• Identification00235671
  • TitleDescriptive inventory for the Lois Weisberg papers, 1896-2015, bulk 1953-2011
  • PublisherChicago Historical Society
  • LanguageEnglish.
  • RepositoryChicago History Museum Research Center 1601 North Clark Street Chicago, IL 60614-6038
  • OriginationLois Weisberg Chicago (Ill.). Department of Cultural Affairs Chicago (Ill.). Mayor's Office of Special Events
  • Date
    • 1896-2015
    • 1953-2011
  • Physical Description
    • 392 linear feet, including approximately 1,000 black and white images (75 boxes)
    • approximately 600 color images
    • 40 film negatives
    • 1 sound reel
    • 3 vinyl records
    • 2 DVDs
    • 2 VHSs
    • 3 CDs
  • Location
    • MSS Lot W
    • OMM.120
    • 2016.0035 PCLF
    • 2016.0035 PCP-263

Advance appointment required to view material from cold storage.

Research use of this collection is governed by the standard rules and regulations of the Chicago History Museum Research Center.

For listening or viewing purposes, it is necessary to use a copy, not the original (and to have a listening or viewing copy made if one is not available).

Copyright may be retained by the creators of items, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law, unless otherwise noted.

Materials were a gift of the Weisberg family, 2016 (accession #: 2016.0035)

Lois Weisberg papers (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and series/box/folder of a specific item.

Scrapbooks, meetings, minutes, newsletters, programs, scripts, publications, publicity materials, correspondence, and other materials documenting Lois Weisberg's personal and professional activities. Materials document Weisberg’s roles in and the activities of the South Shore Railroad advocacy organization; the Harold Washington administration, the Chicago chapter of the George Bernard Shaw Society; Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, where she served as the first Commissioner; Chicago's 150th anniversary celebration; Cows on Parade; the Chicago Jazz, Blues, and Gospel festivals; and "The Paper," an independent arts newspaper she founded. The collection also contains audiovisual materials, including a sound reel, 3 vinyl records, 3 CDs, 2 video tapes, 2 DVDs, 40 film negatives, approximately 600 color images, and approximately 1,000 black and white images.

Lois Weisberg was born Lois Porges in May 1925 in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, where she attended Austin High School. In 1946, she graduated from Northwestern University, where she studied directing at its School of Speech. While at Northwestern, she met pharmacist Irv Solomon, whom she later married. In 1962, she married her second husband, Bernard Weisberg, a Chicago civil liberties lawyer who later became a federal judge.

Weisberg is best known for her position as Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of Chicago. Before becoming Commissioner, Weisberg served as the Assistant to the Mayor and Director for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events under Harold Washington beginning in 1983. She was then appointed Commissioner in 1989 under Mayor Richard M. Daley and remained in the position until 2011, making her one of Daley’s longest serving employees. As Commissioner, Weisberg was charged with making the arts accessible to all and to promote the city of Chicago through its arts and cultural attractions. Known as the “Cultural Czar,” some of Weisberg’s major achievements include establishing the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St.), the first American incarnation of Cows on Parade (1999), Gallery 37 (66 E Randolph St.), the Chicago Blues Festival, and Taste of Chicago.

In addition to her work for the city of Chicago, Weisberg worked with numerous political and civic organizations including Business and Professional People for the Public Interest and the Chicago Council of Lawyers, and acted as campaign manager for Congressman Sidney Yates. She helped organize South Shore Recreation, an Indiana and Illinois citizens group dedicated to preserving rail service on the Chicago, South Bend, and South Share Railroad. She was also involved in the formation and development of a number of other Chicago cultural initiatives including Friends of the Park, a musical production called “The Song of Songs,” a weekly independent arts and news publication called “The Paper,” and multiple societies devoted to the author George Bernard Shaw. Her involvement and dedication to organizations throughout the city of Chicago were vast and important. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his “The New Yorker” article (January 11, 1999), “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg,” “Lois is far from being the most important or the most powerful person in Chicago, but if you connect all the dots that constitute the vast apparatus of government and influence and interest groups in the city of Chicago you’ll end up coming back to Lois again and again.” Weisberg left the office of Cultural Affairs in 2011 when it was merged with the Office of Special Events. She died in January of 2016.

Related collections at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include the Bernard Weisberg papers (M1981.0008 and 2010.0037.1), the Chicago Mayor's Office of Special Events collection, and the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest records (M1976.0038; M1984.0171; 2010.0015), and the Sidney R. Yates papers (1998.0174).

The arrangement of this collection adheres close to the original order established by Weisberg and her assistant prior to the donation. Minor rearrangement was done within each series when necessary to follow chronological or alphabetical order.

  • Names
    • Weisberg, Lois--1925-2016--Archives
    • Washington, Harold--1922-1987
    • Chicago (Ill.). Department of Cultural Affairs
    • Chicago (Ill.). Mayor's Office of Special Events
    • Chicago Sesquicentennial Committee
    • Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad
    • Jazz Showcase (Chicago, Ill.)
    • Shaw Society of Chicago
    • Chicago Blues Festival
    • Cows on Parade (1999 : Chicago, Ill.)
  • Subject
    • Festivals--Illinois--Chicago
    • Gospel music--Illinois--Chicago
  • Geographic Coverage
    • Chicago (Ill.)--Intellectual life--20th century
    • Chicago (Ill.)--Music

The collection is arranged in five series with subsequent subseries by topic.

Series 1. Early organization and committee files, 1946-2011 and undated (box 1-6, 8-16, 73 and folder 1)

Series 1 contains correspondence, photographs, records, a sound reel, press releases, advertising, invoices, and newspapers regarding Weisberg’s involvement in organizations outside the Department of Cultural Affairs. The bulk of this material is from before Weisberg took the position of Assistant to the Mayor in 1983. This series is divided into 3 subseries each pertaining to a different organization founded and developed by Weisberg.

Subseries 1. Song of Songs, 1953-1966 and undated (box 1-4)

The Song of Songs was a music collaboration created by Weisberg and Paul Raffles in the 1950s. The songs of the record are a jazz interpretation of songs from the Bible performed by the Marty Rubenstein Jazz Quintet. Materials in this subseries include correspondence between record companies and other contributors, biographies of the performers, sheet music and lyrics, press releases and clippings, photographs, notes, as well as a sound reel and vinyl record of the finished recording.

Subseries 2. South Shore Railroad, 1974-2011 and undated (box 5-6, 8-11, 73 and folder 1)

This subseries includes materials related to the saving of the South Shore Railroad, a line that ran through south Chicago to Indiana, and Weisberg’s organization, South Shore Recreation. This subseries contains administrative files, correspondence, proposals, a map of the line, and press kits surrounding the possible stop in service of the line in the 1970s. In order to save the railroad, Weisberg established the South Shore Recreation to raise funds and bring attention to the railroad. Also included in this subseries are newspaper articles and administrative files pertaining to the Indiana transportation system.

Subseries 3. The Paper, 1946-1980 and undated (box 12-16)

"The Paper" was a weekly literary publication run by Weisberg from her home. This subseries consists of set copies, writings and artwork for articles, outlines, staff information, administrative memos, advertising, invoices, subscription lists, correspondence, and copies of the paper.

Series 2. George Bernard Shaw societies, 1896-2014 and undated (box 16-33 and folder 3)

Series 2 consists of materials related to the author, George Bernard Shaw, and both societies and newspapers related to his work. This includes the Shaw Society of Chicago and other large cities, The Shavian, The Shaw Bulletin, and the Shaw Review. The bulk of the material refers to the Shaw Society of Chicago and its publication, which was founded by Weisberg and led to the creation of ShawChicago, a non-profit theater company devoted to performing the works of Shaw and his contemporaries, as well as the Chicago Centennial Celebration in 1956. Types of materials include newspaper layouts, newsletters, notes, correspondence, administrative files, reviews of plays, scripts, photographs, and program booklets.

Series 3. Writings and speeches, 1939-2013 and undated (box 16, 34-46)

Series 3 is comprised of writings and speeches done by Weisberg throughout her career. The writings were mainly done for her courses at the Northwestern School of Speech and local publications and radio shows. The typed speeches all pertain to her position as Commissioner in the Department of Cultural Affairs including speeches given at budget meetings, Gallery 37, and at special events hosted by the City and Weisberg as well as quotes by other individuals that Weisberg would quote in her own speeches. There are also some programs included in this series with some of the special events. This series is roughly arranged chronologically except for the speeches given at budget meetings and at Gallery 37, which can be found in boxes 36 and 37.

Series 4. The Department of Cultural Affairs, 1932-2015 and undated (box 4, 16, 46-62, 73 and folder 2)

Series 4 contains correspondence, pamphlets, administrative files, interoffice memos, photographs, newspaper clippings, memoranda, awards, and certificates directly related to or involving Weisberg’s career with the city of Chicago and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Subseries 1. Weisberg memorabilia, 1947-2014 and undated (box 4, 16, 46-54, 73)

This subseries contains correspondence, writings, newspaper clippings, memoranda, photographs and notes pertaining to Weisberg’s work and involvement in organizations related but not directly connected to her work for the City of Chicago. Points of interest include Weisberg’s notes and writings of chapters for a potential book, the development of a website geared towards grandparents and their grandchildren, materials relating to the Paul Crump case, and materials related to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg.”

Subseries 2. Department of Cultural Affairs papers, 1974-2014 and undated (box 4, 55-58)

This subseries consists of correspondence, administrative files, videos, brochures, and notes relating to Weisberg’s work for the Department of Cultural Affairs. Topics of note in this subseries include information on Project Onward and the Birthday Project.

Subseries 3. Special events, 1932-2015 and undated (box 16, 59-62, 73 and folder 2)

Subseries 3 contain photographs, memoranda, pamphlets, correspondence, notes, newspaper clippings, and administrative documents pertaining to special events held by the Department of Cultural Affairs. Important events include the Taste of Chicago and the F.D.R. Centennial Celebration.

Series 5. Subject files, 1941-2015, and undated (box 4, 7, 16, 63-75)

Series 5 consists of correspondence, cards, pamphlets, photographs, videos, and other memorabilia relating to specific persons associated with Weisberg. This series is arranged alphabetically by last name. Boxes 73-76 contain color photographs of Weisberg with noted individuals. Noteworthy persons include Bill and Hilary Clinton, Elmer Gertz, Arthur C. Clarke, Jackie Chan, Harold Washington, and Yo-Yo Ma to name a few.