Women Building Chicago 1790 - 1990, A Biographical Dictionary is a pathbreaking reference work published by Indiana University Press in 2001. The book contains lengthy biographical essays on 423 women who made Chicago the remarkable city that it is. Included are women active in labor, social reform, law, medicine, art, music, science, education, broadcasting, politics, philanthropy, religion, literature, the theater and many other areas. The 1088-page reference work also contains over 150 photographs, color plates of the work of women artists, a scholarly introduction written by co-editor, Rima Lunin Schultz and a detailed index compiled by co-editor Adele Hast.
Women Building Chicago was initiated by the Chicago Women’s History Center, then the Chicago Area Women's History Conference, in the late 1980s. At the time CAWHC was looking forward to its 25th anniversary, and members of the organization felt strongly that a new book on Chicago women was critical to understanding the history of the city. The massive research and writing project began as the Telling Women's Lives Project, with Schultz as director, and evolved into the Historical Encyclopedia of Chicago Women Project under the auspices of CAWHC.
Throughout the 1990s, CAWHC nurtured the project with Schultz and Hast as co-directors. In 1990 an editorial board consisting of Carolyn De Swarte Gifford, Babette F. Inglehart, Mary Ann Johnson, Cheryl Johnson-Odim, and Clarice Stetter was created to establish guidelines and perimeters for the project, conduct background research, select the women to be included, identify and train the more than 350 writers, and begin editing the entries. Members of the editorial board eventually became Associate Editors of Women Building Chicago. In 1996 the project affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago in order to obtain a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and UIC became a co-sponsor with Margaret Strobel joining the editorial board at that time.
"The goal of Women Building Chicago 1790 - 1990, A Biographical Dictionary was to write a more inclusive history of Chicago acknowledging the contributions of its female citizens of all ethnic groups and races,” explains Schultz. The book is unique due to its enormous scope and scholarly excellence. Detailed source paragraphs at the end of each entry guide readers to materials for further research making Women Building Chicago 1790 to 1990, A Biographical Dictionary an essential resource in Chicago women's history now, and for many generations to come. .