, some women had the privilege to plan and leisurely attend the Exposition, while others were limited to various forms of employment and entertainment at the fair. The overarching theme, celebrating the conquest and civilization of the Great Plains, invaded all these spaces at the Exposition and served to exploit the bodies of women (and men) whose participation in the fair made the event possible. Through these spaces fair organizers reinforced notions of conquest of the Great Plains, civilizing efforts of the white population, and the objectification and commodification of nonwhite persons for future generations.

Women's work and contributions to the Exposition have been largely overlooked by scholars. While much attention has been paid to the Indian Congress, public art, and issues of identity at the Exposition, women have not been the main focal part of those studies.7 White upperclass women were an integral part of the planning process and were able to create their own spaces at the Exposition. Working-class white women were daycare providers, ticket takers at the entrance, beer pourers in the beer halls, and prostitutes in the brothels. Women of color were manipulated and displayed for entertainment purposes throughout the midways.

All women who planned, worked, or displayed themselves at the fair exhibited agency in their positions. Through upper-class women's involvement in two major planning organizations, they influenced a variety of exhibits and displays throughout the fair. Likewise, working-class women played a huge role in the making of the Exposition, despite the restrictions from social norms at the time. They worked and displayed themselves in the exhibit halls and beer halls. Nonwhite women worked at the Indian Congress, on the Midway, and (arguably) in the brothels of the midways. Although their bodies may have been commodified and consumed by spectators, they were able to take advantage of their position and benefit monetarily from the work. These spaces, although not exclusively created by or for women, were dominated by women's work.

Women's Work in Planning the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition

While the Arch vandalism was an anomalous display of women's involvement in the making (and unmaking) of the Exposition, white, mostly upper-class women played a large role [End Page 62]

Fig. 1. The Arch of States. F. A. Rinehart, "Arch: Main Entrance," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 1.

The Arch of States. F. A. Rinehart, "Arch: Main Entrance," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

[End Page 63]

in planning it. Gurdon Wattles and Edward Rosewater, the fair's two main organizers, led fundraising and planning efforts. Women's direct participation in planning the Exposition reveals interesting gender dynamics in turn-of-the-century Nebraska society. Middle-and upper-class white women demonstrated their agency in the public sphere during a time when the ideals of nineteenth-century womanhood dictated that their lives were limited to the private, domestic realm of raising proper children and keeping a home. This late nineteenth-century womanhood focused on the family, motherhood, and respectability. American women were also bound to the Cult of True Womanhood's four virtues of piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity.8 Women later applied those virtues to influence society through charitable organizations such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. As women's influence spread beyond the confines of the home into charitable societies, they were accepted as greater actors in the public sphere.

Fig. 2. Omaha World-Herald's depiction of the damaged statue. "Damage Limited," Evening Omaha World-Herald, May 25, 1898, 3.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 2.

Omaha World-Herald's depiction of the damaged statue. "Damage Limited," Evening Omaha World-Herald, May 25, 1898, 3.

Omaha's nineteenth-century women faced many challenges during this period from forces such as industrialization, urbanization, and professionalism.9 As these forces continued to impact women through the end of the century, women found themselves wedged between a society that was modernizing through new technologies, urban growth, and the antiquated notions of proper nineteenth-century womanhood. It is within this struggle that women displayed themselves, organized exhibits, fundraised for buildings, and destroyed what they thought was immoral at the Exposition.

The "symbol of Omaha's rebirth" from the economic panic of 1893 was the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898.10 A year later the Greater America Exposition was held on the same fairgrounds but was markedly less successful. Initially conceived as a way to promote progressive Republican politics and boost the economy of the city, the two hundred acres chosen for the Exposition grounds were situated in north Omaha. Although many claimed that "architects kept [the Exposition] free from the influence of other expositions," it was in fact designed to look much like the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.11 Neoclassical buildings of white plaster of paris filled the fairgrounds. Fruits, grains, and flowers of the Midwest were draped across the entrances of the buildings. [End Page 64] A four-hundred-foot-long lagoon, nicknamed "The Mirror," ran the entire length of the fairgrounds. A statue of Neptune and Venetian gondolas adorned the lagoon. Two highlights of the fair were the Art and Electricity buildings. Edison, Tesla, Thomson, and Lieutenant Squires all had separate exhibits in the Building of Electricity. In addition, the Exposition highlighted displays of the flushing toilet, Jell-O, Boston baked beans, incandescent light bulbs, and an incubator for infants. The overarching theme of the Exposition, taking place during the Spanish-American War, was the success of conquest and civilization of the Great Plains.12

As fair organizers began plans for the development of and fundraising for the Exposition, they turned to the women of Omaha to determine how women would be represented at the fair. Organizers first consulted the Omaha Woman's Club, as it was the "most representative and influential body of women in the city," who determined that the club would form a committee to formulate a plan for the woman's work in the Exposition.13 Mrs. W. H. Harford was chairman and Mrs. Z. T. Lindsey served as secretary. The Omaha Daily Bee reported on the committee's plan: "They immediately undertook to find a path which the women of the exposition might tread comfortably, but first they laid down three principles."14 The first stated that investments for women's exhibits would be drawn from the general funds, not raised from women's tireless fundraising; the second, that women's exhibits would be integrated into the whole exhibit, not separate from men's work; and finally, that women would have complete control over educational exhibits, congresses, and scientific and philosophical subjects. The second point, the integration of women's exhibits throughout the general fair, laid the groundwork to reject a "Woman's Building" similar to the one at the World's Columbian Exposition. The Omaha Daily Bee reported that the building at Chicago's exposition had "crowded walls, its cases packed with china and needlework, and its library of women's books."15 The display, the reporter noted, did not give women the respect they hoped to garner from such a building.16 The committee argued that women's work had as much value and worth as men's. Therefore, it deserved to be in the general display at the Exposition and not sequestered in a separate woman's building.

After these recommendations, the committee created the Woman's Board in April 1897. Composed of twenty-seven women, it had at least two women from each of Nebraska's six congressional districts. An additional advisory council consisted of two women from each trans-Mississippi state.17 The committee also recommended that women take formal control of the Bureau of Education under the Department of Exhibits. The Bureau of Education pulled together displays of schoolwork in the Manufactures Building, while a university display and a special Negro exhibit were also held in the Liberal Arts Building. The Bureau of Education also held competitions in history, manual training, penmanship, nature, and art. Many universities from the Great Plains sent entries to these competitions and were displayed throughout the Exposition.

The Department of Exhibits also organized a class of displays known as "Woman's Work." These works were found in all buildings but were not classified as "women's" exhibits because the Bureau of Education ordered that no classification of sex be displayed. Mrs. Mac Murphy organized a display of foods and household utensils in the Agricultural Building while Miss Ranche created a similar exhibit in the Girls' and Boys' Building. Another [End Page 65] display in the Liberal Arts Building featured the art of needlework and ceramics for a price: "While fine arts was given free space on the ground floor, with all expenses paid, ceramic art was obliged to pay for space in a gallery and furnish its own fittings."18 This forced the ceramic artists, who were mostly women, to pay for their gallery space, and caused many artists to decline the invitation to display their work. The state buildings, specifically Colorado and Missouri, displayed similar exhibits of art needlework and ceramics, although it is unknown if they required the women to pay for their ceramics display as the Liberal Arts Building dictated.19

As the women in the Woman's Board and Bureau of Education planned for the Exposition, many voices contributed and clashed over the creation of various exhibitions and buildings. One such controversy took place over the construction of the Girls' and Boys' Building. As the Woman's Board rejected the idea of a "Woman's Building," several board members fought for a building to display educational achievements in the American Great Plains, which were largely directed by women. Nebraskan women's clubs favored the Girls' and Boys' Building as a way to display educational advancements and initiated the fundraising efforts.20 Several women published a newspaper named The Hatchet to express "interest of a fund for the erection and maintenance of the Girls' and Boys' Building of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition."21 Published in March 1898, it sold over 2,300 copies. Katharine Orchard Kuh of Omaha was the paper's main author.22 The front page contained twenty images of Nebraska children as an example of those who would benefit from the building, a marketing strategy that put a face on the abstract plans for the building. The paper contained several poems and stories from supporters of the Girls' and Boys' Building to spark reader's interest in the project and donate.23

The Girls' and Boys' Building was largely funded by private donations.24 Omaha children each contributed as little as one cent to aid in the construction of the building, which made it a building of great local interest and collaboration. Children who donated money to the building fund received a certificate of appreciation, designed by Miss Lydia McCague.25 In March 1898 an author of a Hatchet article implored her readers to donate money to this project to pay for its construction and furnishing costs, as the building project was several thousand dollars short. The newspaper pleas worked. James Haynes, the official historian of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, recorded in History of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898 that, in total, 1,737 certificates were issued to children across the American Great Plains. This totaled over $10,000 for the building's construction.26 The grassroots organization of the Girls' and Boys' Building shows the community support for this endeavor.

The plans for the Girls' and Boys' Building were very elaborate and lived up to expectations after contractors finished its design. A "Model School Room" was presented by the Prang Educational Co., and Mrs. George Tilden operated a restaurant in the upper gallery.27 The building included rooms filled with books, exhibits, and pictures to entertain the children who would pass through. Some rooms demonstrated different methods of teaching; another room housed a collection of dolls from around the world (sent from Boston for display). This building had a purpose greater than edifying children: it was [End Page 66] a space for families to attend and appreciate the Exposition. Women were able to showcase the future of their colonizing and conquest efforts in the Great Plains. Furthermore, the building held a series of children's entertainments in the large hall in addition to several educational talks and cooking displays for mothers and teachers.28

The Girls' and Boys' Building aided parents in one of the most important jobs they had—attending the fair. A daycare wing, run by Mrs. A. Moore and five assistants, was established to allow parents to leave their young children in the care of nurses while they saw the exposition. This allowed fathers and mothers to enjoy the fair without their children. Omaha women were called to spread the word about the Exposition. "Missionating" for the fair became one of the projects of Nebraska women's clubs. "Pin on your walls illustrations of the grounds and building," urged Mrs. A. Hardy in The Hatchet.29 Mothers were strongly encouraged to bring their children to the Exposition:

The mother can so tend the mind of her boy and girl that, when passing through Machinery Hall, the wonderful engines will mean to them not simply iron and steel and noise; but, beyond all that they will realize a something almost akin to human, which gives to the machine a personality second only to that of its inventor.30

The Exposition became an instructional ground for women to aid in the imagination and upbringing of their children, for the benefit of the future civilization of the Great Plains. They could also, on the other hand, conveniently place them in the daycare in the Girls' and Boys' Building.

The Women's Bureau of Education took control of the planning and implementation of the Girls' and Boys' Building. Another group, the Department of Household Economics of the Omaha Woman's Club, created a cookbook and reference for women coming to the Exposition called the Trans-Mississippi Home Maker. Nearly one hundred Nebraska women contributed recipes, directions for cooking, and instructions in the domestic arts. "When such a body of women put their brains to work they ought to evolve something very good," The Hatchet reported.31 Mary Moody Pugh emphasized in the preface that this cookbook was more than a list of recipes. The "formulas," Pugh writes, "are such as have been worked out by practical chemists, and adopted into everyday use, in the kitchen laboratories of our women."32 The cookbook utilized food products of the Great Plains and took into consideration the "conditions" of the region to provide "both a help and an inspiration to the coming Home-makers of the West."33

While it may appear that these "practical chemists" were the embodiment of the empowered turn-of-the-century women who fought the restraints of proper womanhood, the cookbook mainly focused on the tried-and-true traditional homemaking practices. "The home is the basis of our whole social and civil fabric," the author wrote. "Right thinking, right living, right adjustments in all relations of life must begin in the home, if the individual would ever attain any degree of perfection in the larger and more complex relations of the world."34 Rev. Mary Garard Andrews, a contributor to the cookbook, explained that the values of obedience, honor, benevolence, love, and, above all, humor were the cornerstones of the successful housewife.

The social structure of the home was emphasized in great detail throughout the cookbook. Women, it claimed, were responsible for the [End Page 67] health of their family by the amount of dusting, sweeping, and cleaning that she accomplished. The men, "engaged in the complex affairs of modern business," left the home in the morning and returned to a home that he expected to be perfect. It is ironic that Rose E. Strawn, one of the authors of the Trans-Mississippi Home Maker, extolled the virtues of the man engaged in the "complex business" outside the home when she, among many other Nebraskan women, were involved in the planning and implementation of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition.35 In addition to publishing the Trans-Mississippi Home Maker, the Omaha Woman's Club also created a model kitchen for the Exposition. Mrs. McMurphy, joined with the Miller's Association of the State, held a series of lectures for the duration of the Exposition in the kitchen, which was housed in the Agriculture Building. She geared the majority of her presentations to showing the "variety of nutritious and palatable food products which can be manufactured from cereals," especially from the grains grown in Nebraska.36 Like Rose Strawn, McMurphy was emphasizing women's "traditional" homemaking roles while demonstrating the opposite by holding a lecture at the Exposition. Both McMurphy's lectures and the cookbook highlight the homemaking role of women's work, but also showcase the struggle that women experienced with appropriate gender roles at this time. Women were pulled in two directions between the "traditional" gender roles in the home and the desire to take part in society outside the home.

The Bureau of Education was responsible for planning the Girls' and Boys' Building, various congress meetings, and the propagation of the domestic arts through the Trans-Mississippi Home Maker. One could classify the Bureau of Education as the outlet for socially conscious Omaha women. The bureau was not the only avenue for women's involvement in the Exposition. The Ladies' Bureau of Entertainment was the venue of social involvement for the "high society" women of Omaha. This organization was made up of fifty women, ten of whom served in executive positions. Women in the Bureau of Entertainment organized specific women's spaces and events throughout the Exposition. Mrs. Clement Chase served as its president; Mrs. Gurdon W. Wattles, wife of the banker mastermind of the Exposition, also served on the board. Other prominent Omaha society women served a variety of roles on the board, including Mrs. George Joslyn, Mrs. Thomas Kimball, Mrs. Charles Offutt, and Mrs. Arthur Brandeis.37 The bureau organized "social functions designed to entertain distinguished guests and to 'assist in making the visit of prominent people in Omaha a memorable event.'"38 In addition to planning and implementing various social outings, the Ladies' Bureau of Entertainment was also responsible for the distribution of "illustrated pamphlets, newsletters, commemorative stamps, and medals . . . to inform people of the purpose and scope of the exposition."39

One of the most successful spaces planned by the Ladies' Bureau of Entertainment was designed for their own use in mind. The "Ladies' Room" was described as "commodious quarters in the north gallery of the Mines and Mining Building."40 This woman-, class-, and white-specific space "added much to the attractiveness" of the building, and the evidence shows that these women designed this space for themselves (see Fig. 3).41 The room contained elegant rugs, chairs, and a chaise. The "draperies of cool green mattings and wicker furniture gave a delightful air of comfort to these apartments" and were designated for women who sought to rest amid the chaos of the Exposition.42 Figure 3 shows [End Page 68] seven women dressed in their best, leisurely making conversation and enjoying refreshments. The Ladies' Bureau of Entertainment created a space for women but simultaneously limited some women's access to enjoy refined, leisurely activity while at the Exposition. The women in the Bureaus of Entertainment and Education were mostly society women. They did not have to work outside the home to support their families and could spend their time volunteering in these clubs and organizations. Most Omaha women did not have such luxuries.

Fig. 3. Ladies' Room in the Mines and Mining Building. F. A. Rinehart, "Ladies' Room," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 3.

Ladies' Room in the Mines and Mining Building. F. A. Rinehart, "Ladies' Room," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

The Ladies' Room was also used to host modest receptions and light refreshments for distinguished guests. The most elaborate and "brilliant entertainments of the summer" took place in this room.43 Mrs. Clement Chase entertained Madame Wu Ting Fang (wife of the Chinese minister) and Madame Wing Pom Ye (wife of the Korean minister) when First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley fell ill and could not attend the luncheon.44 The Ladies' Bureau of Entertainment made quite an impression on the guests who "were very appreciative of the steps taken to make their visits pleasant."45

In addition to entertaining foreign diplomats, [End Page 69] the Ladies' Bureau of Entertainment organized public events such as the flower parade, hailed by Exposition historian Haynes as "one of the most beautiful features of the Exposition summer."46 Mrs. H. McCall Travis supervised and directed the decoration of the vehicles in the parade, which included a total of forty carriages. Each were decorated with the brightest flowers that prominent Omaha women paraded around the Exposition grounds. Mrs. J. H. Evans won first prize for her carriage covered in "victoria, heliotrope and white chrysanthemums, and design in Vandyke points" (see Fig. 4).47 Each of the participants received a souvenir Exposition medal for their presence and participation in such an elaborate event.48 The flower parade embodied the upper-class social showmanship of the Ladies' Bureau, but not all women were involved in these frivolous pursuits at the Exposition.

Fig. 4. Mrs. J. H. Evans, fi rst place winner of the Flower Parade. F. A. Rinehart, "Flower Parade, Decorated Carriage," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 4.

Mrs. J. H. Evans, fi rst place winner of the Flower Parade. F. A. Rinehart, "Flower Parade, Decorated Carriage," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

Working-Class Women's Work

Working-class women were present throughout the fair, though not in many of the spaces created for upper-class women. At the turn of the century, women's work outside the home was a very politically and socially charged matter. [End Page 70] In "middle class companionate marriages," women owed sexual love and domestic labor to her husband; the husband, in return, provided economic support.49 This delicate balance was upset when women sought employment outside the home: "When a woman earned an income of her own, she placed herself—at least symbolically—outside the reciprocal obligations of marriage."50 Women had always worked inside and outside the home. While she did not necessarily earn a paycheck, she contributed to the national economy through childrearing, household purchases, running boardinghouses, keeping boarders in their homes, and other economic social activities. In keeping with this trend, the Exposition could not have functioned as smoothly or properly as it did if working women were not involved. The threat to white middle-and upper-class companionate marriages occurred when women worked in jobs that garnered wages. At the Exposition, many working-class white women bucked these social laws and took tickets, provided childcare, and served beer.51

Fig. 5. Kirchner's Famous Lady Orchestra, including waitresses and performers. F. A. Rinehart, "Waitresses and Band—German Village," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 5.

Kirchner's Famous Lady Orchestra, including waitresses and performers. F. A. Rinehart, "Waitresses and Band—German Village," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

The most visible jobs for white women on the Midway were in the beer halls (see Fig. 5). [End Page 71] The German Village, situated on the Streets of Cairo, was there, as Alice French (also known by her pen name, Octave Thanet) put it, "to remind one of better things at the World's Fair."52 It is possible that French's statements referred to the traditionally dressed waitresses of the German Village. Women not only worked by serving beer and schnitzel, they also provided an image for the fairgoers of the "Old World." Women dressed in dirndls and may have even spoken in a German accent to play up the "German" aspect of the beer fair. Although the women put on their uniform in order to make an income, their waitressing "performance" added to the festive mood of the fair. Situated on the stage above the waitresses at the German Village was Kirchner's Famous Lady Orchestra (see Fig. 5). (It is very unlikely that these female musicians were from Germany, but some of them may have claimed German ancestry.)53

Women also worked on display in the Walter Baker & Company Breakfast Cocoa exhibit. They dressed in colonial-period costumes and posed behind the counter to serve hot chocolate. Located in the Manufactures Building, these women were employed as living accessories alongside the latest manufacturing inventions, including the White Sewing Machine, grinding mills, corn shellers, linseed oil, and Monarch axle grease. The women became as much a part of the display as the cocoa they served.

Women who dressed the part to perform and serve in the food-service industry at the Exposition earned wages for their work. These working women challenged the so-called social protocols for acceptable female behaviors. For example, an employed woman could resist or avoid marriage if she provided for herself. The theory suggested that if a woman did not need a male breadwinner, then "she no longer owed her sexuality to one man alone."54 By defying female modesty to seek employment independent of a man, a woman exerted other kinds of boldness—including, but not limited to, sexual assertiveness.55 This ideological lens explains how one might perceive that an employed woman compromised her sexuality. Many women at the Exposition gained employment that did not outwardly compromise her sexuality.

White women nevertheless had a significant amount of control over their bodies and image at the Exposition, even if they were lower to middle class. Existing within the Exposition as a person of color meant that they were less likely to exert control over their position and image at the fair. For example, two hundred men and women participated in the Chinese exhibit and were allowed entry to the United States as an exception to the Exclusion Act for the purpose of representing their culture at the Exposition in the Mee Lee Wah, or Chinese Village.56 While the majority of the workers in the Chinese Village made their work through legitimate means, there is evidence that some women may have been subject to prostitution. The June 18, 1898, high-profile case of the Lun sisters—Yup, Tue, and Kim—highlighted the potential presence of prostitution at the Exposition. All three women were brought to Omaha to appear on the stage at the Exposition.57 But Wah Lee, a Chinese laundryman from Lincoln, Nebraska, appealed to have the girls removed from the village because, in Wah's opinion, "the three Lun sisters had been brought here for immoral purposes and that it was the purpose of the proprietors of the Mee Lee Wah Village company to sell them at the rate of $1,500 each, to be delivered in San Francisco."58 Wah Lee's position, expressed to Judge Scott, blew the whistle on this underground sex-trafficking [End Page 72] operation. It is unclear if the Lun sisters were prostitutes during their time in Omaha or if they were listed for sale for the purpose of sex slavery to take place outside the fair. There are other references that Chinese women from the Exposition fell into the hands of Chinese slave traders who reportedly "transported the women to San Francisco and sold them to brothels in Chinatown."59 The treatment of the Lun sisters before and during the trial caused enough commotion to warrant a two-column article about the debacle in the Omaha Daily Bee.60 Although an incomplete story, this account points to the larger, underlying problem of prostitution and sex trafficking at the Exposition.

While the evidence for Chinese prostitution is sparse, there is ample evidence of two infamous women who built a prostitution empire in Omaha and later in Chicago. Ada Everleigh and Minna Everleigh were sisters from Kentucky. After marrying abusive men, the sisters left their husbands and moved to Omaha in 1898. The timing of the Exposition was ideal for finding employment but, "having no skills and little education . . . the sisters earned their keep as prostitutes in a part of the exposition known as the 'Streets of Cairo.'"61 As a result of using particular spaces inside the Exposition, these women financially capitalized on the popularity of prostitution among fairgoers from out of town. By the end of the Exposition the sisters had earned enough money to open their own high-class brothel in Omaha, which they owned and operated for a year. It was short-lived, as "Omaha's native population—a blue-collar mix of Germans, Swedes, and Danes—was not interested in champagne and $10 admission fees."62 The sisters sold their brothel on Fourteenth and Dodge Streets and opened another in Chicago's red-light district. Their business venture in Chicago made them millionaires; the sisters avoided the law by admitting state legislators free of charge, bribing police, and contributing generously to campaign funds of Democratic candidates.63

Other anecdotal evidence of prostitution is found in the "Local Brevities" sections of the local newspapers. On June 15, just two weeks after the Exposition's opening, sixteen-year-old Florence Gibson was arrested on South Twentieth Street, having been placed by a man named "Walters" for immoral purpose. She said Walters promised to secure her a position on the Midway, and she went with him from Council Bluffs to Omaha to work.64 With a number of well-known brothels in Omaha, it is unsurprising that brothel owners would have capitalized on the large influx of visitors to the city. Prostitution on the fairgrounds, though hard to prove, seems a likely and very lucrative proposition for male and female brothel owners seeking to expand their market to the place with the highest traffic.

Women of Color: For Display Purposes Only

Unlike working-class white women, women of color were not employed in the same capacity. The presence of women of color was largely limited to the Midway, where they were used for entertainment and even titillation; but through their exhibit, they communicated a message of colonization and civilization to the masses. The Midway featured women and men who performed as human showcases.65 Their presence was deliberate, given that the purpose of the Exposition was to highlight the conquered territory west of the Mississippi and the continual process of American progress. The women of color on display on the Midway were evidence to the fair attendees of the "conquered" [End Page 73] peoples and ongoing efforts of civilizing the peoples from the Great Plains and beyond. On June 1, opening day of the Exposition, the Omaha Daily Bee printed this overture:

Overcoming the obstacles of nature with irresistible energy, they have added to the productive area of the republic a territory greater than that of France and Germany combined, and to its wealth and resources an aggregate that arithmetic cannot compute . . . accompanied by greater achievements in education, benevolence, political order and self-control, which give renewed illustrations of the capability of man for social regeneration, and of the compatibility of democratic institutions with the highest intellectual and moral activity. To celebrate these triumphs, to commemorate an historic epoch, and to inspire mankind with continued devotion to the ideas that have made such annals possible, the people of Omaha have organized the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition.66

Within this narrative, women worked in displays on the Midway and were consumed as entertainment. According to the narrative of the fair organizers, the women were considered "obstacles of nature" in the Great Plains that have since become "productive" through colonizing efforts. To the modern reader, however, their involvement reveals notions of how fairgoers attempted to justify the colonization, exploitation, and civilization of marginalized populations.

Visitors toured the campgrounds and viewed more than forty Native American tribes who wore regalia and displayed themselves within traditional home settings. There is much scholarship about the Indian Congress and its "sham battles" held daily for the visiting audience. Native American men were most active in the daily sham battles, but Native women took center stage in the daily displays on the campgrounds. Their work in the Indian Congress has been relatively ignored but stands as a significant marker for understanding Native women's contributions to the Exposition. Native women (like Native men and children) were contract workers exhibited in the Indian Congress and began their work at eight in the morning. Visitors observed Indian women "living in family groups, preparing meals, performing religious ceremonies, and generally acting out their 'aboriginality.'"67 The Indian Congress also allowed Native women to sell baskets, artwork, and crafts directly to Exposition attendees to earn extra income.68

The tensions between education and entertaining exhibits surfaced in this venue. The original purpose of the Indian Congress was to educate the public on the Native American tribes of the United States. The Congress, however, quickly dissolved into entertainment. Captain Mercer, manager of the Indian Congress, intended to educate visitors and "acquaint the white people with the home life of the Indian."69 Native women were at the heart of this "home life," similar—ironically—to the perceived gender roles placed on nineteenth-century white women. Mercer played to the audience's nostalgia for the "primitive Indian" through organized displays of Native women in traditional dress situated in tipis (see Fig. 6). The general public understood this population to be militarily defeated and subsequently conquered.70 Through ongoing efforts disguised as "civilization," they were then forced to undergo various assimilation or "Americanization" policies, and restricted to impoverished and isolated reservation life. Commissioner Jones hoped this display would [End Page 74] educate fair visitors on the government's efforts to "civilize" Native peoples: "The exhibition has been a pleasing one to Commissioner Jones, who says he feels a great interest in the Indians and their future, believing the time will come when they will entirely abandon their tribal relations and accept the methods and customs of the whites."71

Fig. 6. Blackfoot delegate and her child. The image was referred to as the "Blackfeet Squaw." F. A. Rinehart, "Blackfeet Squaw," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 6.

Blackfoot delegate and her child. The image was referred to as the "Blackfeet Squaw." F. A. Rinehart, "Blackfeet Squaw," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

Commissioner Jones may have been hopeful that Native Americans would abandon their tribal ways, but the public was not interested in learning about such policies at the fair. Instead they enjoyed the entertainment angle that Mercer designed. The display played on their nostalgic wish to behold the so-called vanishing race. Participants in the Indian Congress regularly posed for photographs with fair attendees for a small fee. Although it was paid work, posing and performing throughout the day most likely caused Native peoples to resent their positions as objects of amusement by white Americans. White nostalgia and demand to be entertained by Indians collided with the reality of Native life at the turn of the century. It was far easier for non-Native populations to enjoy Indigenous populations as relics than it [End Page 75] was to learn or become educated about their plight as victims of colonization and conquest.

Fig. 7. Dancing Girls of Cairo. F. A. Rinehart, "Dancing Girls of Cairo," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 7.

Dancing Girls of Cairo. F. A. Rinehart, "Dancing Girls of Cairo," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

Native women also held supporting roles in the daily sham battles. After the male warriors "took prisoners," the Omaha Daily Bee reported, the women followed like "vultures" and "tortured their victims in the most heartless manner."72 The reporter's use of the word "vulture" evoked images of animal-like behavior, violence, and danger. Even though the battles were staged, the Exposition and the media purposely perpetuated savage imagery of both Indian men and women to draw curious, captivated visitors to attend the Indian Congress.73

Although fair organizers intentionally displayed the means of conquest and the ongoing civilization process in the official buildings around the Exposition, the human showcases on the Midway reveal a contrary desire of the fairing public for the nostalgic presence of savagery. This is evident in the scores of "blanket" Indians who were brought in to serve in the Indian Congress and through the various displays on the midways. Figure 6 demonstrates the traditional exhibits of Native [End Page 76] American women at the Indian Congress. All women—white and otherwise—played very important roles in this tension between civilization and savagery.

One very visible sign of perceived savagery in the human showcases was the woman's body. While society expected white women to wrap themselves in a "mantle of proper reserve," women of color were expected to reveal their bodies while on display.74 Although visitors were able to gaze upon a representation of a nude white woman's body in the Trilby painting by Astley Cooper, white women were not objectified and commodified in the same way that women of color were throughout the Exposition.75 Outside the Trilby Temple visitors witnessed a controversial display of modesty, the Dancing Girls of Cairo (see Fig. 7). Unlike Trilby, fairgoers did not have to pay extra for this exhibit, but it was equally titillating. Visitors encountered this living exhibit on the Midway—women served drinks, smoked the hookah, and performed a dance. Their attire and dancing attracted both male and female visitors alike. The Omaha World-Herald even advertised their presence on the Streets of Cairo alongside the camel rides. In Figure 7 it is clear that the women from this exhibit wore dresses that revealed the lower portion of their legs and a great deal of their neck and chest. Such costumes would have likely caused people to view them in an exotic and even sexualized way.

The attire of the Dancing Girls was not the only scandalous part of their display. The dancing likely caused complaints, as eventually these women were forced to alter their routine. The Omaha World-Herald reported on June 11, only ten days after the opening ceremonies, that "the propriety of a group of girls performing at a concession known as the 'Streets of Cairo' was questioned, and Abraham L. Reed, head of concessions department, took action which forced the girls to moderate their dancing."76 Whether they voluntarily danced on the Midway is unknown, but they retained their agency by earning a wage at the Exposition.

Turning back toward the western Midway, or the Streets of All Nations, visitors witnessed nationally known dancer Labelle Fatima. In a photograph of Fatima (Fig. 8) she reclines on a chaise, surrounded by layers of rugs, and holds a hookah. Her neckline is even lower than those of the two dancing women from the Streets of Cairo. She lies in a leisurely manner, a position that would not have been appropriate for a proper white woman in the US. Fatima was a famous dancer who appeared at both the Columbian World's Exposition (1893) and the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904). Organizers of these events usually marginalized her to be on display with the whirling dervishes, camels, sword fighters, and other "exotic" peoples from the Middle East.77

Like the Dancing Girls of Cairo, Labelle Fatima showed a great amount of bare skin. The bodies of these women were the attraction when visitors came to see them. These human showcases were developed in the same manner as the "human zoos," which began with Saartjie Baartman, the "Hottentot Venus," first displayed at the Piccadilly Circus in 1810.78 Like Baartman, these women were "spectacularized"; they were made a spectacle and became popular features at the Exposition. The expositions of this era sought to display the "savages" that the western nations like the US had, according to majority white mainstream American narrative, conquered and subdued.

Also located on the Street of All Nations was Chiquita, another regular performer at American expositions. According to the official program of the Trans-Mississippi International [End Page 77]

Fig. 8. LaBelle Fatima, Dancing Girl of the Midway. F. A. Rinehart, "Dancing Girl of the Midway," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 8.

LaBelle Fatima, Dancing Girl of the Midway. F. A. Rinehart, "Dancing Girl of the Midway," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

[End Page 78]

Exposition, Chiquita, the "Living Doll," was a "miniature lady" who was "over 28 years of age, although only twenty-six inches high" and "an exile, obliged to flee from her home at the outbreak of the Cuban revolution."79 She traveled around to the various US expositions including those in Buffalo, Chicago, and New York. At the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, guests paid to ask Chiquita questions and view her gown, gifts, and collection of old lace.80 Her entire economic livelihood was based on performing at expositions, like the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, where visitors could see her for a price of ten cents.81

Unlike Labelle Fatima and the Dancing Girls of Cairo, who were largely displayed as sexual attractions, Chiquita was an example of the "otherness" or "freakishness" of displayed women. Chiquita was novel for her small stature and miniature clothes and furniture. The exoticism of this "freak show" allowed "ordinary people to confront, and master, the most extreme and terrifying forms of Otherness they could imagine, from exotic dark-skinned people, to victims of war and disease, to ambiguously sexed bodies."82 Whether displayed for titillation or freakish features, these women were exploited for the pleasure of fairgoers who sought to see displays that reinforced their notions of cultural and racial superiority.

African American women were displayed on the Midway in the "Old Plantation" exhibit. Situated between the Indian Congress and sixty ostriches in the Ostrich Farm, the official Exposition guidebook listed the Old Plantation with other exotic attractions like Chiquita, the Chinese Village, and camel rides. Although southern world's fairs in the South, such as Atlanta's and Tennessee's, included a separate "Negro Department" where African Americans could display their progress since emancipation, there was no such department at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. There was a long debate over including this kind of segregated department in the Exposition that ended in a rejection of a "Negro Department." As a result, the only exposure that guests had to African American women was in the Old Plantation.83 In an unfortunate twist of fate, Omaha's African American women were rejected from the planning boards, yet the women who worked the Old Plantation were allowed access to restricted spaces at the fair for entertainment of white audiences. The Omaha World-Herald advertisement stated visitors could witness "100 Southern Negro Dancers, Singers, and Cake Walkers" alongside the "Pickaninny Quartet and Handsome Theater." As seen in Figure 9, the "Old Plantation" shows African Americans posing as slaves. Two white males in the second row on the left who look on the gathered group below either played a part in the plantation, were spectators, or were contracted employees in charge of the exhibit.

Fair attendees found additional questionable African American women displays throughout the Exposition. Omaha Daily Bee reporter Alice French (Octave Thanet) declared that the best food was located in the Manufactures Building in the Home Kitchen where "Aunt Jemima serves pancakes hot from the griddle."84 Aunt Jemima, a commercial mascot for the pancake mix by the same name, was played by Nancy Green.85 First appearing at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, fairgoers were drawn to the "giant barrel-shaped concession of the R. T. Davis Milling Company by the smell of buttery hotcakes and the sounds of laughter and applause."86 Green spoke of the "happy times" on the plantation, and the "endless parties" for which she prepared delicious pancakes (made from the mix that consumers could now [End Page 79] purchase from the Davis Milling Company).87 The Omaha World-Herald reported that Aunt Jemima's costume was very appealing, with her "gay colored turban and kerchief over her blue dress, standing in front of the biggest barrel in the world and dispensing cakes made of Aunt Jemima's pancake flour."88 The reporter assured readers that she was the authentic Aunt Jemima, "and we haven't the least doubt of it."89 Aunt Jemima satisfied fairgoers' nostalgia for the gentle and jovial black "mammy" behind the griddle. Her so-called authenticity reinforced the stereotypes and mythic ideas of slave women who were content in their position to cook in the romanticized plantation home.

Fig. 9. Old Plantation with Group. F. A. Rinehart, "Old Plantation with Group," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 9.

Old Plantation with Group. F. A. Rinehart, "Old Plantation with Group," 1898, Omaha Public Library Collection, Omaha, NE.

Women's Work as a Model for Conquest

Women's bodies and their use were the focal point of the displays on the Midway. Women from these displays—Native women at the Indian Congress, dancing women on the Streets of Cairo, Chiquita, Labelle Fatima, plantation women, and Aunt Jemima—were spectacles, exotic commodities to be visually consumed by fairgoers. Through their displays on the [End Page 80] Midway they were largely objectified, sexualized, exploited, and held up as the trophies of conquest and the progress of American "civilization." Visitors made contact with displayed women at the Exposition in the "contact zone" which has been referred to as "the space of imperial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict."90 All the displayed women were arranged in an artificial environment, which was recreated to allow visitors to "step into" these women's world and see the subjects of conquest in their primitive state. Native women "played" cultural practices at the Indian Congress, while reform groups, missionaries, and federal agents on the reservations actively discouraged such behavior and living patterns.91 The contact zone of the plantation women took place on the model of slavery, which was officially outlawed only thirty-three years prior. Native and African American women performed in these artificially constructed environments that did not reflect their current ways of life. Instead of learning about their realities through exhibits, visitors entered these spaces to reinforce their notions of cultural and racial superiority.

In these contact zone examples, the power imbalance between the displayed women and visitors is evident. In treating the displayed women as savages, fair organizers simultaneously exploited their bodies. The conquest of women's bodies was a large part of civilizing efforts in the West. White men would rape and pillage as a means of conquest in ancient times (and not-so-ancient times). Although there is no record of white men (and white women) who visited the Exposition enacting direct sexual violence upon the displayed women of the Midway, the "gaze of the visitor" became the alternative method of the exploitation of vulnerable women.92 Their lack of modesty in their displays automatically led viewers to place these women lower in a social and sexual hierarchy. Women of color, deemed sexual deviants by society, were welcomed by men (and women) to display themselves in a provocative manner. Men enjoyed their displays because of the natural titillation effect. Although white women were displayed to a certain extent as workers throughout the fairgrounds, their presence was not intended to produce the same arousing effect as the women on the Midway. Women singing in a band and serving beer were not exotic because one could view those same types of women outside the fair. A Middle Eastern dancer and girls serving the hookah would have been considered exotic for the simple fact that those women were not available outside the fair. White women appreciated these women's displays because it relieved the pressures they might face to break with appropriate sexual mores.

Socially accepted norms of proper white femininity were respected throughout the fair—white women were not sexualized in the same way on the Midway. Works of art, such as Trilby, were safe realms for artists and the public to explore the bounds of social respectability. Live nudity was considered an abomination to late nineteenth-century propriety, which required ladies to wrap themselves "in a mantle of proper reserve."93 Even though it was only the painting of a nude, Trilby garnered as much attention as if a live nude woman were posing for Exposition attendees. The human showcases throughout the Midway pushed the boundaries of nudity. The amount of skin shown by the Dancing Girls of Cairo was deemed acceptable, but on the other hand, their dancing had to be toned down. [End Page 81] Actions, as well as physical appearance, played a role in nineteenth-century propriety.

The visitor's gaze upon the human showcases of the Midway was not only a means to sexualize women, it was also a way to commodify them. Walking through the Midway, visitors could witness Indian women in their "native homes" selling crafts. African American women displayed the supposed inner workings of the plantation home, and Chiquita modeled all her miniature clothes. All these displayed people were intended to be gazed upon in a zone of restricted contact. Women from these exhibits reveal as much about fair organizers' intentions to draw visitors (and capital) as they do the public's insatiability for "primitive" and "exotic" women.

Although they were objectified in some of the most horrific ways, the displayed women used the Exposition to their advantage. Very few job opportunities were available to women, especially women of color, at the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition and across the nation. The only way for them to enter the Exposition, it seemed, was to become a human showcase on the Midway. It is unknown if women who worked in these exhibits felt conflicted about their role at the Exposition. One could imagine that an African American woman—possibly freed from slavery within the last thirty years—would want nothing to do with her former condition of bondage and violence. But playing the role of the slave, for nostalgia's sake, was perhaps her only way to earn a living. Likewise, Native American women of the Congress may have despised "dressing up" for spectators. But it was a steady income for five months and helped feed their families and communities. It is unclear if economics were the sole driving factor behind women's work on the Midway, but it surely was not a deterrent.

Fair organizers claimed in the official program that the Midway was a place for families to enjoy "instructive, amusing, refreshing and wholesome" activities. In making this claim they were clearly "instructing" the public about the successes of human conquest and civilization. Women on display—like Chiquita—would have been considered "amusing" and possibly "refreshing" as the mostly white visitors reinforced their "normalcy" in relation to the "freaks." And the "wholesome" activities, such as viewing Aunt Jemima or Indian women selling crafts in their tipis, would have instructed visiting children on the value of these non-hegemonic cultures as a commodity to be consumed. The official program seemed to have left out the titillating exhibits of dancers along the Midway or in viewing the Trilby painting. Among these, the human showcases on the Midway were questionable at best and downright sexist and racist at worst. All displayed women sent a message to fairgoers of the value of women and the perceived progress of civilization—the forward movement of American civilization and social advancement was nigh, and those who stood in its way were surely to become extinct.

Although conquest of savagery and civilization was the main theme of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, the fair demonstrated more than these dueling notions. Women took center stage throughout the Exposition. Women proved themselves to be adroit planners and fundraisers as they made plans for the Girls' and Boys' Building and other women's spaces throughout the Exposition. They also kept beer flowing in the German Village, cared for children in the daycare and in the incubators, planned speakers and parades, wrote cookbooks, and (arguably) sold sex along the Midway. Without women's work and bodies [End Page 82] at the Exposition, most of the pleasurable displays of the fair would have been absent.

Conclusion

The closing day of the Exposition was deemed "Omaha Day." In his address to the crowd, Exposition board president Gurdon Wattles expressed his thanks to Omaha women for their organization and planning: "An important work has been done by the women of this State in the bureau of education," Wattles began in his address. This important work included "no less than 64 meetings, many of them of national importance . . . to discuss the great social, political, economic and religious topics of the day."94

Women and the work they provided were the backbone of the Exposition. From fundraising to organizing and performing, women from Omaha and all over the world were invested in the Exposition in ways that need to be recognized. Such attention helps readers contextualize not just the development of this Exposition but also the changing nature of women's involvement in American society at the turn of the century. Women no longer fit the idea of domestic confinement and child-rearing. They had stepped beyond this world to advocate for moralism in a continually demoralized society, and pushed for innovations in education. The "hatchers" Lieutenants Mauer and Ensign Mc-Cormick demonstrated more than two women who fought for religious morals at the Exposition; these women, with their axes in hand, symbolize how women broke down the barriers that had previously locked them out of active participation in society.

Unlike the white women of the fair, displayed women were not breaking down barriers to advancement. Instead, their mere presence seemed to be the embodiment of those roadblocks. Women and men of color were typecast as the last remaining survivors of savagery. The Dancing Girls of Cairo displayed un-"ladylike" behaviors as they exposed parts of their body that were considered immodest to the stringent housewife. Human showcases, through their displays of intentionally crafted exotic "otherness," created a normalizing experience for visitors. If Chiquita and LaBelle Fatima were the "other," then the spectator was reassured about his or her "normalcy."

Furthermore, human showcases were physical embodiments of manifest destiny. Seen as the guiding principle for western territorial expansion, manifest destiny was also the impetus for conquest of peoples in the West. On June 1, 1898, Hon. John Baldwin said that the exposition represented the successes of civilization and conquest: "The Exposition has become the instrument of civilization. Being a concomitant to empire, westward it takes its way."95 In this statement, he pointed to the continued efforts to conquer the bodies of the "others" in the West. Indian peoples lost land to devastating, greedy congressional actions, and Indian cultures fell under scrutiny. Women of color were sexualized and encouraged to display themselves in a provocative manner, a practice that relieved the pressures of sex from "respectable" white women. Throughout these supposed examples of bodily conquest, human showcases opposed these forces by asserting their agency. The Lun sisters protested their unjust treatment by the Christian missionary who vowed to "save" them. In listening to those whose voices have been suppressed or lost from the historical record, a greater picture of the Exposition emerges.

The Trans-Mississippi Exposition was a battleground for conflicting turn-of-the-century ideas of race, sex, and identity. As America [End Page 83] worked out these rapidly changing socially constructed concepts, they collided in these artificially crafted spaces. What remains from the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition today are the lessons of intentional human degradation and exploitation. In exposing these dark moments of our nation's history, one can restore dignity to the oppressed and work to rethink the way that Americans remember and commemorate such historic events. [End Page 84]

Jillian Roger

Jillian Roger is an independent historian with a master's degree in history from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her thesis, "Women's Work and Human Showcases: The Trans-Mississippi Exposition on Display," looks at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition through the lens of race and gender. Jillian is a high school history and government teacher living in Omaha, Nebraska.

Notes

1. "Objects to Nude in Art," Omaha (NE) Daily Bee, May 24, 1898, 2.

2. Ethel Evans, "Art at the Exposition," Omaha Daily Bee, June 16, 1898.

3. Evans, "Art at the Exposition."

4. Evans, "Art at the Exposition."

5. "Dorothy's Crusade," Omaha World-Herald, May 24, 1898, 1.

6. Carry Nation was a prohibition activist in Kansas. She took an ax to bars and destroyed everything in sight as a way to enforce her prohibition ideals. Her first big "hatchetation" was in Kiowa, Kansas, in 1900. For more information, see Kansas Historical Society, "Nation, Carry A," January 2016, www.kshs.org. The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition is commonly referred to as the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, dropping the "international" from its title.

7. A recent collection of essays covers many new topics that had not been explored by previous scholars: The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898–1899, edited by Wendy Jean Katz (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018). One of the essays in this collection, "Women and Art in the Passing Show," by Wendy Jean Katz, explores the role that women played in art and criticism at the Exposition.

8. For more information see Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820–1860," American Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1966): 151–74, and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

9. Mary F. Cordato, "Representing the Expansion of Woman's Sphere: Women's Work and Culture at the World's Fairs of 1876, 1893, and 1904" (PhD diss., New York University, 1989).

10. Cordato, "Representing the Expansion," 129.

11. Elsie Reasoner, "A National Wonder: The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition," Godey's Magazine, June 1898, 617.

12. For a more detailed examination of these themes, in particular how they impacted the displays of Hawai'i and the Philippines, see Stacy L. Kamehiro and Danielle B. Crawford's essay, "Hawai'i and the Philippines at the Omaha Expositions," in Katz, Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions.

13. Frances Ford, "Women's Work for the Fair," Omaha Daily Bee, June 1, 1898, 6

14. Ford, "Women's Work," 6.

15. Ford, "Women's Work," 6.

16. As women sought to extend the "woman's sphere" beyond the home, they crafted intentionally separate public spaces for women. In this process of "redefining womanhood by extension, rather than the rejection, of the female sphere," women created places to infuse domesticity, piety, and purity in the public realm. Settlement houses, women's clubs, and, especially pertinent to this thesis, women's buildings at world fairs were physical manifestations of the "home" in the public realm. For more information on this separatism strategy, see Estelle Freedman, "Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution Building and American Feminism, 1870–1930," Feminist Studies 5, no. 3 (Autumn 1979): 519-20.

17. The twenty-four trans-Mississippi states and territories west of the Mississippi River were Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma Territory, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico Territory, Arizona Territory, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, and the District of Alaska.

18. John Wakefield, A History of the Transmississippi & International Exposition (1903), Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition Collection, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, http://trans-mississippi.unl.edu/texts/view/transmiss.book.wakefield.1903.xml.

19. Wakefield, History of the Exposition.

20. Robert W. Rydell, "The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition: 'To Work Out the Problem of Universal Civilization,'" American Quarterly 33, no. 5 (December 1, 1981): 606.

21. Katharine Orchard Kuh, The Hatchet (Omaha, NE), March 1898, 1, Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition Collection, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, http://trans-mississippi.unl.edu/texts/view/transmiss.per.hatchet.1898.xml.

22. Ford, "Women's Work," 6.

23. Six hundred dollars were made from magazine sales. Wakefield, History of the Exposition.

24. Three incentives were given to individuals and schools who contributed to the funds: a certificate with a picture of the building (for contributors who gave one dollar or more); the names of individuals and schools recorded on a displayed honor roll (for donations of ten dollars or more); and the donated pictures that adorned the building during exhibition were sent to the largest contributions per capita at the close of the Exposition. One half of the pictures were designated for rural schools who contributed the most per capita to the fundraising campaign. Wakefield, History of the Exposition.

25. Lydia McCague was the daughter of pioneer minister Rev. Thomas McCague. He was a minister of the United Presbyterian Church and set up Beal's School House on Fifteenth and Capitol Streets in July 1867. The organization that sponsored the school revoked its charter after a year. Reverend McCague "took the matter into his own hands" and built a new church on South Tenth Street to evangelize. Lydia was the seventh of nine children. She studied at Wellesley College but never married. For more information, see James Woodruff Savage, John Thomas Bell, and Consul Willshire Butterfield, History of the City of Omaha, Nebraska (Omaha: Munsell, 1894), and The Wellesley Alumnae Quarterly, vol. 5 (Wellesley College Alumnae Association, 1920).

26. James B. Haynes, History of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898 (Omaha, NE: Woodward and Tiernan, 1910), 239, Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition Collection, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, http://trans-mississippi.unl.edu/texts/view/transmiss.book.haynes.1910.xml.

27. The restaurant was the most lucrative of the Girls' and Boys' Building displays. Wakefield, History of the Exposition.

28. Ford, "Women's Work," 6.

29. The Hatchet, 22.

30. Rydell, "The Trans-Mississippi Exposition," 605.

31. The Hatchet, 14.

32. Household Economic Association of Nebraska, The Trans-Mississippi Home Maker (State Household Economics of Nebraska, 1898), 5. This statement from The Trans-Mississippi Home Maker very much reflects a professionalization of home economics. As women earned professional science degrees in Europe, they were systematically shut out of science departments in American universities. This discrimination led professional women to take up work in home economic departments in universities. As a result, home economics became a progressive field that brought science to the average home and women into higher positions in academia. For more information, see Nancy Berlage, "The Establishment of an Applied Social Science: Home Economists, Science, and Reform at Cornell University, 1870–1930," in Gender and American Social Science: The Formative Years, ed. Helen Silverberg (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998); Mares Nerad, The Academic Kitchen: A Social History of Gender Stratification at the University of California, Berkeley (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987); and Sarah Stage and Virginia B. Vincenti, eds., Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).

33. Stage and Vincenti, Rethinking Home Economics, 5.

34. Stage and Vincenti, Rethinking Home Economics, 10.

35. Sadly, two years later Rose Strawn's husband died of heart failure in the Farnam Hotel while Rose was away in California. She went on to remarry in 1908 to a Mr. Chalmus McConnell of Ohio. "Judge Strawn Found Dead," Omaha World-Herald, February 25, 1901.

36. Nebraska State Commission, Report of the Nebraska State Commission for the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, Held in Omaha, June 1 to November 1, 1898 (Omaha: Omaha Printing Co., 1898), 17.

37. Mr. George Joslyn, media mogul, was the original owner of Joslyn Castle, a major landmark in Omaha. Mr. Thomas Kimball was the major architect of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition and various other Omaha landmarks, including St. Cecilia's Cathedral. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Offutt were the parents of Jarvis Offutt, a pilot shot down in World War I who became the namesake of Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, NE. Mr. Arthur Brandeis was the eldest son of famed owner of the Brandeis Department Store, J. L. Brandeis.

38. Kenneth G. Alfers, "Triumph of the West: The Trans-Mississippi Exposition," Nebraska History 53 (1972): 317.

39. Alfers, "Triumph," 317.

40. John Wakefield, Report of the General Secretary of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition (Omaha, NE), June 26, 1899, Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition Collection, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, http://trans-mississippi.unl.edu/texts/view/transmiss.book.wakefield.1899.xml.

41. Wakefield, Report of the General Secretary.

42. Haynes, History of the Exposition, 312-13.

43. Haynes, History of the Exposition, 314.

44. It is first interesting to note that two nonwhite women were welcomed into this white women's space. It is possible that because of their position as foreign women of privilege they were shown into the parlor. Mrs. Ida Saxton McKinley regularly missed these small-scale social events due to a neurotic illness that developed prior to her family taking over the White House. She also developed epilepsy; a seizure is likely the culprit that kept her from this engagement with the two foreign ministers' wives. See Carl Sferrazza Anthony, Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination, and Secret Disability (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2013).

45. Haynes, History of the Exposition, 314.

46. Haynes, History of the Exposition, 314.

47. Haynes, History of the Exposition, 404.

48. For more information about the souvenir medal, see Tracey Jean Boisseau, "Condensed Loveliness," in Katz, Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions. Boisseau goes into great detail about the meaning of the image portrayed by women at the fair, especially in the souvenir coin. The women in the flower parade issued their own coin that mimicked the official souvenir coin but changed the back side.

49. Sharon Wood, Freedom of the Streets: Work, Citizenship, and Sexuality in a Gilded Age City (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 16.

50. Wood, Freedom, 16.

51. African American women were employed at the Exposition in smaller numbers.

52. Octave Thanet [Alice French], "The Trans-Mississippi Exposition," Cosmopolitan, vol. 25, no. 6 (October 1898): 608, Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition Collection, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, http://trans-mississippi.unl.edu/texts/view/transmiss.per.thanet.1898.xml.

53. Kirchner advertised in the New York Clipper on July 9, 1898: "Wanted, to hear from Good Lady Musicians" to play in his Famous Lady Orchestra at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. He traveled alone to Great Falls, MT, in the spring of the following year, where he auditioned musicians for a new orchestra and again displayed his "Famous Lady Orchestra."

54. Wood, Freedom, 16.

55. Wood, Freedom, 16.

56. "Lun Sisters Sent to Jail," Omaha Daily Bee, June 19, 1898, 8. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended Chinese immigration. The act was initially instated for ten years with a renewal in 1892. The law was made permanent in 1902. This law effectively ended Chinese immigration to the United States with exemptions for performers. The law was repealed in 1943 with the Magnuson Act.

57. "Lun Sisters," Omaha Daily Bee.

58. "Lun Sisters," Omaha Daily Bee.

59. Brian Donovan, White Slave Crusades: Race, Gender, and Anti-Vice Activism, 1887–1917 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 119.

60. The Lun sisters were taken from the Chinese Village to await trial in the care of an Omaha Christian missionary, Miss Wykoff. Her apartment was in such a terrible condition that the sisters refused to board there and were instead held by the US marshal. Presiding over the Lun case was Judge Cunningham R. Scott, a self-proclaimed moral crusader and district judge in Omaha from 1892 to 1900. He ordered the sisters to return to Miss Wykoff or go to jail. They chose the latter but were rescued after a day by the US marshal. This case highlights the problems in the judicial system, particularly with Judge Scott who was later reprimanded by the Nebraska Supreme Court for attempting to fine Exposition officials $30,000 for failing to obey an injunction. "This was not the first time the Supreme Court has been called upon to give relief to citizens of Nebraska who have incurred the displeasures of Judge Scott." "Supreme Court Rebukes Scott," Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1898.

61. Charles W. Carey, American Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Business Visionaries (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009), 116.

62. Karen Abbott, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul (New York: Random House, 2007), 44.

63. Carey, American Inventors, 116.

64. Omaha World-Herald, June 15, 1898, 8.

65. The term "human showcases" was described by Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral Vistas (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1991) in relation to the displayed persons at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889. Raymond Corbey, "Ethnographic Showcases, 1870–1930," Cultural Anthropology 8, no. 3 (August 1993): 344, also analyzed Midway "human showcases." See also Adria Imada, Aloha America: Hula Circuits through the US Empire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 292.

66. Omaha Daily Bee, June 1, 1898, 17.

67. Omaha Daily Bee, June 1, 1898, 17.

68. Indian women also took place with more "spectacle-type" entertainments such as running fifty yards in "squaw races." "Indian Program Saturday," Omaha World-Herald, August 20, 1898, 3.

69. "Commissioner Jones Is Pleased," Omaha Daily Bee, September 22, 1898, 5.

70. Initially called the "Battle of Wounded Knee," this 1890 massacre was promoted as the final stand of the period known as the "Indian Wars." Jeffrey Ostler, The Plains Sioux and US Colonialism from Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

71. "Commissioner Jones Is Pleased."

72. "Indians Beaten in Battle," Omaha Daily Bee, August 11, 1898.

73. The classified report of the emergency hospital reported that an Indian woman attempted suicide by strangulation. This "attempted suicide by strangulation" is not fully understood by the author. It is possible that the woman was a victim of a lynching at the Exposition. Wakefield, Report, 14.

74. Rob Schorman, Selling Style: Clothing and Social Change at the Turn of the Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 47. The Trilby painting features a completely nude woman but was deemed socially appropriate because it was nudity for art's sake.

75. For more information about the history of the Trilby painting, see Emily Godby's essay in Katz, Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions.

76. Omaha World-Herald, June 11, 1898.

77. Marshall Everett, The Book of the Fair: The Greatest Exposition the World Has Ever Seen Photographed and Explained, a Panorama of the St. Louis Exposition (Philadelphia: P. W. Ziegler Co., 1904).

78. Saartjie Baartman was sold into slavery to a Dutch master and displayed in London's Piccadilly Pavilion due to her "abnormally large buttocks, elongated labia, and dark skin coloration." For more information on human zoos, see Pascal Blanchard, et al., eds., Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Empire (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009).

79. "Chiquita," Official Program, Trans-Mississippi Exposition, http://www.omahapubliclibrary.org/transmiss/regions/northmid/chiquita.html.

80. Susan J. Eck, "Chiquita," Doing the Pan, panam1901.org.

81. Advertisement, Omaha World-Herald, August 11, 1898, 6.

82. Rachel Adams, Sideshow USA: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 2.

83. For more information about the debate over including the African American community in the Exposition, see David Peavler, "African Americans in Omaha and the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition," Journal of African American History 93, no. 3 (Summer 2008): 342.

84. Octave Thanet [Alice French], "As Viewed by Octave Thanet," Omaha Daily Bee, July 31, 1898.

85. Nancy Green was the first actress to play Aunt Jemima. She retained the role until her death in 1923. There is no record of Nancy Green at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, but her presence is assumed because she was the sole actress to play Aunt Jemima until her death.

86. Micki McElya, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth Century America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 1.

87. McElya, Clinging to Mammy, 2.

88. Omaha World-Herald, July 3, 1898, 18.

89. Omaha World-Herald, July 3, 1898, 18.

90. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes : Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 2008), 8.

91. For more information, see Philip Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004).

92. For more information, see Imada, Aloha America.

93. Rob Schorman, Selling Style: Clothing and Social Change at the Turn of the Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 47.

94. Haynes, History of the Exposition, 484.

95. John Baldwin quoted in Haynes, History of the Exposition, 347.

Additional Information

ISSN
2333-5092
Print ISSN
0275-7664
Pages
61-88
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-28
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.