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The World of Juliette Kinzie

Chicago before the Fire

When Juliette Kinzie first visited Chicago in 1831, it was anything but a city. An outpost in the shadow of Fort Dearborn, it had no streets, no sidewalks, no schools, no river-spanning bridges. And with two hundred disconnected residents, it lacked any sense of community. In the decades that followed, not only did Juliette witness the city’s transition from Indian country to industrial center, but she was instrumental in its development.

Juliette is one of Chicago’s forgotten founders. Early Chicago is often presented as “a man’s city,” but women like Juliette worked to create an urban and urbane world, often within their own parlors. With The World of Juliette Kinzie, we finally get to experience the rise of Chicago from the view of one of its most important founding mothers.

Ann Durkin Keating, one of the foremost experts on nineteenth-century Chicago, offers a moving portrait of a trailblazing and complicated woman. Keating takes us to the corner of Cass and Michigan (now Wabash and Hubbard), Juliette’s home base. Through Juliette’s eyes, our understanding of early Chicago expands from a city of boosters and speculators to include the world that women created in and between households. We see the development of Chicago society, first inspired by cities in the East and later coming into its own midwestern ways. We also see the city become a community, as it developed its intertwined religious, social, educational, and cultural institutions. Keating draws on a wealth of sources, including hundreds of Juliette’s personal letters, allowing Juliette to tell much of her story in her own words.

Juliette’s death in 1870, just a year before the infamous fire, seemed almost prescient. She left her beloved Chicago right before the physical city as she knew it vanished in flames. But now her history lives on. The World of Juliette Kinzie offers a new perspective on Chicago’s past and is a fitting tribute to one of the first women historians in the United States.


“A fascinating new biography.”

Chicago Sun-Times

“Kinzie should be considered one of Chicago’s forgotten founders. Her work, often uncredited because she was a woman, helped build the foundation of what would become a sophisticated, international city. The World of Juliette Kinzie makes heard a voice long muted, from inside the parlors, kitchens and gardens that contributed to the rise of Chicago.”


“Keating's thorough knowledge of local history grounds Kinzie’s story in its time and place. Bessie Louise Pierce . . . lamented that (Chicago) was 'preeminently a man’s city' in its early years, dominated by business tycoons and real estate speculators. The World of Juliette Kinzie challenges this narrative, shifting the spotlight from the exploits of a few prominent men to the lesser-known accomplishments of a remarkable woman.”

Chicago Review of Books

“Keating’s book captures a woman of her time who is also an individual. . . . Juliette’s is a Chicago story.  And it’s also her story.”


Third Coast Review

“Early Chicago settler, pioneering historian, cultural influencer, and defender of her household—Juliette Kinzie’s story carries extraordinary range. In this intimate portrait of an expansive life, Ann Durkin Keating has rescued Juliette from the dismissiveness of history. We experience the enormous changes of nineteenth-century America through Juliette’s eyes, as she participates in the dispossession of Native Americans, grieves during the Civil War, and suffers economically as Chicago grows from hamlet to metropolis. Keating explains how Juliette centered her worldview around the household, a choice that feels more strategic than antiquated, and one that guides Juliette through turbulent times. Chicago’s early history is not merely men boosting a speculative venture. It needs the voices of Juliette—and other women—to understand the creation of culture and community, in all its forms.”

D. Bradford Hunt, Newberry Library

“Through her discovery of Juliette Kinzie’s correspondence Ann Durkin Keating has opened a revealing window on antebellum Chicago’s social and economic life. This intimate history restores a mostly forgotten founding mother of the city. At the heart of Keating’s analysis is the role of households forming and dissolving amid western migration, economic challenges, and the Civil War.”

Theodore J. Karamanski, Loyola University Chicago

Table of Contents

Preface: Tracing Juliette

Introduction: The Michigan Street House

Part 1 Building at Cass and Michigan, 1806–36

1 Chicago and Middletown
2 The West
3 Property

Part 2 Creating a Civic Culture, 1834–56

4 Culture
5 Industry

Part 3 Losing Home and Neighborhood, 1857–70

6 Uncertain Future
7 A Divided House
8 Losses

Epilogue: Erasing Juliette
Appendix 1 Selected Households of Juliette and John Kinzie
Appendix 2 Juliette Kinzie’s Published Works


Society of Midland Authors: Bernard J. Brommel Award for Biography and Memoir
Honorable Mention

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