The business of dressmaking.


Seamstresses Fairfax?

The numbers of Minnesotans of European descent increased dramatically after statehood in 1858.

  • The 1860 Minnesota census counted a white population of 77,000 females with 124 seamstresses in that population.
  • In 1890 the total population of Minnesota was 1,300,000 of which 600,000 were female. Over 5,000 women declared themselves to be seamstresses, dressmakers or milliners in Minneapolis and St. Paul alone.
  • In 1890 Minnesota led the nation in women working away from home. The seamstresses who were employed by businesswomen like Boyd, Christianson, Molloy or Worley were part of a large group of women who were living on their own in a large city, earning an income and supporting themselves and sometimes their families. They came from rural backgrounds to work in the city, and had sewing skills developed beyond what was taught for home sewing.

Several studies have looked at the lives of women employed as seamstresses. Consensus of this research is that the field was low paying, involved working long hours and was seasonal.

  • The dressmakers typically paid wages that ranged from 85 cents per day to $2.50 per day depending on skill level.
  • Their seamstresses put in 10 hour days/ six days a week with overtime common during the peak seasons - fall and spring.
  • Typically there was a slack season over the summer months, when many seamstresses in the shops were out of work.

The numbers of dressmakers in the Twin Cities reached its peak in 1895, declining gradually until after 1910 and then experiencing a rapid decline as more and more fashion goods were available in ready-to-wear. The same seamstresses who worked in the custom trade became machine operators in the ready-to-wear factories or store clerks in the growing department stores.