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Chicago Outdoor Art League Collection

Identifier: spe-nhrc-coal

Scope and Contents

The collection contains seven scrapbooks, six of which are disassembled and one that remains intact, some loose lying papers which had been glued [possibly into a scrapbook] at one time, yearbooks, and 48 individual photographs.

Scrapbooks A to F contain papers of the Chicago Outdoor Art League including correspondence, announcements, reports, histories, order forms, prize ribbons, photographs and news clippings. Date ranges for these scrapbooks are as follows:

Scrapbook A, 1951-1956

Scrapbook B, 1952

Scrapbook C, 1935-1958

Scrapbook D, 1952-1966

Scrapbook E, 1955-1970

Scrapbook F, 1966-1972

Bound Scrapbook, 1943-1949

Bound Scrapbook, 1943-1949 contains no material related to the activities of COAL. The Flossmoor League of Women Voters presented it to longtime COAL member, Rose R. Murfrey, in 1943 and it contains material related to that organization along with family items added until 1949. The loose lying papers range from 1972 to 1995 and include the same types of materials in the scrapbooks. The COAL yearbooks span 1929 to 1996 but are not inclusive of all years. The photographs document COAL members and functions, such as school garden shows, and range from 1950 to 1966.

Histories of COAL can be found in Box 1, Folder 33; Box 1, Folder 55; Box 1, Folder 61; and Box 2, Folder 3.


  • Creation: 1929 - 1996
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1952 - 1996

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

The American Park and Outdoor Art Association was founded in 1897 and the Women’s Auxiliary formed in 1900. The Chicago Branch of this group became the Chicago Outdoor Art League (COAL) founded in 1900. They adopted the motto, “Leave the World More Beautiful Than You Found It,” and for almost a century sponsored gardening, beautification, and artistic programs in Chicago, the state of Illinois, and eventually nationwide.

The Chicago Outdoor Art League was a member of the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs and received honors from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) for their charitable work with Chicago school children. From 1904 to 1960 COAL distributed flower and vegetable seeds to children for a nominal fee and sponsored school gardening shows with prizes. The group also promoted annual Arbor Day programs, donating many trees to Chicago schools.

The Chicago Outdoor Art League donated plants and made charitable contributions to many local organizations, hospitals and schools. These included the Chicago Public Schools, Jane Addams Hull House, Lighthouse for the Blind, Lincoln Park Zoo, Museum of Science and Industry, Shriners Crippled Children’s Hospital, and the West Town Community Art Center, among others. The league also regularly awarded art and music scholarships and paid for murals on the railroad embankment along Hubbard Street. These activities are documented in correspondence, news clippings, and COAL yearbooks.

In 1935, COAL voted to support the Garden Clubs of Illinois in building the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Garden in Springfield, designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen. Three years later COAL built a council ring with flagstones and a central fireplace: council rings are a characteristic element in Jensen landscapes. Both Jensen and sculptor Lorado Taft served on COAL advisory committees. Between 1954 and 1981 COAL sponsored the planting of tens of thousands of trees in the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois.

The League’s charity extended nationwide in their contributions to gardens in Alaska, Redwoods preservation, and the restoration of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The Chicago Outdoor Art League disbanded in 1999 or 2000.


4 Linear Feet ( 5 boxes, includes 48 photographs)

Language of Materials



The Chicago Outdoor Art League (COAL), founded in 1900, sponsored gardening programs; donated trees to local organizations, hospitals and schools; and offered art and music scholarships. The League worked frequently with schools in Chicago. It was affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs.


The Chicago Outdoor Art League collection is arranged into three series:

Series 1: Scrapbooks and Loose Lying Items, 1951-1996, undated

Series 2: Yearbooks, 1929-1996

Series 3: Photographs, 1950-1966, undated

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Chicago Public Library acquired the collection in 1999 or 2000 when the organization disbanded.

Related Materials

Associated Clubs of Woodlawn

Northwest Federation of Improvement Clubs

Ravenswood Manor Improvement Association Records

Faith Rich Papers

Guide to the Chicago Outdoor Art League Collection
Original author unknown, 2007 September. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy, 2023.
2007 September
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875