Sanitary Fairs "Civilian Fund-Raisers"
In 1862 the leaders of the U.S. Sanitary Commission were considering disbanding their volunteer organization. Donations for their soldier-relief efforts were becoming scarce, and without more successful fund-raising, the much-needed activities could not continue. Two leaders of the Chicago headquarters of the commission, Mary Livermore and Jane Hoge, came up with the idea of staging a fair in Chicago as a fund-raising event. They solicited articles to be displayed and sold, with the proceeds to go to war-relief efforts. They believed they could raise as much as $25,000.
The Chicago fair opened on October 27, 1863. For two weeks, 5,000 people a day paid a 75-cent admission fee to be able to tour the exhibits and get a meal in a restaurant in which prominent women in the community served as hostesses. The exhibition halls contained a wide variety of articles. One hall displayed captured Confederate flags and battle relics and trophies. Another contained an art gallery, while a third displayed heavy machinery and farm equipment. Dozens of other halls offered for sale such donated articles as pianos, toys, clothes, food, agricultural products and machinery, furniture, flowers, and artwork. President Lincoln donated the highlight of the fair, the original draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was sold at auction for $3,000, which proved to be the largest contribution. When the fair closed, the organizers were stunned to find they had raised almost $100,000.
The success of the first Sanitary Fair in Chicago spurred other Northern cities to produce their own fairs. A competition arose among the major cities to raise the most money for their soldier-relief funds. The fairs became spectacular extravaganzas, elaborately decorated with patriotic symbols. The largest, held in NeW York City in April 1864, included theatrical productions and Indian war dances. Items for sale included everything from turnips to trinkets made by Confederate prisoners of war, a tame bear, and even a shipload of coal.
Fascinating Fact: The two most successful events were the Philadelphia and New York City fairs, which raised about $1,000,000 each.
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