Easter Hats and Millineries in North Yakima

Ah Easter hats! Remember when our mothers insisted that we wear our Easter hats to help accessorize our formal Sunday Easter attire? Some of us probably do. What most may not realize however is that the purchase of Easter hats in America was once a highly advertised and anticipated social event for many women.

Over a century ago woman’s hats were traditionally purchased at millinery stores that catered to the sale of women’s hats and often other accessories. Most cities in America had at least one, often more, millinery stores catering to the women shoppers of the area. North Yakima, now Yakima, Washington, was no different.

In the late 1890’s and early 1900’s North Yakima, considered a smaller city at the time, had several popular millineries for women to choose from for shopping. Like elsewhere in the country, the cities millenaries would often close for a brief time to allow for preparation of the upcoming Easter holiday and spring fashion season. Many women shoppers eagerly awaited the spring opening of the millenary stores to get a glimpse of the upcoming seasonal hat styles. They were so well liked that special re-opening events were advertised frequently in the newspaper, with millinery stores staging their opening events to maximize potential sales and avoid conflict with their competition. Reading the long ago printed articles and advertisements in the local Yakima Herald newspaper announcing and promoting the spring opening events easily leads readers to imagine that a cooperative, yet competitive, competition existed among the millenaries of the city.

In 1899, the re-opening of the millinery stores in North Yakima just prior to Easter serves as a good example of the cities competitive holiday hat sales. The week proceeding Easter found three of the city’s most popular millinery stores holding special events and exhibits. Although other millenary stores existed in the city at the time, three were highlighted in the newspaper that year. They were Mrs. Cary’s, Mr. and Madam Connolly’s and Mrs. Rhinehart’s. Mrs. Rhinehart’s appears to have been part of a larger clothing store leaving the specialized hat and accessories only store venues to the other two, Mrs. Cary’s and Mr. and Madam Conolly’s. Mrs. Cary’s and the Conolly’s stores not only advertised more frequently than the other millenaries at the time, but they also appear to have been in business longer than the others.

Mrs. Cary, or Mrs. Louisa (Heisler) Cary to be specific, was born in Oregon in 1854. It was there that she married her husband George Washington Cary in 1871 when she was approximately 17 years old. By 1880 the couple had two daughters and had moved north to Old Town (now Union Gap, Washington). In 1885 they added a third daughter to the family and proceeded to move to North Yakima.

It was there, in North Yakima, in approximately 1896 that Louisa opened her millinery store on North Second Street. Closing the store for a time in the winter and then re-opening in the spring for special sales was normal for her business, as were her frequent advertisements announcing that she had the lowest prices in town.

In 1899, when Louisa re-opened her store the week before Easter she held a grand re-opening featuring special sales and exhibits on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday just prior to Easter. Her featured hats consisted of eastern patterns and styles that she had discovered while in Portland, Oregon.

Mrs. Cary’s advertisement from the March 16th, 1899 Yakima Herald newspaper.

Louisa operated her millinery store in the city for several more years from its location on 8 North 2nd Street. She also lived above the store with her husband George, their youngest daughter, and a servant. The store was located within a building that still stands today and is recognized to many as the S.O. Hawkes building at the northwest corner of East Yakima Avenue and North 2nd Street.

By 1908 a different millinery store owned by one Mrs. I. M. French had replaced Louisa’s store, indicating that Louisa had sold her business. However, they were still living above the store at the time. By 1910 Louisa and George, along with their three daughters, had moved south to the Los Angeles, California area. She remained living there for the rest of her life.

Mr. and Madam Conolly were one of Mrs. Cary’s main millinery competitors in the city, although the Conolly’s started their millinery a few years prior to Louise Cary. The Conolly’s also held preannounced special spring re-openings just in time for Easter sales. The year 1899 was no different. Apparently not wanting to have their re-opening on the same days as Mrs. Cary, the Conolly’s had their special re-opening events on the Monday and Tuesday before Easter, several days before the Cary’s opening.

The Conolly’s were William L. and Mary E. Conolly. They began selling hats in North Yakima in 1894 from a location on 1st Street. Business for the Conolly’s apparently flourished enough to enable them to open a second millinery store in Cle-Elum, Washington in the spring of 1895. Like other hat stores in the city, the Conolly’s also featured both Easter and spring hats at their grand spring re-opening events. The hats they would exhibit for sale were often those that they would purchase elsewhere in the country, offering the women shoppers fresh fashions featured elsewhere. Like Mrs. Carey, they also often boasted the cheapest prices in town.

The Conolly’s April 6th, 1899 advertisement in the Yakima Herald newspaper.

By the fall of 1901, the Conolly’s closed their millinery business, although they were not done conducting business in North Yakima. Shortly afterwards William opened the Conolly’s Music Emporium on 1st Street. The store sold pianos as well as other instruments and offered voice culture lessons. It is unknown how active Mary was in the new music business, although she would eventually return to the fashion industry.

Sadly, William Conolly died in 1914. Mary buried him in the Calvary Cemetery and continued to live in the city after his death. To support herself she worked as a dressmaker. She passed away in 1929 and was laid to rest net to William in Calvary Cemetery.

After the closing of the Cary and Conolly millineries, woman’s hat stores still existed in North Yakima, although none seem to have had the same historical impact. Eventually, like elsewhere in America, millenary businesses just specializing in just women’s hats and accessories began closing or becoming part of larger chain stores.

Over a century later, our American insistence on dressing up in special Easter hats has almost faded away. As a country, we just do not dress as formerly for Easter as we once did a century ago. A portion of our countries fashion and business history has been lost over time with the only reminder often being old photos of our family or friends proudly wearing those fancy Easter hats purchased at now non-existent millenaries in cities throughout America.

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