Celebrating Chicago Women Trailblazers



By Judy Carmack Bross




Chicago Labor Leader Addie L. Wyatt


“I didn’t know what the union was. But I know that I needed help and here was the place that I could get that help. I knew that I wanted to help other workers, and I found out that I could help them by joining with them and making the union strong and powerful enough to bring about change.” –Addie L. Wyatt.

Celebrating Women’s History Month, the Guild of the Chicago History Museum will partner with the Junior League to hear the empowering stories of six diverse trailblazing women who left their mark on Chicago. At the Museum on March 16, Amanda Scotese, founder and Executive Director of Chicago Detours, will present women who set their own paths in various professions across decades, beginning with a sculptor at the World’s Columbian Exposition whose stately caryatids literally helped support the Woman’s Building.


Enid Yandell, Artist and Sculptor


“We founded Detours in 2010 with a mission to bring people to explore Chicago stories and places that even locals didn’t know.” Scotese, who had worked as a tour guide and guidebook researcher with Rick Steves’ Europe and others, told us. “In 2020 during COVID we used our background in visual storytelling, our expertise in Chicago architecture and history, and a decade of curating corporate events to launch virtual tours. Since our beginnings 175,000 people have taken our walking and virtual tours. We now specialize in corporate events and customized experiences.”


Amanda Scotese


Telling the story of Chicago women is key to Scotese who received her Masters degree from the University of Chicago. “I remember hearing on the tours that guests could only name Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells as Chicago women leaders but then could easily come up with 10 men’s names right away,” she said. “I hope those attending the March 16th presentation will bring male guests. The trailblazers we profile lead in commerce, civic issues and culture.”

When she first conceived of the talk on Women Trailblazers she came up with a list of 85 women of different ethnicities, finally scaling it down to six women. “It is not a biographical talk but rather a focus on their character traits, and what drove them,”Scotese said.

We introduce you briefly to the trailblazers that Scotese will be bringing to life during her compelling presentation.


Enid Yandell


Enid Yandell was one of a group of women sculptures organized by Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft to complete the numerous statues and other architectural embellishments for the Horticultural Building at the World’s Fair of 1893. She also designed and carved the caryatid that supported the roof garden of The Woman’s Building. Yandell co-wrote a semi-autobiographical account of her involvement in planning the fair, Three Girls in a Flat published in 1892. After the World’s Fair she studied briefly with Auguste Rodin in Paris.


Bessie Coleman


“No one else can ever fly for me, or carry out my ambition.”—Pilot Bessie Coleman.

Scotese told us that Bessie Coleman, was absolutely fearless. Coleman captured the skies as the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn her pilot’s license. Known as “Brave Bessie” or “Queen Bess” she performed daring flying maneuvers and encouraged women and African Americans to meet their dreams. She refused to perform anywhere that there was discrimination. The daughter of a Texas sharecropper with 12 brothers and sisters, she had moved to Chicago in 1923 to live with her brothers who thrilled her with stories of World War I pilots and she learned French and learned how to fly in France because she was not allowed to apply in the United States.

Trailblazer Addie Wyatt was the first African-American woman to hold a senior office in an American labor union – at both the local and international level. A passionate advocate for women’s rights, she co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women and was named to the United States Commission on the Status of Women by Eleanor Roosevelt. An ordained minister, Wyatt worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott and later counseled a young community organizer named Barack Obama as he came up the ranks in Chicago.


Maria Tallchief, America’s First Prima Ballerina


A member of the Osage Nation, Maria Tallchief was not only a trailblazer for Native American dancers, but is widely considered one of the country’s most influential ballerinas of all time and America’s first prima ballerina. Her exquisite technique was renowned for its energy, speed, and grace. In addition to her famed dancing career, she served as the artistic director of the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet and the founder and artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet. Her daughter, poet Elise Paschen, has recently honored her in verse and Classic Chicago Magazine archives the recent Maria Tallchief quarter introduced by the U.S. Mint, honoring American Women of Accomplishment as well as a poem from the chapbook Tallchief, published by Paschen in October 2023.


Iva Toguri D’Aquino


Iva Toguri D’Aquino was born in Los Angeles but died in Chicago in 2006 and is buried in the Montrose Cemetery. A broadcaster and radio personality she was incorrectly identified as “Tokyo Rose” but she had refused to broadcast anti-American propaganda on the Japanese radio station she joined during World War II. The Chicago Tribune made a strong case for her innocence and President Gerald Ford pardoned her in 1977.


Feminist Naomi Weisstein


Already known for being an outspoken feminist, in 1968 Naomi Weisstein published an article that made waves in both Psychology and the women’s liberation movement. “Psychology Constructs the Female” criticized the field of psychology for failing to understand women, and assuming that woman inherently must conform to cultural and patriarchal stereotypes. In 1969, Weisstein helped found the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, a group devoted to advancing women’s rights, gay rights, and improving women’s lives more broadly.

Scotese brings the six women and their motivations to life, honoring them and Women’s History Month and the impact of Chicago women.


Amanda Scotese Filming