Sepia Saturday 389: Sixth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
The last post focused on Uncle John H. Stoutner as a possible influence on my grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence’s sense of style.
In the mid early 1900s, my grandmother’s uncle operated a women’s millinery and clothing store in their Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. hometown. But what led him to become a merchant? What more could I discover about his life and career?
An artistic home
In addition to the photo of his shop featured in last week’s post, I have one more picture connected with Uncle John — a large photograph of his well-appointed apartment.
I always thought it looked more like a furniture showroom, but on close inspection there seem to be no repeat items. There’s one couch, one dining table with chairs, one credenza, one desk — with lamps and accessories for each.
My mom once shared what she remembered about him. “Uncle John had a hat shop and he was very aristocratic,” she said. “He was the ‘artsy’ member of the family.” The photo of his home certainly bears this out.
Making of a milliner
Uncle John was married twice — first to Jennie Fairchild in 1890 (according to the Gloversville papers) and later to Josephine L. Bye in 1897 (according to Iowa marriage records).
However, after both marriages ended in divorce, Uncle John appears to have embarked on a new, career-focused life.
By 1905 he had secured bachelor quarters in the home of lumberman Jacob Van Arnam — a move that favorably impacted his personal and professional life.
Jacob’s son Crosby became a close friend and eventual business partner — and the 1905 N.Y.S. census, excerpted below, gives Uncle John’s occupation as milliner for the first time.
|1905 N.Y.S Census – John H. Stoutner in the Van Arnum home at 187 Kingsborough Ave., Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y. – Source: New York State Archives|
|Van Arnam, Jacob||Head||62||Lumberman|
|Van Arnam, Roseanna||Wife||54||House Work|
|Van Arnam, Fitch||Son||26||Lineman|
|Van Arnam, Crosby||Son||22||Glove Cutter|
|Van Arnam, George||Son||19||Leather Worker|
|Van Arnam, William||Son||18||Leather Worker|
|Van Arnam, Hazel||Dau.||11||In School|
|Stoutner, John H.||Boarder||35||Milliner|
|Lavore, Edward||Boarder||26||Glove Cutter|
My grandmother was born in 1905 — so as she grew up, her Uncle John’s career in ladies’ fashion took off. The 1910 U.S. Census shows that John and Crosby were both milliners and employers. Crosby’s sister Hazel was a hat trimmer, possibly working in their shop.
By 1920, John and Crosby were retail merchants in the dry goods industry — and Hazel had graduated to dry goods saleslady.
Surely my grandmother’s family would have shopped at Uncle John’s store for clothing and accessories.
Man about town
Perhaps because he was a commercial buyer and seller, Uncle John’s comings and goings appeared in the Gloversville, N.Y. newspapers from time to time — summer jaunts to nearby Canajoharie, visits to Pittsburgh, buying trips to New York City.
And then there’s this: In 1895, a man named John Stoutner was awarded first prize in a waltz contest at the Booth & Co. employees’ picnic. Wait — a waltz contest? Was this my grandmother’s Uncle John?
More on this in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
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