The business of dressmaking.

Boyd 1886-1917


Rosanna (Rose) Crelley Boyd.

Born in 1847 in New York, Rose Crelly Boyd was one of nine children. By 1870, she was a 23-year-old dressmaker living on a farm in Lenawee County, Michigan, with her parents, Thomas and Julia, and her two sisters. Her dressmaking skills took her to Detroit, New York, and in 1886, to Minneapolis, where her 40-person business was said to be the city’s largest dressmaking establishment. Newspaper reports emphasized Boyd’s experience as a designer and importer in New York. What drew her to Minneapolis is unknown, but her business apparently prospered. She started out in the fashionable business district of Minneapolis at 608 Nicollet Avenue, and expanded nine years later to 928 Nicollet Avenue. In 1910 she moved her growing operation to the former Fred C. Pillsbury home at 301 S. 10th Street, which she had purchased in 1903. This Richardsonian Romanesque building was described as a "very solid, heavy building whose most unusual exterior feature was a very narrow, round corner tower capped by a spike-like spire." The profile further noted that her salons were headquartered in "a fine, beautiful place, centrally located and in a choice portion of the residence district for her extensive business." In other words, Boyd moved her business-which according to the Minneapolis Journal employed "100 designers, fitters and seamstresses," to her clients' neighborhood.


Described by a client as "big hearted, kind, generous, temperamental and tempestuous," we know that Boyd maintained strong ties with her family in Michigan--but was just as capable of throwing a pair of scissors across the room in a rage. She provided financial support for her brother and her sister’s daughters. Though Rose and her husband, Alex, had no children, they provided a home and livelihood for at least three nieces over the years. Rose Boyd’s niece Florence often worked for her aunt in the sewing rooms, delivered clothes, and ran other errands after school. The Boyds purchased Florence's first home when she married Nobel Rainville in 1910. The census of 1900 recorded two other nieces living with the Boyds: 16-year-old student Caroline Chatham, and dressmaker Julia Crelly, presumably a Boyd employee.

A dressmaker described as "a high class modeste . . . the very source and center for everything artistic and modish in ladies' garments," Boyd attracted clients from the Twin Cities’ wealthiest social circles. At least 43 of her garments survive in Twin Cities collections. Dating from the 1890s to 1915, Boyd's existing creations include evening dresses, day dresses, wedding dresses, suits, coats and capes. The fabrics include velvet, satin, brocades, lace, and chiffon trimmed with embroidery, ribbons, buttons, and beads. Hand-stitched details on surface embellishments and interior seams show the labor involved in creating a custom-made dress. Rose Boyd’s husband, Alexander, was her business partner. They made the requisite buying trips to New York and the Paris fashion houses. Boyd's ability to supply the latest fashion finery was one of her key selling points.

Rose Boyd died November 24, 1917, of pneumonia at age 70. On March 10, 1924, Alexander H. Boyd also died of pneumonia, at age 69.

For an account of Madame Boyd’s dressmaking business, see Minneapolis Dressmaker Madame Rose Boyd : "Sizing up" the Client by Julieanne Trautmann.

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