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This title is out of print. Copies for sale are from our archives and/or are late returns from bookstores.


“Chicago’s private clubs have always been alluringly mysterious: What does go on behind those closed doors? Now, and it’s about time, Lisa Holton uses her fine reporter’s skills to unlock many of the secrets, to give us an exhaustively researched, finely detailed, and enlightening look inside those bastions of money and power and influence. This is an important Chicago story.”  

—Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune and WGN radio

“A sweeping, 150-year history of the social habits of Chicago’s leadership class, For Members Only captures neatly the spirit of ambition and status-seeking of early Chicago, where clubs offered men (and only recently, women) a way to gather with those of similar standing to relax, boost their city, and build their own stature and wealth. Lisa Holton opens the mahogany doors into a private world that up to this day will captivate—and sometimes dismay—the reader.”

—James D. Nowlan, author, Glory, Darkness, Light: A History of the Union League Club of Chicago

“A rich addition to our understanding of our city’s expansion [that] informs today’s discussion on the directions of its growth.”

Windy City Times


Chicago’s Private Clubs: A Rich and Unexpected History


There wouldn’t be a Burnham Plan. The World’s Columbian Exposition wouldn’t be in our history books. Al Capone might have lived out his days with a comfortable grasp on Chicago’s crime rackets. . . . The 2000 moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois might not have had the support it did, and Millennium Park might still be merely a grand idea instead of the showpiece it is today.


As Lisa Holton writes in her introduction, Chicago would be a very different place without the contributions made by the members of the city’s private social clubs. Yet most of us walk past their stately facades without any idea what goes on within. Holton, a freelance writer and former business editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, reveals a fascinating history of the hidden world that has united—and divided—the city’s leaders since Chicago’s first days.


These clubs have been oases for the rich and privileged, playgrounds for the social set, private watering holes for the city’s movers and shakers. Places that, certainly at their inception, most of us couldn’t get in…


Here’s your chance to enter that world, to see how the business, nonprofit, and political leaders of Chicago shaped the city for more than 140 years behind these closed doors. With chapters devoted to the city’s top clubs and a guide to current membership requirements, explore the past, present, and future of these elite communities. Learn how clubs that flourished in the days of Marshall Field and Louis Sullivan have adapted to a modern society once restricted by race, sex, and birthright. Whether you’re a prospective member or a student of Chicago history, For Members Only is the first comprehensive book consolidating the histories of these current and former landmark clubs in words, pictures, and first-person commentary. 


For Members Only

  • Author: Lisa Holton

    Imprint: Lake Claremont Press

    ISBN: 978-1893121-28-7

    Pub Date: 2008

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