Sunday, November 14, 2010

14 November 1894: "Ladies Fancy Goods Generally"

On this day in 1894, the following advertisement ran on page 3, column 7, of the Athens Daily Banner:

The ad was apparently for the business of Mrs. Addie Sisson Adams, the widow of Thomas A. Adams, who died during the Civil War leaving her with a young son to raise. Mrs. Adams was originally in business with her widowed sister, Eva Williamson, as indicated by this advertisement they purchased in the 1889 Athens City Directory:

Millinery, the creation and decoration of hats, was one of the few professions deemed appropriate for the single, middle class woman in the 19th century. Women who opened millinery boutiques were often widowed or orphaned, and in need of a form of independent support at a time when the primary economic support system for women was a reliable husband. It was also an area of entrepreneurship; in 1913, the trade magazine The Milliner proclaimed, "It offers women an independence."

Milliner establishments were sometimes referred to (by men) as "fripperies," since they were often the only retail location where a woman could purchase such notions as beads, pearl buttons, ribbons, feathers, flowers, fine laces, and quality silks for fancier gowns. Some milliners expanded their offerings to dressmaking, but Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Williamson were able to stay in business simply by providing hats in an era when elaborately decorated headwear was in vogue. Feathers from birds such as ospreys, egrets, and the now-extinct Carolina Parakeet were in such high demand that the National Audubon Society was formed specifically to lobby for legislation to protect them.

Millinery as a viable profession began to decline with the rise of the department store and the decline in customized hats as fashion in the 20th century. Mrs. Williamson died "after a lingering illness" in early 1900 at the home she shared with her sister on Oconee Street. Mrs. Adams had buried her son a few years earlier, and the 1900 U.S. census shows her occupation, at 74, as "milliner." Mrs. Adams lived until 1912, and is buried with her family in Oconee Hill Cemetery.

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