Searching for Chicago’s millinery history has brought many trade cards my way via eBay and Etsy. Those are most likely to have names to research, often starting and ending with Ancestry.com.
On a rare occasion photos taken in Chicago of women in hats catch my eye. Rarely are there names. Usually this means there is no further research. Occasionally these are professional studio cards with a name present. One can rarely tell if these were visitors to the city, who brought their hometown hats along, and desired a concrete reminder of their trip. They found the professional photographers aplenty in Chicago.
Some locals who actually made or bought their hats here also had photos done. This was an expensive indulgence and could have cost as much as a hat. Perhaps they wanted to impress relatives afar to whom cards were sent, as some photos from the professionals have a back which is designed for mailing as a postcard.
Here is a few photo which creates more questions than answers.
This card was listed on Etsy with the title “Vintage photo 1915 Chicago Fein Studio Beautiful twin Sisters Roses Hat Coat Chain Purse RPPC.”
Not to rule out the remote chance they were sisters, but even fraternal twins are a stretch. Their hats are totally different! Tho the coats have very similar accents of ribbon and flowers, as well as sporting possibly matching purses, they look nothing alike. Perhaps the seller never had a chance to look above the neckline of the coat.
If they were merely friends, they were close enough to feel the need to dress similarly in clothing. Hats tell a different story. Two different straw bodies were used. Different flowers were used. Large ribbon bows may be similar, but when looked at in total, these were different expensive hats, no matter who thinks they are twins.
The card is dated as 1915, by the seller, who obtained it from an photo album similarly dated. The reverse was postcard format from the Fein photo studio. It is almost impossible to see the Fein embossing, but it is there.
Historians did a kind deed when they compiled a list of some studios. This list spans 1847-1900, and was published by the Chicago History Museum in 1958. The actual copy is in the Sangamon State University Library in Springfield, IL.
Fein & Schnabel 1897-1900 – Rm 12, 9215 Commercial. It looks like Fein struck out on his own before 1915, as the directory ends in 1900. 9200 S Commercial, in Chicago, is 10 miles southeast of the downtown area. This places the studio about two blocks from the Chicago Skyway/90. Currently 9211 is a McDonalds, with no building adjacent. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and when this area was annexed to the city in 1891, it was known as Ainsworth, tho presently it is South Chicago, area 46. After the Chicago Fire of 1871 much industry moved south, and it blossomed, welcoming US Steel in 1901. This was a mixed population, the melting pot, working class stable neighborhood. It may have been probably predominantly European immigrants with some Mexican population influx in the early 1900s.
In the 1923 Polk Directory Fein’s studio was at 9120 Commercial. (In 1909 the city changed the numbering system, ) Jacob J Fein, the owner, lived at 2109 E. 72nd Place.
Back in the 1910 Census Jacob, 41, from Germany, was living with his wife Anna, 25, born in IL, at 2903 W 91st St, almost around the corner of the studio. In 1920 the Feins had a 9 year old daughter, Helen M, born in IL. Tho this census tells us Jacob came from Germany in 1891, Anna was born in IL of Irish parents. By 1920 they had moved to the 72nd Pl location they were at in 1923, and remained there thru 1930, where the home was valued at $15,000, which has a buying power of $210,000 today. By the 1940 census Jacob is retired and he and Anna have moved to 7800 Ridgeland, where they rented for $45/month in a three flat apartment. Jacob died in 1942, and is buried in the area.
Who were the girls in the picture Jacob took? Where did those hats come from? Wherever they were from, they chose a good photographer, and someone saved that photo for at least another 100 years. Another kind soul, Marianne Clancy, chose to share it with me.https://www.etsy.com/shop/maclancy
If one thinks it was fun to find this photographer, the thrill paled compared to the pages of milliner names in 1923. For a list of milliners and millinery wholesalers from 1923 take a peek here:
It is within the realm of possibility the hats worn in the postcard were purchased from a milliner on this list. With many dozens of milliners and shops listed in this directory one might expect the overwhelming majority had been in business 8 years earlier.
Perhaps these gals made a point of visiting many millinery shops in the area. IF only they were still around to tell me all the juicy details of those shops.