Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Kathleen M. Boyle, Ph.D.; Thomas L. Fish, Ed.D.; Kathleen E. Allen, Ed.D.


Dressmaking and millinery flourished around the turn of the 20th century. By 1900, there were over 420,000 women working in the trades. Trade work offered good wages, possibility for advancement, and autonomy, but required the worker to obtain substantial skills. The purpose of this historical research study was to identify training and educational opportunities in dressmaking and millinery during the years 1860-1920.

Women studied for years in order to be accomplished seamstresses in the trades. Each trade had numerous stages of ability and increasing duties that denoted the skill level of the worker. A potpourri of experiences existed for aspiring tradeswomen to obtain the skills necessary to become successful dressmakers and milliners. Girls had access to sewing instruction through home sewing, books, correspondence schools, apprenticeships, public school, trade school, and high school. As women they learned from magazines, evening school, private school, college, clubs, conventions, and fairs. Although the focus of information and instruction was often on home sewing, dressmakers and milliners used these same skills to forward themselves in trade. Almost every woman took her own route, discovering what was necessary to add to her medley of knowledge in order to be successful in business.

Dressmakers and milliners fought against their gender-determined roles. Instead of being homemakers they developed self-identity through their connections to their fellow workers, tradeswomen and customers. Work provided an avenue for tradeswomen to feel needed and to satisfy their natural desire to help one another. Through their work-identity, they located themselves.


Dressmaking, Millinery, Gender-determined Roles

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
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