Corning Milliners

I am excited to receive permission from this image owner to discuss the photo here.Thank you.

At first glance of this Corning, NY image, the unusual angle catches attention. Even with outdoor photography, this angle is unusual. In some ways, this angle and the ‘backyard’ nature of the image reminds me of the 1858 series done in Canandaigua by Augustus Coleman of the city from the cupola of his home. Artistically, the image is full of texture; the lines of the clapboard siding and stairs bringing attention inward to the women.

Looking closer at the women, I was very excited to find not simply a group of women, but women who appear to be milliners. The women themselves appear to be of varying age. No one appears to have reached beyond middle age. The front right (as we see the image) appears to be in her mid to late teens, until the image is enlarged, when she appears older, possibly in her late twenties through early forties. The girl below on the steps may be in her young teens. I suspect there is one more girl peeking from behind the woman on the left’s shoulder.

Each woman is neatly dressed. The woman on the front right is in a one piece dress, simple collar, a ruche just below her dropped shoulder, moderately full cuffed sleeves. The woman front left may have a jacket or faux line to her bodice. Her narrow collar has a small broach in the center. She wears her hair further down over her ears than the other women. Behind her, the woman in the dress that is photographing lighter, also wears a broach with her collar.

crop 1

At first glance, this could simply be a group of women holding their bonnets and hats. Until you look at what is sitting on the railing. Along side the potted plants is not a bonnet, but a bonnet block, that which bonnets of straw are shaped over. It could be one made of wood or plaster.

Crop 2

Just below to the left, we see what could be a finished or nearly finished bonnet. The texture and obvious vertical lines suggest this may be a drawn bonnet or a straw bonnet with wider, fancy plait. I think it is more likely a drawn bonnet. crop 3

Nearly in the center of the group, a woman holds what appears to be a straw hat. This may be a black hat or one that photographs black in the blue scale of this type of photography. crop 4

In the front, we see what appears to me to be a buckram form that is in the process of being covered. Notice how the front brim is a different shade than the back crown and tip. I think she has covered one area already. crop 5

Being a photo outside the upstairs backroom, this leads me to think this is outside of the workshop that is often above or behind a millinery shop. It is possible the millinery shop is upstairs, as some are mentioned to be upstairs in some gazetteers and directories. (**Corning note below.) This is important to me because I want to see what women wore in a millinery shop.



**I was able to find an 1868 directory for Corning. It is 5 to 10 years after this photo was taken. This directory indicates a milliner on Erie Avenue named Mrs. Laura Fordham, a millinery and dress making on Market by a Mrs. L. E. Fuller, a milliner on Erie Avenue named Miss M. Hotchkiss, a Millinery on Market by a Mrs. Octavia Jenness, a millinery and dress making on Market by a Mrs. A. M. Powers, and a millinery at 10 Market by a Mrs. Anna Smith. It also lists additional dressmakers and cloak makers but I do not think this is a dressmaker’s. The directory mentions that in 1850 a fire destroyed nearly all of the business section of the village. In 1865, Corning had a population of 6,724 people. At the bottom of page 190 is this advertisement:


***The same Flickr account has an excellent side view of a woman in in a bonnet, a post-CW occupation image showing a shorter skirt length, and a trio of larger straw hats,




Published in: on May 18, 2016 at 4:48 pm  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I am so impressed with your analysis of this image! First, you took the time to find the original image and obtained permission to publish it. Then, you delved so deep into the details! You are seeing sooooo much more than the rest of us see!!
    Kudos, kudos, kudos!!

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