Katherine Kiernan ran a dressmaking business in St. Paul between 1896 and 1916. She was born in Sibley County, MN in 1867 and died of a brain tumor in 1923 at age 55. Her father, John Kiernan, was the blacksmith in Arlington, Minnesota. In 1895, when Katherine would have been 27 years old, Arlington was a growing town approaching 16,000 residents. There were four dry goods businesses, a tailor, two milliners and five young women aged 17 to 22, who were dressmakers. She must have already moved to St. Paul, perhaps she had enough experience to take her dressmaking skills and set up her own business. The earliest record of her shop is from 1896 to 1904 at 357 Wabasha Street, an address convenient to her clients living on Crocus Hill or Summit Avenue. Her designs are particularly sophisticated and well designed. Seven garments in this collection from Kiernan’s dressmaking business date from the late 1890s to about 1904.
One of her clients was Mary Proal Saunders (Mrs. E. N. Saunders.) Edward Saunders was an associate of James J. Hill in forming the Northwestern Fuel Company to ship coal via the Great Lakes. Besides, Kiernan, the Saunders family collection includes the work of five other Twin Cities dressmakers dating from the 1870s to early 1900. Mary Saunders' daughter, Carolyn Saunders Lindeke, found entries in her mother’s diaries noting visits to these dressmakers. She recalled her own memory, as a child, seeing the drivers in front of the dressmaker’s shop as they picked up orders. After 1904, the Saunders family patronized one of Kiernan’s former seamstresses, Caroline Mundahl, who operated her own thriving dressmaking shop until 1915.