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College of Human Ecology

Costume museum to debut historic Nelly Don apron

Friday, October 10, 2008

An historic Nelly Don apron makes its debut when the Kansas Museum Association meets Oct. 29-31 in Manhattan. The vintage apron, called a Handy Dandy, was donated recently to K-State's Historic Costume and Textile Museum.

Justin Hall, which houses the collection, is the entrée course stop for the progressive dinner that opens the conference. The Handy Dandy and other garments in the museum's Nelly Don collection will be on display. Since the exhibit in 2007, an additional 12 new Nelly Don designs have been added.

Nelly Don apronDesigned and manufactured by the famed clothing company in Kansas City, the apron was patented around 1925. Millions sold and the production of the Handy Dandy helped keep the factory open during the Depression. A seamstress never had to remove the apron from the machine while stitching, according to Marla Day, senior curator of the museum. The Handy Dandy wholesale cost was $6.50 a dozen.

"It's in excellent shape for an apron," Day said. "The museum has been looking for one some time now and especially since aprons usually wear out." The museum, a conference sponsor, has a growing collection of women's clothing produced by the Kansas City company.

Kansas-born Ellen Quinlan Donnelly Reed, who adopted the moniker Nelly Don from her garment label, was a pioneer in the clothing industry and a political force in mid-20th century Kansas City. The Donnelly Garment Company factory was the largest dress manufacturing plant in the world in 1949, making her one of the first female self-made millionaires in American history.

"Nell was at the helm of one of the most influential garment companies in the U.S. She designed and sold more dresses in the 20th century than any other single person in the nation. With her dresses, she challenged the Mother Hubbard garb worn by women of the late 1910s," Day said. "Her garments offered style, quality, fit and fine workmanship at moderate prices."

The keynote speaker for the Kansas Museum Association conference is Dan Holt, former director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

The Kansas Museums Association's purpose is to promote museums and to provide leadership, advocacy and training for everyone interested in Kansas museums. The non-profit group is affiliated with the Mountain-Plains Museums Association of the American Association of Museums.

The Historic Costume and Textile Museum is part of the Department of Apparel, Textiles and Interior Design.

Photo of Handy Dandy apron courtesy of the Historic Costume and Textile Museum

This article was posted on Friday, October 10, 2008, and is filed under Apparel, Textiles, & Interior Design, College News.