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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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The Milliners

The Milliners

GRHC - March 7th, 2012

The first milliner, a career practiced solely by women, opened her hat shop at the corner of Monroe and Ottawa in 1838. By 1900 over one hundred women listed milliner as their occupation in the city directory.



In the 19th century and into the 20th, a woman wouldn’t have considered leaving the house without her hat. By the fall of 1838 concerns about new bonnets were reduced as Grand Rapids acquired its first milliner. Mrs. Phoebe Cramond opened a shop at the corner of Monroe and Ottawa.

A few years later Mrs. Alice Twamley, a widow, opened her millinery shop on Crescent. In June of 1845 she and her children barely escaped a fire that destroyed everything. With great perseverance she succeeded in becoming a wealthy and respected businesswoman.

Millinery as well as dressmaking careers were naturals for single women and widows who needed to support themselves. Many conducted business from their homes, but those with exceptional talent and acute business sense usually presided over a staff and a shop. By 1873 at least three dozen milliners were supplying fashionable hats for the city’s women; by the turn of the century over one hundred women listed milliner as their occupation in the city directory.

Nellie Grady, who arrived in the city as a young girl in 1847, was making hats by 1860. As Nellie Buckley, widow of a Civil War veteran, her millinery business supported herself, her three children, and a servant. In 1910, at the age of 70, she was still creating hats. In 1912, First Ave., where Nellie had made her home for thirty years, was renamed Buckley St. in her honor.

Full Details

TitleThe Milliners
KeywordsWYCE; radio; Grand Rapids; Historical Commission; history; milliner; hats;
Pubdate StringMarch 7th, 2012

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