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Entries : Bessie Louise Pierce and Chicago History
Bessie Louise Pierce and Chicago History

Bessie Louise Pierce and Chicago History

Bessie Louise Pierce (1888–1974) devoted 44 of her 86 years to writing a history of Chicago. A native of rural Michigan, she taught in Iowa schools, earned degrees at the University of Iowa, and then taught there. In the late 1920s the University of Chicago decided to examine the city from the standpoints of all the major social-science disciplines, including history. Pierce was recruited to the Midway in 1929 to write the historical volume. She produced one in 1937, but it went only to 1848. A second, up to the 1871 fire, came in 1940; a third took until 1957. Assisted by as many as a dozen graduate students, Pierce brought the story to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. She continued working on a fourth volume, to go through 1915, until she died.

The three published volumes received much praise (including the city's Distinguished Service Award in 1959) and lasting respect. They are both reference works and good reads, anecdotal and picturesque, seldom analytical.

Pierce also published Public Opinion and the Teaching of History (1926), Civic Attitudes in American School Textbooks (1930), and Citizens' Organizations and the Civic Training of Youth (1933), which drew on her early schoolteaching and reflected her Yankee-Progressive outlook. In 1933, coincident with the Century of Progress celebration, she brought out As Others See Chicago, compiling the views of visitors to the city from its early days. She retired in 1953, returned to Iowa City in 1973, and died there on October 3, 1974.