“In honor of the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, Landmarks Illinois has launched “Women Who Built Illinois,” a database of places in our state designed, developed, engineered, and built by women between 1879 and 1979. I’m so excited about this project! This month, I’d like to share the story of Anna Baird, an early-20th-century developer of high-grade apartment buildings in Chicago. Although many of the structures Anna Baird built were later demolished, others remain, and they are surely good candidates for the database.
“The daughter of German immigrants, Anna (née Schucking) Baird (1872-1936) was born and raised in Quincy, Illinois. By the early 1890s, she was living on the South Side of Chicago. In 1893, she married Harry P. Baird, a Tennessee-born college graduate who worked as a guard at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Five years later, the couple had their first of three children, William McKinley Baird. By that time, Harry had become a Chicago police officer.
“Anna Baird began developing apartment buildings around 1906. She said that as a young girl she had always loved the sound of a hammer, and that later, after moving to Chicago, she ‘watched with the keenest delight, the construction of the World’s Fair buildings and every small detail was a source of pleasure’ to her. Anna was inspired to become a builder. So, as she told Clara W. Harmon, a reporter for the American Lumberman, she ‘set to work to study the fundamental principles of the construction of high-grade apartment buildings from a systematic and practical standpoint.’
“By 1912, Anna Baird had already erected and sold several brick apartment buildings. All of her projects were on the South Side and, early on, most were two- and three-flats. At first, Anna had several different architects prepare the plans for her buildings. But in 1914, she began to work with architect Anders G. Lund on a regular basis. A Swedish immigrant who had his office in Chicago’s nearby Englewood neighborhood, Lund had been specializing in South Side apartment buildings for nearly two decades.
“In early 1916, the Chicago Tribune described Mrs. Anna Baird as ‘one of the remarkable business women of Chicago.’ The newspaper explained that during her first decade in business, she had already built around 30 or 40 South Side structures, for which ‘she superintended’ the ‘work in person.’ It noted that she had amassed a fortune estimated at $50,000. (According to an on-line inflation calculator, that sum would be worth more than $1 million today.) By this time, Anna and Harry Baird had three children—William, Charlene, and Rodney, ages 14, 10, and 6 years.”