BERTHA H. PALMER Impresses Dallas Socialites

In 1891 the news from Chicago had set the ladies in the mansions along Ross Avenue in a dither.  The ladies in “The Cedars,” that other fashionable part of the town, were also in a dither.  Chicago had announced it was going to have the world’s greatest fair to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, and news of the exposition with careful design had been leaking out to the rest of the country. The ladies of Dallas were interested, for they certainly kept themselves informed in a manner that impressed strangers, but the fact that Chicago, a thousand miles away, was planning a fair to climax all fairs was not the cause of their excitement. It was rather that Bertha Honore Palmer had let it be known that she was arriving in Dallas, and Bertha Honore Palmer was none other than Mrs. Potter Palmer, the undisputed leader of Chicago’s world of fashion.

Bertha Honore' Palmer

Bertha Honore’ Palmer

Mrs. Palmer had been chosen President of the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Colombian Exposition (that was her delightful title), and, as was her custom, Mrs. Palmer took her duties seriously. Off she had gone to Europe to interest royal women in lending exhibitions, and with her sweet grave poise and her social grace, she had impressed them and won their support. Now after hobnobbing with crowned heads, she was coming to Dallas. She had called off a proposed tour of the states for the more impressive journey to Europe, but she considered Texas important enough for a special visit and Dallas the strategic point in which to make her contact. She was urging that women’s exhibits at the great fair should have space in every state building, and she hoped to enlist the support of the women of Texas in this cause.

At Dallas, Mrs. Alfred Davis had been named head of the local committee to see to Mrs. Palmer’s entertainment. This was as natural as for Mrs. Potter Palmer to head the women’s division
of the fair in Chicago. For from the days when as Elizabeth Raney, Mrs. Davis had come on a visit from Kentucky and had astonished Dallas and started a style there by wearing her rings on the outside of her gloves, she had shown herself a proper person to entertain Mrs. Palmer.

On her visit to Dallas, the charming Miss Raney had won the heart of Alfred Davis and she had looked on him and found him good. Davis was of French descent from New Orleans (so French
that he spoke English with an accent) and was a partner in the successful firm of wholesale grocers, Schneider and Davis. Mrs. Davis, so popular report had it, possessed a “quart of jewels,” and
she and Mr. Davis, the only persons in Dallas who went abroad regularly, spent their summers in France.

Dallas was determined that Mrs. Palmer on her visit to Texas should find as good as she was used to, and with matters in Mrs. Davis’ lovely hands, everybody felt comfortable. Indeed, Mrs.
Davis supplied one surprise which abashed even the poised Mrs. Palmer.

Every detail of the official entertainment had been arranged and dutifully attended to – the potted palms, chicken salad with only the white meat, and little Sallie Belle Flippen to make a
pretty speech and present the great lady with a bouquet of American Beauty roses with stems as long as the child herself.

Mrs. Palmer on her part knew exactly why she had taken the trouble to journey to Dallas and what was expected of her. She chose her toilette carefully. On this official mission, of course
she was expected to look the part, and with pardonable calculation, she knew it was her job to give the ladies something to talk about long after she had made her adieus. She wore a gown – the
last word in style and impressively French in feeling. It was a creation for her by the famous Paris couturier, Worth – a lovely confection of black panned velvet, satin and lace, with a long train.

At just the proper moment, Mrs. Potter Palmer arrived for the party in her honor and in exactly the right place Mrs. Davis was standing to greet her. Hands were extended – when both
ladies stopped cold in their tracks. Mrs. Davis too, had on a Worth gown – the identical black confection that Mrs. Potter Palmer was wearing.

Courtesy The Lusty Texans of Dallas by John William Rogers.  Other Dallas H