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York Women Need Lots of Hats

Not just feather trim.
Hats seem to be making somewhat of a comeback, but I can’t imagine them ever coming close to their popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. York County Heritage Trust has just opened an exhibit featuring original hats from the past. Photos of some of those hats are shown here.
Millinery shops were owned by women. It was one of the few business opportunities open to respectable women of the period. Since you did not venture out of your house without a hat or bonnet, women flocked to the shops. You could purchase a new hat or buy a vast array of trimmings to refresh and recycle the perfectly good hats you already had. Your milliner knew your taste and probably had a good idea of your budget. Your hat also had to match the season; to wear a spring hat in the fall would be unthinkable.

On of many mid-19th century York milliners was Mrs. Catherine Small, of the first block of North George Street. Two of her newspaper ads are quoted below, giving us an idea of her wares and services.

From the May 29, 1949 York Gazette:


Mrs. Catharine Small, has removed her Millinery Establishment, to the Two-story Brick House nearly opposite her former stand, in North George St., one door North of the frame building long known as Miller’s Tavern, where she is prepared to execute, with promptness, fidelity, and in the best and most fashionable manner, all orders in her line with which she may be favored. She has recently returned from Philadelphia with an extensive Spring and Summer stock of BONNETS, CAPS, RIBANDS, AND TRIMMINGS GENERALLY, embracing a great variety of qualities and styles, to all of which she respectfully invites attention.”
Mrs. Small and her shop seemed to have moved around, but not far, as seen in the November 4, 1851 York Gazette:


RESPECTFULLY informs the Ladies that she has just returned from Philadelphia, where she has purchased, and is now opening in this Borough, a large and splendid assortment of FALL MILLINERY, to which she invites their attention. Her assortment will be found to be full and complete, and she invites calls from those wanting to purchase, at her residence in North George near Philadelphia Street.”
An 1860 map of York Borough shows her residence then was on the east side of North George Street, in the half block now taken up by the York County Judicial Center. That area, very near the square, had many small businesses.
The York County Heritage Trust has transformed the former toy shop in its Street of Shops exhibit into an exotic millinery shop filled with stunning original hats from the 1800s and 1900s. Stop by at the Historical Society Museum, 250 East Market Street, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The hats will be on display until November 2010.
Click here for York County hatters for men.