20th Century, Businesses

Women in Business: 1909 Edition

Princess and Wellington in a 1910 postcard. Toronto Public Library. (click image to go to source)

Poking around old Kingston ephemera is one of my favourite ways to get ideas for this blog, and to learn about aspects of day-to-day life that I might not always think much about: I’m a primary source junkie. (Having so much material available online helps a lot.) Today I’ve rounded up all the women profiled in the “Special Industrial Souvenir Number” of the Daily British Whig, which was published in 1909. Because this is Kingston, famous for having nothing going on for over a century now, “industrial” for the most part means businesses and entrepreneurs.

I’m not sure how businesses were chosen for this publication. The introduction just gives the ubiquitous historical sketch of Kingston, then goes on to mention its “progressive” businesses, “ideal” location, and “adequate” street car service (they didn’t beat around the bush). In any case, there were far more women involved in businesses in Kingston at this time then were listed in the issue. However, they are a pretty good cross-section of what fields women were involved in. In 1909 there were approximately these numbers of women either owning businesses or offering professional services in Kingston: 2 artists, 39 boarding house ladies, 1 carpet weaver, 1 confectioner, 2 corset-makers, over 120 dressmakers, 1 elocutionist, 8 dealers in “fancy goods” (i.e. needlework and supplies), 1 florist, 14 grocers, 1 dealer in “hair goods,” 1 ladies’ tailor, 5 laundresses, 7 milliners, 26 music teachers, 31 nurses, 1 photographer, 1 doctor, 1 registrar at the courthouse, 2 restaurant owners, and 1 dealer in sporting goods and cigars.

(If the cigar lady strikes you as odd, it appears she took over the business from her late husband.)

So, here are just a few of Kingston’s 1909 businesswomen, with their original write-ups (mostly) intact, because old advertising is fun to read. At least, I like to read it.

Miss E.V. Greaza

Miss Greaza's shop on Wellington Street; she lived upstairs. Check out the awesome ghost signs on this place! (my photo)

Miss Greaza’s shop on Wellington Street; she lived upstairs. (my photo)

Established here twenty years ago, the millinery parlors of Miss Greaza, at 182 Wellington street, have always been popular with the ladies. . . . [The business] is in every respect entirely up-to-date, both as to fittings and stock and workmanship. Twelve capable assistants are employed, and the utmost satisfaction guaranteed. The hats turned out are most stylish, and readily bear comparison with those shown in the finest stores in the larger cities, due to the fact that Miss Greaza keeps herself thoroughly posted on the styles of the season.

This is one of the oldest established millinery parlors in Kingston, and the enterprising lady at the head deserves great credit for the splendid success she has always made of her business. She has lived in Kingston all her life and has many friends outside her business life.

(That last line may sound kind of uncharitable, but actually the writer of this publication often noted the subject’s presence in city life, which for the men included being in committees and fraternal societies. They were just trying to do the same here.)

Miss Greaza was Emma Greaza, who was in her fifties at this time. She lived with her sister, who probably helped with the store as well. This business really was a successful one; Greaza maintained it for decades.

Henderson’s Photography

Henderson's studio is on the left, directly under the tilted skylight on the upper floor at 90-92 Princess. I don't have an appropriate source for this photo, but it can be found in this c. 1900 brochure.

Henderson’s studio is on the left, directly under the tilted skylight on the upper floor at 90-92 Princess. I don’t have an appropriate source for this photo, but it can be found in this c. 1900 brochure.

Note: At this point, Henderson was actually a she, but they continued to use male pronouns in the write-up. I’ll explain later…

Among the masters of the photographic art in Kingston, probably none is better known than the Henderson studio, located in a splendidly equipped studio and gallery at 92 Princess street. This is one of the oldest and most reliable studios in the city and is kept thoroughly up-to-date . . . Most of the photographs for this special number were taken here and they speak volumes for Mr. Henderson’s ability . . . They make a specialty of high-class portraiture, platinum and carbon-finished pictures, etc., while their commercial work is extensive, including outdoor views, interiors, machinery and other work required by manufacturers. The reputation of Henderson’s studio is not only local but a great deal of high class work is done for visitors to Kingston who have seen samples of his work.

This studio was begun by Henry Henderson decades earlier, but after his death his wife Margaret took it over. “Mr. Henderson” here probably refers to their son Robert, who was their chief photographer. My guess is that Margaret ran more of the business side of things while Robert did the leg-work. Unfortunately, he died in 1914 at the age of thirty-seven and after that the studio appears to have closed. Since the Henderson studio was a major one and there is at least one book written on photography in Kingston, I’ll probably be able to update this with accurate information soon.

January 10, 2015 update: Henry Henderson started this photography studio in 1864 at 90-92 Princess Street, and ran it until his death in 1898. His widow apparently didn’t take it over until 1901. Jennifer McKendry’s book Early Photography in Kingston states it was their son Henry Jr. who was working at the business until 1911. She lists Robert as only being active from 1895-96. However, the city directories (though not infallible) list Robert B. Henderson as a photographer at the studio until 1914. A 1914 death record is available for Robert Bruce Henderson of Kingston. But McKendry had access to much more information than me, so you may want to believe her version!

January 18, 2015 update: I think I may be right in this instance. I found an ad in this c.1902 brochure that says R. Henderson was the photographer, not Henry. Presumably their advertisements would give correct information.


henderson's ad

F.J. Johnson

The site of Mrs. Johnson's florist shop, across from Market Square. The large display windows would have been filled with flowers. (my photo)

The site of Mrs. Johnson’s florist shop, across from Market Square. (my photo)

Nothing appeals to the average passerby more than the sight of a well-appointed florist’s window. There is no more alluring store in this respect in Kingston than that of F.J. Johnson, at 326 King street, known as the “Floratum.” In the store are flowers, potted and cut, in an endless variety and profusion. A specialty is made of wedding and presentation bouquets, and funeral wreaths and designs. There is telephone connection with the store (‘phone 239), and all orders receive careful and prompt attention.

This business was established twenty-seven years ago by O.G. Johnson, who managed it until his death a year ago. Since then the business has been carried on by Mrs. Johnson, who deserves great credit for the courage she has evidenced in taking the management on her own shoulders, and conducting the affairs in a thoroughly businesslike manner.

This was Frances Juliana Johnson, who appears to have done a little flip-flop with this business. She took it over briefly, and then it was handed over to others who may have been extended family or something similar, because they are listed as living at the same address as her. However, a few years later the store was back in Johnson’s name.

Miss M. Leader

Miss Leader's store on Brock Street, now the site of the big parking garage. From the 1908-1911 fire insurance map.

Miss Leader’s store on Brock Street near the corner of Wellington, now the site of the big parking garage. From the 1908-1911 fire insurance map.

With the ladies of Kingston, there is no more popular store than that conducted by Miss M. Leader, at 105 Brock street. The stock-in-trade at this establishment is fancy work and fancy work supplies. Miss Leader keeps herself in touch with all that is newest in this line . . . Stamping is given special attention, and Miss Leader has an infinite number of designs from which to make a selection, whether it be for table linen embellishment, for sofa cushions, for the dainty hand embroidered lingerie or for any of the hundred and one different purposes to which hand embroidery is put. Miss Leader, besides her fancy work business, is the agent for this city for R. Parker’s Dyeing and Cleaning Works, whose head offices are in Toronto, and which is one of the largest business houses of that nature in the country. . . . Miss Leader is a native of Kingston, and has been engaged in this business for five years. She has made a great success of her business venture, and deserves credit for the pluck she has shown and the business ability she has exhibited in the management of her affairs.

Martha A. Leader also lived at 105 Brock, the address of her business. I can’t find any definite information on her.

Mrs. Emma Mitchell

The tiny slice of commercial space at 73 Brock once belonged to Emma Mitchell. (my photo)

The tiny slice of commercial space at 73 Brock once belonged to Emma Mitchell. (my photo)

The ladies of Kingston are fortunate in having a first class ladies’ tailor and dressmaker in the person of Mrs. Emma Mitchell, whose dressmaking establishment is at 73 Brock street. The business was established here nine years ago by the very capable proprietoress [sic], and a large and steady high class trade has been built up amongst the best-dressed ladies of the city. A most efficient staff of tailors and dressmakers is employed, and all work is neatly and promptly executed. Ladies’ tailored suits of the first order and beautiful creations in evening and reception gowns, are turned out by this house, perfect fit and style being guaranteed. . . . Besides the business done in made-to-order garments, a stock of ladies’ furnishings and accessories is kept. Special attention is given to work on trousseaux . . . Mrs. Mitchell is a Kingston lady by birth, is an undoubted authority on dress, and conducts her affairs along the most approved lines.

Emma Mitchell appears to have begun this shop after her husband’s death when she was still quite young, in her late twenties. She is another example of a widow becoming an entrepreneur likely as a means to support (and enjoy) herself. I’m not sure how ladies’ tailoring differs from dressmaking, unless the former really focuses on making structured garments while dressmaking is more comprehensive.

Mrs. G.H. Parkin

Mrs. Parkin's corner store. (my photo)

Mrs. Parkin’s corner store. (my photo)

Some fifteen years ago Mrs. G.H. Parkin opened a grocery store at the corner of Colborne and Sydenham streets, to supply the needs of the families in that vicinity. The business soon began to grow and each year has shown material gains over the previous seasons. The stock in point of quality and assortment, is unexcelled, and the store is always kept neat and tidy, a most important point in a business of this kind. Everything in staple and fancy groceries, table delicacies, canned goods, and butter and eggs may be found here, with fruit and garden stuff in season. Mrs. Parkin is a capable and shrewd business woman, and it is only through her sterling business methods that she has made the success she has of her business.

Mrs. G.H. Parkin was Lydia Parkin (her husband was G.H.) and the city directories often list the business in her husband’s name. But according to this write-up, Lydia was at the helm.

Pearsall’s Millinery

Confession: I don't know exactly where this business was located, because of various confusing reasons. But it was somewhere along this block. (my photo)

Confession: I don’t know exactly where this business was located, because of various confusing reasons. But it was somewhere along this block. (my photo)

The ladies of Kingston are particular about their personal appearance and in the matter of hats and millinery they are greatly assisted by “Pearsall’s Millinery,” whose spacious and beautifully stocked parlors are situated at No. 228 Princess street. This business . . . was established six years ago by Miss Pearsall, a lady who is not only a good business woman but a born “artiste.” She learned her art in the large cities of the United States and makes regular buying trips to the large fashion centres every season. Her stock of hats, ribbons, feathers, plumes, flowers, laces, embroideries, silks, satins and velvets, is complete with the newest and latest, and in her work rooms . . . she employs twelve expert milliners who look after special orders. “Pearsall’s Millinery” is known throughout Kingston and surrounding towns . . . and the fact that Miss Pearsall personally superintends each department is a guarantee of satisfaction to the most critical buyer. The firm also has a branch store at Yarker, which does a large business, and they also supply many country stores with their millinery in a wholesale way.

This piece neglects to mention that Miss Pearsall was actually the Misses Pearsall, Lulu (or Lula) and Zella. They were extremely young; their business was started in 1903 when they were about twenty and sixteen respectively. The family did live in the United States for a while, where Lulu was an apprentice milliner, but it was only Watertown, NY. Their father ran the business after his daughters’ marriages.

Mrs. Rowan

Location of Rowan's store on Wellington Street near the corner of Princess. From the 1908-1911 fire insurance map.

Location of Rowan’s store on Wellington Street near the corner of Princess. From the 1908-1911 fire insurance map.

Artistic excellence and an infinite variety of dainty ideas for fancy work, are the chief characteristics of the fancy work store of Mrs. Rowan, at 181 Wellington street, a store very popular with the ladies. . . . Here can be found all the very latest ideas in fancy work, Mrs. Rowan keeping in touch with the large American cities . . . The stamping of linens and cottons is an important part of this business, and Mrs. Rowan has innumerable dainty designs from which to make a selection . . . Mrs. Rowan is an expert needle worker herself, and no design is too intricate for her nimble fingers. The ladies of Kingston have, in her, someone who can keep them posted on all such matters, and the proprietress of this establishment is highly respected and esteemed by them.

The original write-up uses the word “dainty” no less than five times; I actually edited it to get rid of some of them. Some writer was lazy that day. Anyway, I believe Mrs. Rowan was Mary Rowan, whose husband was interestingly from Denmark.

Okay, so in 1909 there weren’t any factory owners or lawyers or architects in Kingston who were women. But there were far more women involved in independent business than there had been forty years earlier, when men managed businesses in nearly all departments. (Except for millinery, apparently Kingston ladies really loved their hats.) This post has gotten pretty long, so I’ll wrap it up. Hope you enjoyed peeling back the layers of a few downtown buildings, and learning that entrepreneurial women in this time and place came from all ages and backgrounds, and were recognized as being successful at their work.


Special Industrial Souvenir Number of the Daily British Whig. This is from the database Early Canadiana Online, which requires a personal or university subscription.

Kingston city directories. These have their flaws as research material but they’re a good general resource.

1908 fire insurance map of Kingston, amended 1911

Biographical information found through Familysearch.org


4 thoughts on “Women in Business: 1909 Edition

  1. cadeauca says:

    I love reading about the daily lives of regular people from the past, particularly women, it’s always fascinating. My favorite of the bunch is probably Misses Pearsall. Running a successful business at 16 and 20? Wow! Too bad they had to give it up when they got married.

    Cracking up at the overuse of “dainty.” I guess the writer didn’t own a thesaurus or couldn’t be bothered to open theirs…

    • I agree, I’m 22 and wouldn’t even know where to start with a business! I think even 100 years ago people were thrown into the world sooner than we are today.

      I always wonder what people in the future will think of writing styles of today, even magazines and advertising from about 10 years ago can seem dated. I guess the word “dainty” hasn’t aged very well, haha!

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