Founded in 1877 as the Chicago Society of Decorative Art, the Antiquarian Society originally sought to help impoverished women master the skills of an honorable trade, particularly by training women artists and artisans in the applied arts. with the aid of teachers in drawing, painting, and needlework, the early Antiquarians embarked on improving the quality of women’s work and creating a market for it. Admiration for the resultant handiwork was so great that the society was invited to occupy rooms at the newly organized Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1888, Mrs. Mary E. Pode purchased the society’s entire stock of art objects and assumed all financial responsibilities for it. Later that year, a motion was made to allocate a portion of the accumulated funds for the purchase of a collection to donate to the Art Institute. On April 7, 1891, a proposal was sent to the board “that the money now in the treasury ... be applied to the purchase of articles pertaining to the Industrial Arts, such as pottery, china, embroideries, laces, etc., to be presented to the Art Institute and marked in such a way that credit should be given to the society for the gift.”
On November 10, 1894, the society was renamed Antiquarians of the Art Institute to more accurately reflect the future purpose of the organization. In 1908, the board decided to further alter the name to the Antiquarian Society of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Antiquarian Society of today, having played an important role in fostering the early collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and subsequently assuring its continued growth through donations of funds for acquisitions, maintains the tradition of support through the continuing generosity of its members.
Membership in the Antiquarian Society is by invitation.