These three wax figurines are representatives from a collection of 129 figurines depicting outstanding women in Illinois history. They were created by Minna Schmidt and donated to the Illinois State Historical Library in 1929. Harriet Sanger Pullman, left, was a socialite who supported hospitals, libraries, and schools. Julia Dent Grant, center, was the loving wife of Ulysses S. Grant. Elizabeth Byerly Bragdon, right, was a patron of music and the arts.
Minna Schmidt, herself, was an outstanding woman in Illinois history. A native of Germany, she arrived in Chicago at age 20 in 1886 with five dollars in her pocket and a limited grasp of English. She opened a dance studio and sewed all its costumes to save money, then later opened a costume and wig shop with her husband. Schmidt became a nationally-renowned expert on historical costumes and created several hundred wax figures to illustrate the history of fashion. She also earned a law degree at age 58, a master’s degree at age 63, and taught professional costuming at the University of Chicago.