Nell Donnelly Reed


Five house dresses by Nelly Don, 1922. From The Pantograph. Public domain

Nell Donnelly Reed was creative, and had the business acumen to turn that creativity into a successful business – before women even had the right to vote in the U.S. Her story combines a number of things that make for a fascinating tale: fashion, education, kidnapping, marital scandal. Nell lived a long life, and did a lot with her time, including focusing on workers’ health and safety needs.

But she is, like any historical figure, complicated.

Holly's Research:

  • James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area. https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/downloads/conservation-areas/5501_1.pdf
  • McMillen, Margot Ford and Heather Roberson. “Called to Courage: Four Women in Missouri History.” University of Missouri Press. 2002.
  • Williams, Lena. “Nell Donnelly Reed, 102, Pioneer in Manufacture of Women’s Attire.” New York Times. Sept. 11, 1991. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/11/us/nell-donnelly-reed-102-pioneer-in-manufacture-of-women-s-attire.html
  • “Paul Donnelly Is Dead.” Lawrene Journal-Workd. Sept. 8, 1934. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19340908&id=LoBYAAAAIBAJ&sjid=vUMNAAAAIBAJ&pg=6031,4147957
  • Whang, Mikyoung and Sherry Haar. “Nelly Don’s 1916 pink gingham apron frock: an illustration of the middle-class American housewife’s shifting role from producer to consumer.” Fashion and Textiles. December 2014. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40691-014-0018-1
  • Montgomery, Rick. “Nell Donnelly Reed: Frosm seamstress to rich industrialist to cultural icon.” The Kansas City Star. January 15, 2016. https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article54956805.html
  • Roe, Jason. “Kidnapping of Nell Donnelly.” Kansas City Public Library. https://pendergastkc.org/article/events/kidnapping-nell-donnelly
  • Dumay, Jan. “Staging the Nelly Don Story.” 435 Kansas Magazine. June 2014. http://www.435mag.com/June-2014/Staging-the-Nelly-Don-Story/
  • Butler, Robert W. “An affair, a kidnapping, a clothing empire: Plenty of threads for ‘Nelly Don’ musical.” Kansas City Star. June 30, 2017. https://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/performing-arts/article159071759.html
  • Blodgett, Betsy. “NELLY DON:Self Made in America.” Seamwork. December 2015. https://www.seamwork.com/issues/2015/12/nelly-don-self-made-in-america
  • Anthony, Kyle. “The Bitterest Battle: The ILGWU And Unionization In The Kansas City Garment District.” Kansas City Public Library. https://pendergastkc.org/article/bitterest-battle-ilgwu-and-unionization-kansas-city-garment-district

Topics in this Podcast: women, labor, biographies, fashion history, 20th century, U.S. history