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A Shoppers’ Paradise

A Shoppers’ Paradise

How the Ladies of Chicago Claimed Power and Pleasure in the New Downtown

Emily Remus

ISBN 9780674987272

Publication date: 04/15/2019

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How women in turn-of-the-century Chicago used their consumer power to challenge male domination of public spaces and stake their own claim to downtown.

Popular culture assumes that women are born to shop and that cities welcome their trade. But for a long time America’s downtowns were hardly welcoming to women. Emily Remus turns to Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century to chronicle a largely unheralded revolution in women’s rights that took place not at the ballot box but in the streets and stores of the business district.

After the city’s Great Fire, Chicago’s downtown rose like a phoenix to become a center of urban capitalism. Moneyed women explored the newly built department stores, theaters, and restaurants that invited their patronage and encouraged them to indulge their fancies. Yet their presence and purchasing power were not universally appreciated. City officials, clergymen, and influential industrialists condemned these women’s conspicuous new habits as they took their place on crowded streets in a business district once dominated by men.

A Shoppers’ Paradise reveals crucial points of conflict as consuming women accessed the city center: the nature of urban commerce, the place of women, the morality of consumer pleasure. The social, economic, and legal clashes that ensued, and their outcome, reshaped the downtown environment for everyone and established women’s new rights to consumption, mobility, and freedom.


  • As suburban shopping malls and more recently e-commerce eclipse commercial downtowns, the department stores and theaters that once anchored them are disappearing. Remus’s wonderful book has much to teach us about the past, present, and future of downtown. Not only did rising consumption reshape the built environment of central cities in the late nineteenth century, but so too did battles over who belonged—or did not—in this new public space. As the metropolitan landscape shifts again today, Remus’s fascinating insights into the past remind us that much more is at stake than simply where we shop.

    —Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America


  • Emily Remus is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. She previously held a Visiting Scholar Fellowship at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Book Details

  • 304 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press