Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


William H. Gerdts

Committee Members

Katherine Manthorne

Margaret Conrads

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


Beginning in 1863 and continuing until 1865, the Sanitary Fairs held in Northern cities, to raise money for Union soldiers were the most significant fundraisers of the Civil War. The fairs combined the local with the global, and enticed visitors with relics of the colonial past, interesting artifacts of Native American culture, souvenirs from far away lands, and fascinating technological inventions. For the majority of the fairs however, the art exhibitions were without doubt the most significant, complex and politically charged exhibits, and they are the focus of this paper.

Visitors to the art galleries were attracted by their educational mission and their ability to elevate the psyche of visitors above the serious tribulations of the war. The national faith in Manifest Destiny and Divine Providence was strongly evidenced in the art galleries by the many paintings that celebrated the exceptionality of American nature, the setting of America's greatest historical accomplishments, which were also acknowledged by many works of depicting events from colonial history.

From Chicago to Cleveland and Cincinnati, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, artists and collectors generously lent works, allowing audiences a retrospective of American art of the first half of the nineteenth century. The art galleries showcased the works of younger and lesser-known American artists, including women, when other venues for their promotion were entirely lacking.

Furthermore, the art galleries gave audiences the opportunity to compare the relative merits of American versus European art. Their remarkable attendance records indicated the desire of the public to have access to public art collections and ultimately led to the creation of American museums at the last quarter of the nineteenth century.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.