• Identification00066659
  • TitleDescriptive inventory for the Otto L. Schmidt papers, 1877-1941, bulk 1900-1935
  • PublisherChicago Historical Society
  • RepositoryChicago History Museum Research Center 1601 North Clark Street Chicago, IL 60614-6038
  • OriginationOtto L. Schmidt
  • Date
    • 1877-1941
    • 1900-1935
  • Physical Description
    • 9 linear feet (17 boxes)
    • 1 oversize folder
  • Location
    • MSS Lot S
    • MSS Oversize S
  • LanguageEnglish

This collection is open for research use.

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

Gift of Petersen family members: Dr. and Mrs. William F. Petersen (Alma Schmidt Petersen) and Dr. and Mrs. Edward S. Petersen (accession #: M1975.0032, M1980.0001, M1980.0003).

Otto L. Schmidt Papers (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and box/folder number of a specific item.

Correspondence, news clippings, and other papers of Dr. Schmidt, a Chicago physician, historian, and German American civic leader. Materials pertain to his leadership of the Illinois State Historical Society, the Chicago Historical Society, and the Illinois Centennial Commission; participation in German American cultural activities; service on the Chicago Board of Education, 1927-1928; and support of relief efforts for Germany following World War I.

The collection primarily consists of incoming letters and copies of outgoing letters, notices, announcements, reports, and other communications and records pertaining to the various cultural, historical, civic, and humanitarian organizations and projects with which Dr. Schmidt was involved from about 1900 to his death in 1935. The strength of the collection lies in the detailed information provided on the organizations and projects with which Dr. Schmidt was affiliated. School report cards, a medical diploma, texts of speeches and articles, acknowledgements of gifts to Chicago Historical Society and other institutions, newspaper clippings, and similar miscellaneous manuscript and printed items also are found in the collection.

Relatively few items pertain to Dr. Schmidt's professional interests; the transcript of the X-ray lawsuit in which he was involved is the most significant of the scant medical materials in the collection. Relatively few personal letters to family or friends and few materials related to his interest in yachting are included.

Otto Leopold Schmidt, prominent Chicago physician, historian, and leader in the Illinois German American community, was born in Chicago on March 21, 1863. He was the son of Dr. Ernst Schmidt (1830-1900) and Theresa (Weikhardt) Schmidt. Dr. Ernst Schmidt was likewise a respected physician and German American leader, a friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln and the young Republican Party, who in his later years worked for the pardon of the Haymarket Affair anarchists. Otto Schmidt's three brothers were Frederick R. Schmidt, a druggist; Richard E. Schmidt, an architect; and Louis E. Schmidt, a urologist. In 1891 Dr. Schmidt married Emma Seipp, the daughter of Conrad Seipp, a Chicago brewer. To them were born three children, Ernest C. Schmidt, Alma Petersen (Mrs. William F. Petersen), and Clara Reese (Mrs. Hans H. Reese). They survived him upon his death in Chicago on August 20, 1935, after a long struggle with heart disease and cancer.

Otto L. Schmidt attended the Chicago public schools (graduated from Haven School in 1877) and entered the Chicago Medical College in 1880 (which later became part of Northwestern University), where he received his M.D. in 1883. He then spent two years as an intern at the Cook County Infirmary and then at the Alexian Brothers Hospital. From 1885 to 1887, Schmidt continued his medical studies in Wurzburg, Germany, and Vienna, Austria, after which he joined the staff of the Alexian Brothers Hospital. For many years he also was a consulting physician at Grant Hospital and Michael Reese Hospital and, from 1889 to 1892, served as a medical instructor at Northwestern University.

Dr. Schmidt devoted his practice to internal medicine and gained considerable stature in his field. He was the first physician to use X-rays in Chicago and was sued in the late 1890s by a patient who had suffered burns from the procedure. Dr. Schmidt lost the case.

Dr. Schmidt was deeply interested in preserving the history of Illinois and that of the German American community, and he participated in numerous historical and cultural organizations. From 1914 to 1935, he was president of the Illinois State Historical Society and, from 1923 to 1935, president of the Illinois State Historical Library, having been appointed a trustee by Governor Deneen in 1909. He served as a trustee of the Chicago Historical Society between 1899 and 1932, and was president of its board of trustees from 1923 to 1927. He also served as president of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association from 1926 to 1927 and, from 1916 to 1919, was chairman of the Illinois Centennial Commission, which directed the one-hundredth anniversary celebrations of Illinois statehood.

Dr. Schmidt was also awarded two honorary degrees in his later years, a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1922 and a J.D. from Loyola University in 1930. He was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education in 1927, but resigned the following year. He also was a member of the Union League Club, the Chicago Athletic Club, the Chicago Literary Club, the Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and numerous medical, literary, bibliographical, civic, and philanthropic organizations.

Schmidt's main recreational activity was yachting, to which he devoted his administrative skills by serving as commodore of the Lake Geneva Yacht Club and as president of the Inland Lakes Yachting Association.

This collection should not be confused with the French America collection [manuscript], which Otto Schmidt was instrumental in obtaining for the Chicago Historical Society. The French America collection is cataloged separately.

Related materials at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include the Otto L. Schmidt photograph collection (1980.0259); the Otto L. Schmidt collection of visual materials (1980.0260); and CHS archives.

Also, 43 newspapers, 9 pamphlets, and 5 maps were transferred to the CHS Library from the Schmidt papers and cataloged separately. Many of these newspapers were editions from across the county announcing the assassination of President Lincoln.

  • Names
    • Schmidt, Otto Leopold, 1863-1935--Archives
    • Booth, John Wilkes, 1838-1865
    • Clark, George Rogers, 1752-1818
    • Dever, William E. (William Emmett), 1962-1929
    • Goethe, John Wolfgang von, 1749-1832
    • Hickok, Wild Bill, 1837-1876
    • Himrod, James Lattimore
    • Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, 1729-1781
    • Owen, Thomas Jefferson Vance, 1801-1835
    • Steuben Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von, 1730-1794
    • Thompson, William Hale, 1869-1944
    • Angle, Paul M. (Paul McClelland), 1900-1975
    • Baum, Max
    • Cleaveland, Harry Hayes, 1869-1946
    • Haydon, James Ryan
    • Kalkhorst, Anton B. C.
    • Larson, Laurence Marcellus, 1868-1938
    • McAndrew, William, 1863-1937
    • Miller, Cornelius
    • Osborne, Georgia Lou
    • Pease, Theodore Calvin, 1887-1948
    • Rammelkamp, Charles Henry, 1874-1932
    • Schmidt, Emma, 1868-1942
    • Weber, Jessie Palmer, 1863-1926
    • Wilkerson, James N.
    • American Relief for the German People
    • Cahokia Courthouse (Cahokia, Ill.)
    • Chicago Historical Society
    • German-American Society
    • German Federation of Chicago (Ill.)
    • Gunther Collection (Chicago, Ill.)
    • Illinois. Centennial Commission
    • Illinois State Historical Libary
    • American Cattle Association
    • Chicago (Ill.). Board of Education
    • East Prussian Relief Fund
    • Mississippi Valley Historical Association
    • Neutral Commission
    • Vienna Hospital and Medical Relief Fund Committee
    • All-American Exposition (1919 : Chicago, Ill.)
  • Subject
    • German Americans--Illinois--Chicago
    • Historic sites--Illinois
    • Historical museums--Illinois
    • Historical museums--Illinois--Chicago
    • Irish Americans--Illinois
    • Medical personnel--Malpractice--Illinois-Chicago
    • Medicine--Illinois--Chicago
    • Monuments--Illinois--Chicago
    • Museum libraries--Illinois--Chicago
    • National socialism and education
    • Neutrality
    • Physicians--Illinois--Chicago
    • Textbook bias--Illinois--Chicago
    • Theater--Illinois--Chicago
    • Thompson, James, 1789-1872.--1917 June 2 letter to CHM McIlvaine, Chicago Historical Society
    • Underground railroad--Illinois
    • Universities and colleges--Germany
    • War relief
    • World War, 1914-1918--Public Opinion
    • X-rays
  • Geographic Coverage
    • Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park (Ill.)
    • Chicago (Ill.)--Social conditions--20th century
    • Germany--Economic conditions--20th century
    • Indiana Dunes State Park (Ind.)
    • Indiana Dunes (Ind.)--Description and travel
    • United States--Illinois--Cook County--Chicago

The papers are arranged into four series, which approximate the divisions Schmidt maintained among his files. Series 1. Personal files (box 1-5), Series 2. Historical organizations and civic leadership files (box 5-14), Series 3. German American cultural activities (box 14-16), Series 4. World War I, American neutrality and relief efforts for Germany (box 16-17).

Series 1. Personal files (box 1-5)

The personal files contain all of Dr. Schmidt's general correspondence that does not specifically relate to the historical, civic, cultural, and war relief organizations and activities which are covered in Series 2, 3 and 4, although some scattered letters pertaining to these topics are present. The general correspondence basically pertains to miscellaneous matters such as charitable donations, club memberships, dinner invitations, and Schmidt's appointment to various state and local government boards. Very little of this correspondence is personal. This series also contains a typescript of Schmidt's diary (prepared by his secretary, Max Baum) as well as miscellaneous notes in Schmidt's hand for incorporation into his diary; the diary includes details of Dr. Schmidt's public undertakings, but apart from descriptions of his bouts with illness, there is little of a personal or familial nature. This series also contains certificates and some telegrams for degrees, honors, awards, tributes, and memberships awarded to Dr. Schmidt in the course of his public life. Condolence letters and telegrams received by family members upon Dr. Schmidt's death constitute a sizeable batch of material, which are filed near obituaries and autopsy reports. Some material pertaining to Schmidt's medical practice is also present, most notably the trial transcript of an 1899 lawsuit filed against Schmidt by a patient upon whom Schmidt used a new X-ray treatment. Finally, this series contains a Schmidt family miscellany, such as property deeds and financial papers, Seipp family material, and correspondence of Schmidt's widow Emma Schmidt.

Series 2. Historical organizations and civic leadership files (box 5-14)

This series relates to Schmidt's leadership of various mainstream historical societies and organizations. The German American organizations in which Schmidt participated are documented in Series 3 and 4. Series 2 details Dr. Schmidt's services to the Chicago Historical Society, the Illinois State Historical Library, and other organizations, not only by serving on their boards of directors but also by providing generous financial support, donating items to their collections, arranging for their publication of worthy historical research, making speeches on commemorative occasions, hiring historical lecturers, and writing inscriptions for various historical markers and tablets which were erected by the state of Illinois in the 1920s and 1930s. Schmidt's files for these organizations include correspondence with museum staff members, fellow board members, historians, and various state officials; minutes of meetings; reports; pamphlets; and news clippings. Correspondence with fellow board members Charles H. Rammelkamp and Laurence M. Larson of the Illinois State Historical Library is included. Matters such as personnel and financial problems are discussed in detailed correspondence with Librarian Jessie Palmer Weber, Librarian Georgia Osborne, and Librarian Paul Angle. Ample correspondence with Theodore C. Pease, editor of Illinois Historical Collections, an Illinois State Historical Library publication, is also present.

Dr. Schmidt's stature as a well-known promoter of Illinois history also appears in materials generated while he was chairman of the Illinois Centennial Commission (appointed by Governor Dunne in 1916) and while a member of the Chicago Centennial Committee (appointed by Mayor Dever in 1926). Schmidt also corresponded in the 1920s with Cornelius R. Miller and H.H. Cleaveland and successive directors of the Illinois Department of Public Works and Buildings regarding the erection of state historical markers and their inscriptions. Their correspondence reveals that Schmidt was the author of inscriptions on the Edward Coles monument in Edwardsville and on the "Wild Bill" Hickok monument at Troy Grove, besides editing inscriptions on other monuments as well.

The traumas and rewards of museum stewardship and publishing are presented quite clearly in these files. As chairman of the Illinois Centennial Commission, Schmidt's files contain correspondence with the Commission's Publications Committee regarding the progress of works which provided a retrospective on a century of state history. The initial publication, "Illinois in 1818," caused indignation among some Irish Americans because it included a description of the Irish by a nineteenth-century Baptist missionary which was considered libelous by modern readers; letters of protest from a state representative and senator found their way into Schmidt's hands. One reward of Schmidt's status was that he was often called upon to lead American and foreign dignitaries through museum facilities and historic sites, and in 1926 he led the Queen of Romania through the exhibitions of the Chicago Historical Society.

In the final years of his life, Schmidt took a close interest in various historical works in progress, corresponding with James Ryan Haydon about Haydon's research on Thomas J.V. Owen, an early Chicago politician, and corresponding with James N. Wilkerson, who was researching the theory that John Wilkes Booth had not been killed in 1865. Schmidt's correspondence with these men is filed in this series as topical correspondence of the Chicago Historical Society because Haydon and Wilkerson had made tentative publishing agreements with that institution. Other Schmidt correspondence and research on historical topics is filed at the beginning of this series or under the headings: "Chicago history" or "Illinois history." Schmidt's research on the Underground Railroad in Illinois is filed under the latter heading.

This series also contains Schmidt's files from his tenure on the Chicago Board of Education from 1927 to 1928. Appointed by Mayor Dever, approval of Schmidt's appointment was delayed by the City Council in the months following Dever's defeat by William Hale Thompson. Once confirmed, Dr. Schmidt found himself caught in a struggle between Mayor Thompson and Superintendent William McAndrew for control of the school system. McAndrew, whom Schmidt supported, was eventually discharged by the board. One of many charges brought against McAndrew by Thompson and others was that many school textbooks were seditious and pro-British. Schmidt investigated the texts in question and declared to the press that he could discover no such bias. Schmidt's correspondence reveals the strain which was placed on his health by this political maneuvering, and not long after McAndrew's departure, Schmidt resigned from the board, having won praise from civic groups for his level-headedness in difficult circumstances.

Series 3. German American cultural activities (box 14-16)

Otto Schmidt's interest in the preservation and propagation of historical information included his own ethnic heritage. Schmidt gave generously to German American cultural and historical organizations, and corresponded with German American and German scholars who were researching topics, such as emigration to America and the roles played by Germans in shaping American history and culture. Several folders concern research into the life of Baron von Steuben, a German American Revolutionary War general, conducted by Anton Kalkhorst. (Photostats of primary resource material on Steuben, discovered by Kalkhorst in German archives, are filed among the von Steuben Papers at Chicago History Museum). Another significant batch of materials concerns the erection of statues in Chicago honoring the German literary figures Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Other materials of interest include Schmidt's October 1933 correspondence (in German) with officials of the Deutsches Ausland-Institut in Stuttgart and the Deutsche Akademie in Munich, in which Schmidt resigned his memberships following these organizations' espousal of National Socialist propaganda.

Series 4. World War I, American neutrality and relief efforts for Germany (box 16-17)

Schmidt participated in many war relief efforts for Germany, and the correspondence found in this series reveal the extent of his financial contributions and his sponsorship. Many of these relief efforts were begun before the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in 1917 and consequently were disrupted by the war but resumed in 1919 following the armistice. Most of the relief efforts were directed at preventing starvation and providing medical assistance. The files in this series contain lists of wealthy Chicagoans who donated to the relief efforts, as well as correspondence from individuals who either agreed to contribute or who evinced anti-German sentiments while declining. A smaller batch of material pertains to pre-1917 efforts to keep the United States neutral in the European conflict and to post-war efforts to dispute the notion of German war guilt.