US 1800–Present, 2018

Research Interests

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. history; Chicago and the Midwest; spoken performance; urban culture and reform; children and education; gender; immigration; history of the book.


Democratic Ensembles: Spoken Art and Politics at Chicago Settlement Houses, 1890-1920


Fiona Maxwell studies nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. history. Her dissertation explores the ways in which volunteers and participants at Chicago settlement houses used the spoken arts to bridge social boundaries and develop a collaborative approach to democracy. Fiona received her BA in History and Theatre from Northwestern University with a module in Theatre for Young Audiences. She coaches University of Chicago graduate students in public speaking as a GRADTalk consultant, teaches youth storytelling and improv classes at the Piven Theatre Workshop, and performs in storytelling venues across the Chicago area. She is also the Director of Museum Operations and Communications at the Center for Women’s History and Leadership’s Frances Willard House Museum and has worked on public history projects with the David Rubenstein Forum and the Newberry Library.

Conference Papers

"'Each Member a Reporter': Youth Participants, Club Newspapers, and Collaborative Democracy at Chicago Settlement Houses, 1890-1920." Society for the History of Childhood and Youth Conference, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, June 8-10, 2023.

"'Expression is Power': Gender, Speaking, and Parlor Democracy at the Cumnock School of Oratory, 1871-1901." British Association for American Studies Conference, Keele University, Keele, England, April 13, 2023.

"Site of Feminist Activism, or Home of 'Godly Women'? Opposing Interpretive Visions for the Frances Willard House Museum." Women and Museum Collections Conference, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands, March 18, 2022.

"From Chicago Settlement Houses to the Zoom Room: Process-Oriented Youth Drama, Social Democracy, and Building Ensemble in Times of Crisis." Performing Childhoods Conference, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, November 25, 2021.

"Bringing Literature to Life: Literary Performance in Post-Civil War Evanston." Conference on Illinois History, Springfield, IL, October 8, 2021.

"Training for Social Democracy: Elocutionary Education, Parlor Culture, and the Beginning of the Chicago Settlement House Movement, 1870-1900." Organization of Educational Historians Conference, October 2, 2021.

Media Appearance

“Chicago’s last Phyllis Wheatley House in Washington Park in danger of demolition.” Invited television interview for ABC7 Chicago, February 3, 2021. 

Selected Blog Posts

“Opening the Door to Knowledge: Frances Willard’s College Days.” Frances Willard House Museum and Archives Blog. November 3, 2022.

“Knowledge is Power: Frances Willard’s Early Education.” Frances Willard House Museum and Archives Blog. August 21, 2022.

“‘Look Up and Off, and On and Out’: Frances Willard and Women’s Oratory.” Frances Willard House Museum and Archives Blog. August 31, 2021.

“The Activism and Artistry of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.” Frances Willard House Museum and Archives Blog. July 24, 2020.

Storytelling Performances

“Childhood, Friendship, and Memory.” Storytelling performance at DePaul University, January 22, 2023.

“Chicago Storytelling in Bughouse Square.” Storytelling performance at Newberry Library, July 30, 2022.

“A Pleasant Sunday Afternoon: Recreating a Nineteenth-Century Literary and Musical Entertainment.” Storytelling performance at Frances Willard House Museum, July 25, 2021.

Course Design and Co-Teaching

Performing Democracy (Autumn 2022). New undergraduate History and Theatre and Performance Studies course co-designed and co-taught with Professor Jane Dailey.