Ivy Corset - Early Worcester Years /1904-1911
The final Move East- Massachusetts
In 1904, Mary’s name appeared for the first time in the Worcester City Directory:
Mary G. Heintzelman, salesman 30 Wyman.
30 Wyman was then home of one of America’s preeminent corset factories: the Royal Worcester Corset Company. Boarding at 767 Main Street, Mary had a short walk each morning to the state-of-the-art facility where she joined hundreds of other women and men producing the company’s various well-publicized corset brands such as the “Princess Hip” pictured here. Worcester Magazine boasted that Worcester “is considered now as one of the great manufacturing centers of the world” — and the output was not all wire and cable and envelopes. The magazine also tells us that the Royal Worcester “company’s salesmen cover nearly all portions of the western hemisphere, and its goods are now being sent all over the world.”
I found a postcard image that captured the size of Royal Worcester’s work force at this time and also gave me a clue about Mary’s early work years. On the message side of the postcard, a Mr. Scully told a Mrs. J. M. Selts that he would be in Clay Center Kansas in the middle of January to discuss the company’s latest offerings. The company had a famous annual sales catalog called the Royal Blue Book which showcased that year’s models. He would probably have brought that with him to Clay Center, along with a case full of corsets and demonstration clasps and lacings and fabric samples.
The Kansas town Mr. Scully visited on that cold January day had a population of just over 3,000 — the same size as London Ohio. Did Mary bring the same presentation to tiny London from a saleslady posting in Springfield? Was she working there for Royal Worcester? If so, how unique was this sales position for a woman at that time? I suspect that a midwestern housewife would have been much happier discussing the merits of a corset’s design with a young woman than with a middle-aged man (with all due respect to Mr. Scully). The Corset and Underwear Review‘s multi-part history of the American corset industry (find it at our “Curiosities” page at xxx.xxx.com) reported in 1922 that the sales force words “canvassers” and “lady agents” were prominently featured in ads for the Warner Bros. corset company during the 1870s. So Mary’s female sales agent position was probably not unique.
Whatever job she had landed in Springfield allowed her to make enough money to transport herself, her mother, and her sister to New York where she could push things to the next level. The women weren’t the only Heintzelmans heading east. While Albert stayed in Ohio, Signor moved to Massachusetts. We see him listed in the 1904 Boston city directory with an address of 260 Dover Street. He lived in Massachusetts for the rest of his life, in Boston, Cambridge, and Worcester. With all this Heintzelman movement away from their starting point, I wonder who was living in their house at 15 East 2nd Street back in London Ohio. It was not sold until some years later, after the death of their mother in 1910. Albert had bought a house of his own in London at 55 North Oak Street in 1890, the year he married Kate. Perhaps the East 2nd Street house was generating a rental income for the family.
In 1904 sister Georgia’s daughter and only child Martha Deering was born. Mary will later provide generously for her only niece Martha at her death, setting up a trust for her in her will.
The Corset H Company opens in 1904
The big news for Mary in 1904 was the incorporation on December 14 of the Corset H Company. This downtown factory would flourish during the next decade and would produce a much-loved “Ivy Corset” brand which later (1917) became the new company name. In Worcester at that time there were 512 women working in the corset industry. One of them was now the boss.
“Mr. H. H. Hayes of Hinsdale, IL and Miss Mary G. Heintzelman of Worcester have organized the Corset H Company for the manufacture of a line of medium and high grade corsets, and will open a factory at 154 Front Street. It is a Massachusetts corporation with the capital stock paid in and work will begin January 1. Mr. Hayes has for twelve years been the Chicago representative of the Royal Worcester Corset Company, and Miss Heintzelman has been designer in the Worcester factory for several years. The Company has 8000 square feet of floor space at 154 Front Street where the two upper floors are to be converted into an ideal factory, being fitted with prism glass windows and a new system of ventilation, while electrically-driven machines will be installed in the stitching rooms.”
Did Hayes’ name precede Heintzelman’s in deference to alphabetical order? Or is it an example of how the men were assumed to be running the show in those years? The description of Mary as salesman in her city directory listings for this time period also speaks to the limits of the world view of women’s potential at the time. The language hasn’t yet caught up to the emergence of female peers in the workplace. She was in fact a saleswoman, but the existence of that word was some years away in the corset industry.
As Mary navigated the complexities of her new and demanding job, there was difficult news on the family front which would soon add to her responsibilities. Her brother Albert died in 1905 from complications from tuberculosis.
LONDON EDITOR DEAD
“Owing to ill health Mr. Heintzelman gave up newspaper work three years ago and went to the Pacific coast. He spent the past winter in London (Ohio), and this spring settled up his affairs there and went to New York to have a delicate operation performed, but whether this was done is not known. Mr. Heintzleman (sic) is survived by a brother, located in Boston, and a sister, who travels for a large eastern corset house.”
Chillicothe Gazette (Chillicothe, Ohio)
Mary filled out Albert’s Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Return of a Death” form noting Northborough Massachusetts/Main Street as his place of death. The form also tells us that Albert was widowed at the time of his death but I have not yet discovered when and how his wife Kate died. Dr. J. M. Stanley certified that he “attended deceased during last illness, from June 8 1905 to June 9 1905” and the primary cause of death was pulmonary tuberculosis, with a contribution from pulmonary edema.
I wonder if Mary, Signor, and Georgia retrieved Albert from the New York City hospital and brought him to Massachusetts where he could die surrounded by family. The undertaker on the “Return of Death” form is identified as Worcester’s George Sessions whose funeral home would be the site seven years later of the services for one of the few victims (Walter C. Porter) of the Titanic sinking whose body was found at sea near the sunken ship. After a wake at Session’s place, Albert’s remains travelled to Forest Hills cemetery in Boston, where Mary would end up many years later.
He left behind two orphaned sons: 12 year old Allison and 10 year old Donald. Albert’s will left instructions that “all my property, real, personal and mixed wherever situated” would go “to my sister Mary Heintzelman (called Maime Heintzelman), of the Corset H Company of Worcester Massachusetts as trustee in trust to my son Allison, aged 12 years, and for his use and benefit in his support and education and such preparation for business as she may deem best during his minority till the age of 21.” So, Allison headed to Worcester to live with Mary. Albert, a successful businessman himself, considered Mary to be the best guide for his older son in not only matters of schooling but also of the workplace.
I don’t know where Donald first went when his father died. The family had a recurring Indiana connection, however, possibly a family friend, so that was likely his first destination. By 1910 we find him in Plymouth, Indiana, a ward of the state at the Julia E. Work Training School (aka Brightside) in Indiana, a work farm for orphans of all stripes: healthy, crippled, incorrigible. There he spent most of his teenage years on the 270-acre farm, tending to its many crops and its hogs and cattle, returning at day’s end to Building #2 for the boys from 10 to 19 years old. By 1912 the 17-year-old was living in a boarding house at 510 N. New Jersey Street in Indianapolis working as a “laborer.” He would serve in World War I then move to Los Angeles after the war, marrying, working at various jobs, and perhaps spending time with his brother Allison who also ended up in southern California. Donald died on June 21, 1966. He and his wife Margaret had no children.
Worcester Magazine reported that the Corset H factory opened for business in December of 1905. I picture young Allison that year arriving in Worcester by train from Ohio in the summer and starting his school year in the city that fall. I don’t know if that happened but it seems a likely scenario. Mary had promised her brother Albert to prepare Allison for the work world. She probably had many jobs for him to do at the factory as she readied the place for production.
The early years of the Corset H Company
At the time Corset H opened, the Worcester Board of Trade called its city the “Mecca of Manufacturers,” claiming also that it was home of the “world’s largest corset plant” (Royal Worcester) as well as having “four great connecting railroad systems with superior shipping facilities.” The railroad service and the proximity of a huge rival employer offered Mary opportunities to sell her products far beyond city limits and to staff her growing business. She would have hoped to attract employees from Worcester competitors, as well as casting a wider net. We see her advertising, for example, in a New Haven, CT, newspaper that same year:
WANTED: An experienced corset ironer; permanent work. Corset H Company 154 Front Street Worcester, Mass.
New Haven was home to another large manufacturer in the corset industry: the Strouse, Adler Company. She was looking beyond Worcester to staff this start-up.
Perhaps you recall mention of Arthur Gifford, living in the greater New York City area in 1903 at the end of Mary’s time there? The year after the Corset H factory opens, Arthur’s name appears in the Worcester City Directory, living in the building (765 Main Street) next door to Mary’s. One of our mysteries is how these two met. Was it in New York and did he follow her back to Worcester, his home town? Or did they meet on the sidewalk in Worcester outside of their adjacent Main Street buildings? Or, had Arthur’s work at his father’s hardware manufacturing business (A. W. Gifford & Co., 42 LaGrange Street in Worcester) brought them together? I wonder if that business was involved in production of machines that were needed at Corset H.
- 1 pound of sugar
- 1 pound of ham
- a 1 lb loaf of bread
- 1 pound of cheese
- 1 pound of coffee
- 1 dozen eggs
- 1/8 barrel bag of flour
- [ $2.55 ]
Hayes didn’t stay long at Corset H. In 1908 he opened the Massachusetts Corset Co. (15 Union Street), a business which he ran until 1920, the year of the untimely death of his 18-year-old son John. Later he opened yet another corset manufacturer the Regal Corset Co. in 1922 which he ran until 1925. He died in 1928 after an operation at a hospital in Boston.
Corset H’s successful product line was available as far away as Seattle and in nearby Fitchburg, Massachusetts, as well, 30 miles north of Worcester. In a local Fitchburg newspaper we see the attributes of fine fabrics, sturdy hardware, and versatile sizing featured for the discerning lady reader:
CORSET H EXHIBIT !
ALTHOUGH but a few months have elapsed since we first introduced this make of Corsets it has found favor with many of our customers, and we have come to consider it one of the most important brands of this department; We believe them to be exceptional value, and again urge the superior merits of CORSET H., for which we have been appointed the manufacturer’s sole distributor for Fitchburg.
Note Construction: All body materials used in Corset H are of extra high grade Domestic and Genuine French Coutils and Batistes. All models of these Corsets contains an extra heavy gauze “CLOCK SPRING” front steel, so necessary for service and support. The loops and buttons on the front clasps are of special size and duality. We specially invite inspection to the size and quality of the Eyelets, giving the positive advantage of never pulling out and affording the easiest adjustment of the Corset. Another particular feature isthe extremely wide seams joining the sections of these Corsets, insuring their durability.
We have models for short waists, long waists, and stout figures. Every Lady has an invitation to examine the several shapes qualities and special features whether she wishes to purchase or not.
Joseph F. Smiley, 227 Main Street, Fitchburg MA
Two years later in 1908 the Royal Worcester Corset Company was allegedly the largest employer of women in the United States. Although much attention has been given to Royal Worcester given its prominence in the industry, it was of course not the only corset maker in the city at that time. Royal Worcester and Corset H were two of six local corset factories which produced their specialty items at a faster rate and a larger volume than did the five so-called “corsetieres” who worked in the city then too.
The corsetieres were small operations, usually one woman running the whole show out of her home: fitting, sewing, selling, paying the bills. Maybe she hired a helper when the workload merited the added expense. There was probably a very fluid exchange of personnel among the eleven corset businesses in town. A corsetiere who had decided that self-employment was too much could easily sign on at a corset factory job that would give her steady wages, reduced responsibility, and set hours. Moving in the other direction was the woman who decided she had learned enough at the factory and was ready to set out on her own. Standing in line at a Main Street grocer in Worcester in 1908, conversations about corsets were probably sprinkled in among assessments of the country’s new president Theodore Roosevelt and exclamations at the new 30-minute record for an airplane staying aloft.
The "Designed by a Woman" message
Mary began at this time to focus the company’s advertising message on its unique selling point: a woman makes these corsets and who is better equipped to do so than a representative of the gender that wears them? She had been working in this industry for a while now, surrounded by men in the corporate offices. She had enough experience making and selling corsets that she suspected this appeal could succeed, it could set Corset H apart from its competitors in an increasingly crowded field. In the fall of 1908 I found the first example of this pitch:
ad: “The Ivy Corset Demonstration”
… The long tapering curves of the present mode are so perfectly beautiful and accurately produced in our Ivy Corset, which is the result of Paris material and American designing.
These Corsets are designed by a woman who knows the requirements of a feminine figure.
… See window display of Ivy Corsets and the Special Diamond Studded Corset worth $400 in North Window.
Waterbury Evening Democrat September 18, 1908
The ad also mentioned another of her early sales schemes: the Special Diamond Studded Corset. This was a corset sprinkled with diamonds that acted as a snazzy calling card as it travelled around the country in a special locked case. The Worcester Historical Museum has one of these upscale items in its collection. One small town journalist of the time appeared to be quite impressed:
“The Oliver street window of the Harley Daylight store is a great attraction for the women of this city at the present time for it contains what is perhaps the most elaborate corset ever seen in Fitchburg, as it is worth exactly $400… While the beautiful corset with its diamond and gold clasps and real Duchess lace trimming is a magnificent article, it is almost too valuable for the average person. The corset company realizes that fact and has a corset to fit the purse of everybody but at the same time this diamond gold embroidered affair is a work of art… it serves its purpose of making the interested multitude stop and look. The corset has solid gold 18 carat eyelets, skirt hooks and hose supporters with buckles of the same material. The clasp and skirt hook is set with 24 carat genuine diamonds.”
Fitchburg Sentinel, “Costly Corset” April 13, 1909
As Mary worked the sales angles, the volume of corset work in Worcester grew. From 1907 to 1908 the increase in business was about 15 percent. The local board of trade reported in March of 1908 that “Boston & Maine Railroad is working out some scheme by which the delay complained of in freights between Waltham and Worcester on goods for the corset manufacturers will be obviated.” Delay in rail service would have been a headache for manufacturers trying to keep up with these expanding client orders.
The following year the city directory no longer listed Mary Heintzelman but instead Mary Gifford, living in Thompson Connecticut where we also find Arthur E. Gifford residing. They married on April 18 of 1910. This was Arthur’s second marriage. He worked at A. W. Gifford & Co. (owned by his father Albert W. Gifford) at 42 Lagrange Street in Worcester, a business the city directory describes as “hardware manufacturers.” I’ve wondered if they were one of the many shops in the city that engineered new types of machines depending on industrial need. Could they have been making the custom-built multi-needle sewing machines used in the corset industry?
The new bride would have been very busy at work. The city of Worcester was shipping more corsets world-wide than the United States was importing. It was a corset-making boomtown. Worcester Magazine reported in 1909 that “Worcester’s importance as a corset manufacturing centre is fast developing, and plants are being steadily equipped for much larger outputs. Worcester manufacturers today are exporting more corsets than the total imports from all foreign countries and find the foreign demand steadily increasing.” We also hear this from the magazine later that year: “The volume of business among corset manufacturers is unprecedented, and further expansion has been arranged for by large additions and new plants.” Seven years later David Hale Fanning, founder of the Royal Worcester Corset Company and maker of America’s first corsets, celebrated this Americanization of corset-making for Corset and Underwear Review.
“When the corset industry was started in Worcester, all the corsets used in the United States were made in foreign countries… The push and energy of Worcester’s corset manufacturers have eliminated this foreign competition, and kept at home a vast sum of money.”
In 1909, Worcester opened a new downtown train station to much acclaim and welcomed the city’s first female lawyer Stephanie Grant. Corset H’s $500 diamond corset was still on tour. One of its newsworthy stops was Bartlesville Oklahoma:
"One of, if not the Premiere corset designers of the United States"
In the spring of that year, Corset H placed a large display ad in the periodical Dry Goods Economist, a trade journal in which you might have learned about topics such as “Linen, the Emblem of Elegance,” “How to Know Laces,” or “Stock Control in Department Stores.” The large two-column eight-paragraph ad “To The Retail Corset Trade of America” offered a detailed update of the young company’s progress and served as a declaration of the company’s early successes. We read that its founder Miss Mary G. Heintzelman, has been “acknowledged as one of, if not the, Premiere corset designers of the United States” and was responsible for the successful product roll-out in May of 1906 of the company’s popular brands Ivy, Corset H, and Jewel. We hear that their very first order came from a “leading dry good store of the home town” Worcester which had “… a population which knows better than any other community in the United States what a corset should be.” The magazine called Worcester “a veritable hive of the corset industry.”
Continuing with a description of the current and future facilities, we learn that Corset H started with an 8,000 square foot space which soon needed to be expanded by a floor to 14,000 square feet. A “great factory (is) now being erected at the corner of Jackson and Beacon… Mr. Albert W. Gifford, one of Worcester’s most respected financial men” is leasing the new Jackson Street property to Corset H. Father-in-law Albert owned the land for the new factory (in addition to a second adjacent parcel for later expansion) and Mary paid him rent.
Success on the work front was again undercut, however, by family loss. On January 5, 1910 Mary’s mother died in West Newton, leaving no will. I like to imagine that Mary, Signor, and Georgia covered their mother’s living expenses during her final years, although families are often not able to agree on what’s fair when more demanding financial burdens arise. Maybe what was fair at that time was for Mary the factory boss to be paying her mother’s rent in West Newton?
From the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Return of a Death form filed January 27, 1910: Margaret (Bonnet) Heintzelman. husband Jacob. father Nicholas. No occupation. “Informant” is daughter Mary … Mrs. A. E. Gifford of Worcester, MA. Dr. Lewis H. Jack certifies that the primary cause of death was pneumonia, contributory was myocarditis. Her remains were laid to rest in Forest Hills Cemetery where she joined her son Albert.
Not long after her mother’s death, Mary sat with her new husband Arthur Gifford and a notary public (John R. Thayer) in Worcester to complete her section of the paperwork on September 23, 1910 for the sale of the Ohio house (15 East 2nd Street in London). The funeral expenses and the doctor bills of her mother’s “last sickness,” she said, had been paid. They sold the East 2nd Street house to a Mr. James F. Bell. The three living children and Albert’s two sons share the proceeds. The Ohio chapter was now over.
The 40 Jackson Street facility opens 1910
Later that year Mary’s new factory at 40 Jackson Street opened to major acclaim from Worcester Magazine. The publication featured a long article about the expanded premises in March of 1910 and sent a photographer who thankfully documented the building in some detail. From that article we learn, among other things, that the Corset H workday began at 7:30 am and ended at 5:00 pm, Monday through Saturday. More details followed:
The article describes other employee-friendly features: the windows that bring in healthy fresh air, a sprinkler system throughout, hospital room, paid sanitarium visits for tuberculosis victims, lounging/reading/dining room filled with current periodicals. It also mentions the modern convenience of a phone system: “A thoroughly equipped and efficient telephone system is installed throughout the building, and instantaneous communication may be had with any department, not only from the office, but from any part of the building.” I imagine Mary picking up the phone from her designing space and beckoning Arthur from the shipping area to meet her for a late lunch… or the front reception calling to tell her that young Allison had stopped by after school but had to continue home to study for the next day’s exams.
It was highly unusual for a woman to be the founder of a manufacturing facility. As Candace Kanes writes of this era in her book American Business Women: 1890-1930 :
A businessman was a manager or entrepreneur. Business women or girls still worked in offices, often as low-level typists, stenographers or clerks. The businessman usually had status and influence within the company and the community. The business girl or woman had relatively low or moderate status and probably little influence. She would not be a high-level manager.
These 1910 numbers were a first; the previous 1900 Census did not even tabulate that category of work for women. When comparing that female manufacturing officials number (401) with the number of female bank officials in 1910 (1,672) and the number of female lawyers, judges, justices in 1910 (558), you can see very clearly how unique Mary’s position was at that time.
I don’t know if Mary would have seen those Census Bureau numbers but her world was filled with examples of what they meant. She could walk the Ivy Corset shop floor and see many women at work stitching and pressing but at management level in her industry, she was surrounded by men. At national corset sales meetings on an annual basis we see nothing but men at the table during these years. She sent a man named Jack Ready to regional “corset club” sales events to do the schmoozing for Corset H. In 1917 he is seated at the banquet table pictured here, ready to be served from the meal’s menu of oysters, filet mignon, champagne, and Pall Mall cigarettes. The next year he represented Corset H at another of these events, this time an outdoor sporting affair at which he earned himself a silk umbrella by winning the 100-yard dash. Mary — the “designed by a woman” woman — stayed invisible to the public. As hard as I have tried to find a photograph of her, from all my digging of the last two years, I have found nothing, nor any interviews. She chose to remain out of the limelight.
In 1911, the factory moved to new headquarters at 40 Jackson Street, a few blocks from City Hall. The new Corset H building was thoroughly equipped with a sprinkler system and “every precaution was taken to guard against fire,” reassuring news during the year of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City that killed 146 women and injured 71 more. That same year, citizens of the city of Worcester looked up to see the first airplane flight over the city.