Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

The title of this massive work, a collaboration between the Chicago Area Women's History Conference and the University of Illinois's Center for Research on Women and Gender, reveals that women have constructed Chicago--socially, educationally, artistically, and even literally as craftswomen. Intended for both educated readers and scholars, the book offers biographies of more than 400 women who made their mark on the city, emphasizing little-known leaders. Its inclusion of Roman Catholic nuns and Protestant female clerics is especially noteworthy. Primary and secondary sources follow the entries, which have numerous cross-references. Besides 140 black-and-white illustrations throughout the text, a separate section reproduces in color works by female Chicago artists. The necessary general index meticulously draws attention to aspects of the lives of major players in Chicago's history (Jane Addams, Ida Wells-Barnett); to institutions (Northwestern University, Women's Christian Temperance Union, Women's City Club of Chicago); and to the World's Fairs, 1893 and 1933-34. Pluses include a long introduction with subdivisions on women's changing position in Chicago history and a roster of 300 contributors that includes the titles of their essays. A register of subjects grouped by year of birth allows readers to search for historical figures in the same age cohorts. This remarkable volume will be a useful counterpart to ECHO (The Encyclopedia of Chicago History Online) . General and academic collections. F. J. Augustyn Jr. Library of Congress

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From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

If size alone were an indication of a reference book's value, this one, with more than 1,000 pages and weighing nearly seven pounds would top every "best" list. A reference book, however, is much more than the sum of its pages; and in this case, the subject covered, the way it is covered, and even the way the book itself came to be are more reliable indicators of worth. In 1990 the Chicago Area Women's History Conference (CAWHC) launched the Historical Encyclopedia of Chicago Women Project. Two years later a proposal was sent to the National Endowment for the Humanities under the auspices of the Center for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Editorial and advisory boards were formed, and the task of assembling an account of the lives of women integral to the history and development of the city of Chicago began. Several criteria were established for the selection of biographees. Entrants had to have been deceased prior to December 31, 1990; played some kind of role in the history of the city; and attained some degree of accomplishment or expertise in her particular field or left writing reflecting the effects of historical events on her or on those around her. In addition, enough background information for a sizable reference entry was deemed essential. Research in the early stages of the project used Women's History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States, by Andrea Hinding and Ames S. Bower (Bowker, 1979), to identify primary sources of information. The editors also gathered names from their own research, from historians and practitioners in various fields, and from members of ethnic communities. These efforts resulted in a database of about 3,000 names. The editorial board soon selected the first hundred names and conducted workshops for potential contributors. Contacts were made with local scholars in a variety of disciplines, professional associations, women's studies and history groups, and ethnic organizations. Even at this stage, contributors were asked to verify the existence of sufficient background material on their subjects. The entire board would eventually select 423 entries, with choices ranging from scholar and social reformer Edith Abbott (1876-1957) to pianist and teacher Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler (1863-1927). The resulting book is a fascinating collection of the life stories of a group of remarkable women, and the source notes after each entry (listing published and unpublished sources that were consulted) make it a valuable aid to further research in women's history. An extended essay by editor Schultz--her survey of the history of women in Chicago is substantial enough to serve as a minicourse on the subject--opens the book. Rather than simply reciting the facts about each entrant, entries set each woman in historical context; and because many of the biographees are not particularly well known, this is an essential and welcome feature and one of the strengths of this work. The signed entries are arranged alphabetically, with the biographee's name in bold type followed by birth and death dates and occupations or roles in capital letters. The length of the entries varies with the subject, but most are from 2,000 to 5,000 words. Within the entries cross-references to other women included in the book are printed in capital letters the first time they are mentioned. In addition, color plates feature the work of Chicago women artists and craftswomen, and more than 100 black-and-white illustrations, ranging from formal portraits to news photos, are distributed throughout the text. Although some of the women included here are well known, most of the entries are accounts of the lives of women who are not. Page after page tells the story of women's participation in the history of Chicago: the contributions of women to the commercial and social development of Chicago from 1790 to 1860; women's relief work in the Civil War; the movement for women's rights; women's contributions to labor, education, journalism, medicine, law, the fine arts; and more. Here one will find not only Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry magazine, but also Othelia Mork Myhrman, a Swedish American community activist. Charlemae Hill Rollins, eminent children's librarian and author, is represented, as is Ida Gray Nelson Rollins, the first African American woman to establish a dental practice in Chicago. Rosa Raisa, operatic soprano, and Margaret Dreier Robins, labor and social reformer, each have an entry, as do Bozena Salara, Czech missionary and teacher, and Sister Dolores Schorsch, educator and author. Famous names in broadcasting, like Fran Allison, of Kukla, Fran and Ollie fame, and Irna Phillips, creator and writer of soap operas, are profiled, as are Alice M. Peurala, trade unionist and civil rights activist, and Maria Diaz Martinez, social worker and one of the founders of Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Latin Women in Action). The index lists entries by names as well as occupation, race, ethnicity, and religion, so the reader can easily locate notable women in any of those categories. There is also a list of entries by year of birth. Elizabeth Janeway once wrote that, "Like their personal lives, women's history is fragmented, interrupted; a shadow history of human beings whose existence has been shaped by the efforts and demands of others." Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990 gathers those fragments into a wonderful mosaic depicting the women of Chicago, whose efforts and demands have shaped life in the city as we know it today. --Carolyn Mulac