New England Corset Company-
132, 140 and 142 Green Street - 1919-1928

Starting production in 1907 just south of downtown (51 Hermon Street), the New England Corset Company got off to a bumpy start, filing for bankruptcy two years later. After settling with its creditors, the business then rose from the ashes and reopened in a Green Street building that was formerly the main factory of Crompton & Knowles Loom Works. By spring of 1912, 120 people manufactured corsets there under the supervision of owner J. Howard Joynes.

An ad showing New England Corset's earliest products, from The Boston Globe in 1909.
Joynes left his native New Brunswick as a young man in 1896. In Worcester he found work, first at a dairy, next as a bookkeeper at a livery stable, and then in management at New England Corset, a company which he eventually purchased in 1909. His move from hardscrabble New Brunswick interior had paid off. In 1914 he expanded his product line by adding a manufacturing area for felt shoes and crocheted slippers (New England Slipper Co.). Within three years there were over 200 workers in that footwear area in addition to over one hundred corset workers. The building was bustling with activity generated by the making of so many wearable goods: corsets, slippers, shirts (E. Edwards and Sons), and — arriving two years later — suspenders (Lations Manufacturing).
Worcester City Directories ran many years of corset advertisements, among them this from 1918. When these ads appeared, New England Corset was one of 15 corset making businesses in the city.
J. Howard Joynes, owner of New England Corset Company from 1909 until his death in 1920. He believed in "modern methods not only in office and machinery, but in relations with labor."
Another member of management was Frederick Shelton who likely met Joynes via a mutual connection to New Brunswick, where both were born and raised. Shelton started at New England Corset in 1907 where he held positions of treasurer and manager before setting up his own corsetiere shop on Main Street in 1911. He died of tuberculosis in 1914 at the age of 39 years old. He is pictured here with his wife Bertha who also worked in his Main Street shop.

During World War I, production shifted its focus to war materials.  Replacing peacetime products of corsets and soft shoes were military grade haversacks, hospital supplies, silk parachutes, and powder bags for the U.S. Army.   Less than a year after the war ended, trade magazine Dry Goods Economist reported that New England Corset had been purchased by Weingarten Bros., Inc.   With Joynes’ death in September of 1920 at the age of 44, one wonders if ill health had precipitated his sale of the company a year earlier.  He was remembered as being a generous boss, buying life insurance policies for every employee, and putting an end to the industry standard of the day that forced corset workers to provide their own thread.  

Taking over as manager of New England Corset after Joynes’ death was Edward N. Clark, who had first made corsets in New York City as an employee of the Kops Company, manufacturer of the famous Nemo brand corset of that era. He returned to his native Massachusetts in 1914 with a job in Worcester at Maynard Corset Company (184 Front Street) before moving to New England Corset in 1917. As secretary and manager of operations, “his work … has had much to do with the splendid progress which the organization has since made.”

Industry magazines mentioned annual company dinners during the 1920s, at which the board of directors dined, drank, and celebrated successes.  In 1928, New England Corset’s final listing appeared  in the city directory.  That year there were over twenty local corset-related businesses, a much more crowded field than when the company first opened twenty years earlier.  Clark died four years later at his summer home in Rhode Island while digging a well with his 12 year old son.   Although he and Joynes were the prominent individuals at the helm of this historic Crompton Building concern, hundreds of Worcester women constituted its workforce during its heyday.


Worcester’s many corset-making businesses were powered by the city’s women.  These photos show many of them during New England Corset’s life:  South High girls’ basketball team, students of Girls’ Trade School, and Junior League members.  Of almost 130 corset-related businesses in the city from the 1860s to the 1980s, half were owned by women.  [All three photos are from the collection at Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester Massachusetts.] 

Crompton Loom Works building, undated photo (E. B. Luce) From the collection at Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester Massachusetts.
1920 Girls Trade School class
1920 South High School Girls Basketball Team
1920 Junior League of Worcester