Table of Contents

This page provides the Table of Contents for the proposed book. This will give you an overview of the book’s contents.


This section provides details on how I stumbled onto this project and an overview of what we are about to discover.  It also provides an introduction to the corset activity in the city and justifies the term “city of corsets” for Worcester.


Definitions of some terms used in the book with illustrations of some of the material components of corsets (e.g. baleen, busk, stay).

Chapter 1: Mary Bowne and the Ivy Corset Company, The Beginning: Ohio to New York to Massachusetts 1870-1904

From a childhood in London, Ohio, to a business venture in nearby Springfield, Ohio, Mary Heintzelman starts her life-long career as a professional corset maker. An absent father perhaps propels Mary and her two brothers into the work force at an early age. A move to New York City with her mother and sister enhances her credentials and confidence, preparing her for a move to her ultimate destination: Worcester, Massachusetts.

short subject 1: Corset Miscellany

A sidebar piece with miscellaneous information about the corset

Chapter 2:  Burnside Building 339 Main Street  1904-1927

This building in the heart of downtown Worcester hosted seven different corset making shops over a 20+ year period.  Solo operators, an unlikely business partnership, Swedes, Irishwomen, an Italian …  the stories offer a mixed bag that reflects life at that time in the small city.  The vibrancy of this community of corset-makers provides an example of what was lost when America’s main streets were no longer the epicenter of town commerce.  We also see in this building examples of the determination of many of the city’s single women (unmarried, widowed, abandoned, etc.) to keep themselves afloat.

Chapter 3: Corsetiere Edith C. Salgstrom 1884-1975

One of the corsetieres who began in the Burnside Building moved to a location on the other side of Main Street where she stayed in business for over thirty years. Her Swedish immigrant father worked at one of Worcester’s biggest employers, the largest wire manufacturer in the United States at the time. He had moved his family to an American city with a massive expat Swedish community. Enroute to self-employment, Edith works at Mary (Heintzelman) Bowne’s Ivy Corset factory, an example of the frequent overlap among the businesses in this corset making community. She also worked for years at the city’s biggest corset factory the Royal Worcester Corset Company, a business that was for decades a launching pad for many of Worcester’s corsetieres.

short subject 2: She Maintained Herself by her Sewing Machine: Lavinia Foy

A sidebar piece about a Worcester woman in the mid-1800s who held multiple patents for corset designs and licensed her ingenuity to the extent that she allegedly died as the richest woman in Connecticut, where she had moved at the time of the Civil War.

Chapter 4: Mary Bowne and the Ivy Corset Company, Early Worcester Years 1904-1911

Mary Bowne arrived in Worcester as a saleswoman for the Royal Worcester Corset Company but by year’s end she had launched the Corset H Company, located in a factory building two blocks from City Hall. The company grew to overflow at its 8,000 square foot first location as its “Ivy Corset” model became nationally famous. A family member comes to join her in Worcester and she focuses on marketing her popular product lines.

Chapter 5: Emma A. Kemp, corsetiere from 1905-1926

Emma Kemp was born in the summer of 1852, more than ten years before the business of corsets came to the city of Worcester. Raised on a farm in the nearby town of Webster, Massachusetts, she eventually made the same move that Mary Bowne would make 25 years later, one that thousands of Americans made in the last years of the 19th century: from small agricultural town to small manufacturing city. And like Mary Bowne, her journey included many years of self-employment, a short-lived marriage, and decades hunched over a sewing machine.

short subject 3: An Insult to the Colored Woman

A sidebar piece discussing the lack of information about corset makers and buyers of color in Worcester and elsewhere

Chapter 6: Mary Bowne and the Ivy Corset Company, The First Years at 40 Jackson Street 1911-1917

As Bowne settles into the new factory building she pursues patent protection for her new designs. The state of Massachusetts sets up a commission to document wages in certain industries, among them corset manufacturing, then recommends some changes. We see evidence of exclusion of women from the highest levels of the industry and wonder about Bowne’s decision to stay out of the limelight. The onset of World War I brings changes to production at corset factories nation-wide.

Chapter 7: Labor conditions in the corset industry

What were conditions like in a corset factory? What recourse did employees have — if any — in unfair labor situations? We hear from some women who documented the abuses of the labor force in the corset manufacturing industry and watch as the dissatisfaction bubbles up into labor actions, including in Worcester.

short subject 4: Saying No to Corsets: Dr. Mary J. Studley

A sidebar piece about a Worcester native who became one of America’s early female medical doctors, returned to practice in her home town, then spent years on the national lecture circuit explaining the damage that corsets were doing to the human body

Chapter 8: Mary Bowne and the Ivy Corset Company, World War I through the Great Crash of 1929

Bowne augments the company’s revenue stream by launching a national chain of retail stores to sell its product. Its Ivy Corset model was by then of such prominence that the business renamed, from Corset H to the Ivy Corset Company. The 1920s was a decade of great prosperity for the business.

Chapter 9: May Cosgrove and the Cosgrove Corset Shop 1921-1952

May Byrne Cosgrove managed her business through challenging chapters of American history, from the end of World War I to the early 1950s. Like many of the city’s corsetieres, her shop moved from one downtown address to another over the years as she searched for better locations, cheaper rent, or snazzier display cases. She is unique among the women profiled in that her introduction to corsets came via retail, having sold corsets as a young store clerk at both a downtown department store and corset boutique. As she approached the world of corset-making we learn about the retail options for corsets in Worcester in the early 1900s.

short subject 5: Many Local Suppliers

A sidebar piece about the various businesses in the city that provided supplies to its corset makers

Chapter 10: The Bon Ton School of Corsetry A school & sales force training tool of the Royal Worcester Corset Company

The city’s oldest and largest corset manufacturer the Royal Worcester Corset Company launched a clever marketing strategy with its saleswoman training academy. What began as an on-site event morphed into a very active correspondence school, with customers around the world. We look at some of the women involved in the Bon Ton School and at other contemporary options for learning how to make a corset.

Chapter 11: The Slater Building 390 Main Street 1912-1965

When the Slater Building opened in 1907 it was Worcester’s second “sky-scraper,” joining the State Mutual Building at 340 Main Street in the vertically growing city’s new skyline. The seven corsetiere businesses in the Slater building feature members of Worcester’s transplanted Canadian, Irish, Swedish, and Syrian communities. We see large U.S. manufacturers of corsets based outside of the city setting up shop with franchise-type locations run here by “registered corsetieres,” such as those trained by the Bon Ton School (Chapter 10). Some of the women in this building got their start at Edith Salgstrom’s shop (Chapter 3). Across these forty years of corset-making we see the evolution of the corset’s shape and function.

short subject 6: Royal Worcester Corset Company

A sidebar piece about the company at the forefront of Worcester’s prominence in this industry

Chapter 12:  Mary Bowne and the Ivy Corset Company, The 1930s to the 1960s

The last half of the business’ life included the challenges of damage to its facilities by arson, hurricane, and flooding.  Bowne continued to evolve the product as evidenced by patent activity through this period.  After many decades in the business, she retired to the family estate in a nearby town.   


Final comments on any lasting legacies of this entrepreneurial boom in the city.  An interview with a latter-day corset maker in a surprising location.

List of Worcester’s corset industry businesses

Sources consulted