Thursday, June 6, 2013

Kate Green Paul: Local Participation in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Kate Green Paul is #4

(This article is a postscript to the Massanutten Regional Library’s first summer adult program on June 10 that features author Katie Letcher Lyle, who is the great-granddaughter of Kate Paul.)

  Recent books, for example, Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City (2004) and Justin Martin’s Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted (2012), focused popular attention on the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. While excellent, these books do not provide the reader with an understanding of the scope and widespread participation of Americans in this event. Few people know about Rockingham County/Harrisonburg resident population’s participation in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. In the local histories of this period, Mrs. Kate Seymour Green Paul’s membership on the Board of Women Managers of the World’s Fair was often noted. Kate Paul’s position gave area residents a “place at the table” with regard to national, state, and local exposition planning. The existence of the Board also called attention to the role of women in this event and in society in general 120 years ago.

 When the planning for the Fair began in 1890, Kate Paul was 43 years old, a mother of five living children that ranged in age from 2 to 12. In 1874, she married John Paul, who was then the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Rockingham County, later U.S. Congressmen and now, in 1890, the US judge for the Western District of Virginia. Kate Paul’s familiarity with the political arena provided her with connections that along with her own talents and interests made her well-suited for membership on the Board of Lady Managers of the Chicago World’s Fair.

 The Chicago Exposition celebrated the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus to America and it announced Chicago’s recovery from the great fire twenty years before in 1871. The exhibits and other venues at the event also highlighted America in the midst of great changes: the closing of the frontier; the growth of urban America; the recent labor-saving technology; and the new activism and role of women outside the home.


 Heretofore, World’s Fair organizers thought women need not be represented at all in the event staging (Paris) or men, exclusively, should define women’s roles (Philadelphia). Indeed, such sentiments were also expressed in early 1890 during the beginning planning stages of the Chicago exposition. Under the capable leadership of Bertha Palmer of Chicago, 115 women representing each of the States organized a Board of Women Managers, which established committees for planning their own Chicago Fair exhibits. Kate Paul was one of the representatives from Virginia. One of committee’s first tasks, Paul and other Board women trolled the halls of Congress to lobby individual Senators and Representatives to acknowledge the endeavor. The women asked the Federal Government for political and financial support for the right of women to design their exhibition area and to determine their interests at the Fair. The women also testified publicly before the Appropriation Committees asking for funds designated specifically to sustain their endeavor. They were successful and received funding for the Women’s Building.

One of the jewels of the Women’s Building was the more than 7,000 volume library designed for the expressed purpose to showcase women’s literary achievements. Mrs. Paul collected and catalogued a list of about 500 Virginia authors and their works. Mrs. Mary Stuart, herself a Virginia author, praised Kate Paul’s accomplishment as a monument to the intelligence and efficiency of Virginia women. In an incomplete catalogue of this Library only a few works by a Virginian seemed to be included in the collection. Not surprising, one of the volumes from Virginia on the shelf was a work titled 1860-65. A Romance of the Valley of Virginia by Bryan – no other name listed and not listed in the Library of Virginia’s website.    

With her position on the Board of Lady Managers, Kate Paul necessarily became involved in the Virginia and the Rockingham County/Harrisonburg participation in the Chicago World’s Fair. From the newspapers of the time a present day reader is impressed by the number of local residents who were involved in this event.

 (To be continued)

The MRL thanks Dale MacAllister for sharing souvenirs of the 1893 World’s Fair from his collection of world fair memorabilia.


John W. Wyland. History of Rockingham County. 1912

Mrs. Potted Palmer. Addresses and Reports.

Susan Wels. Spheres of Influence: The role of Women at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the San Francisco Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915.

http://americanlibraries Women in the White City. American Libraries Magazine.

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