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January 16, 2007 > Centerville ladies in business

Centerville ladies in business

Opportunities for women in business were limited in pioneer societies, but a few were able to forge careers. Mrs. M. E. Smith opened a millinery store in Centerville in 1875. It was said to be the first business of this kind in Washington Township. Mrs. Eliza Carter advertised in 1876 that she was "an experienced and skillful Ladies Nurse." Miss M. E. Sutherland advertised as a Dress and Cloak Maker with a specialty of cutting and fitting. She also kept "all kinds of Ladies and Children's Patterns" in her rooms at the Milton House.

Early local histories do not usually mention women in business. The Atlas of Alameda County published in 1878 lists Mrs. R. Blacow in the front Index and provides a double page view of her "Residence and Farm." She is described as a "Breeder of Thorough Bred French Merino Sheep." Some of the sheep are pictured on the previous page. Mrs. Blacow is listed in the Business Directory as a farmer and stock breeder and owner of 340 acres of land. Mrs. E. M. Bunting is also listed in the Index, but the illustration is of the residence and farm of her son John.

An 1879 Business Directory lists Miss Mary Brown as a school teacher and Mrs. B. J. Lewis as proprietor of the United States Hotel. Mrs. Lewis managed the hotel after her husband James died. Female school teachers were not usually listed in business directories in pioneer days. Other ladies listed as property owners were Catharine Brophy, Mary Nichols, Margaret Nichols, Margaret Norris, Sarah Tolin and Rachel Valpy. Many of these were widows not listed in business directories until after their husbands died.

Mrs. A. E. Platt advertised as a Fashion Milliner in 1889. She sold "hats and bonnets trimmed to order, latest styles, low prices."

The ladies of the Country Club published the History of Washington Township in 1904, but they provided little information about women in business. Teachers mentioned included Julia Rappleye, Laura Fowler, Mollie Reeder, Emma Reeder, Louise Earley, Flora Brown, Cora Simpson, Addie Ross, Miss Naylor, Miss Everett, Miss Mott, and Miss Thompson. A few ladies were mentioned as being honorary members of the Pioneer Society. Mrs. Ham is recognized as an operator of "the first singing school" in Centerville, but usually women were recognized only for their civic and social contributions.

Ads for women in business became more common after 1900. Mrs. Agnes Smith was listed as a "Milly" (short for milliner) in 1907. "Burnt Xmas and New Year articles" were available at Miss Emma Simpson's after December 23, 1908. Miss Underwood advertised "Electric Needle Specialist, superfluous hair and all facial blemishes removed, shampooing and facial massage, Parisian Method, interviews requested." By 1912 Mrs. J. A. Coney was suggesting "for style you go to Mrs. Coney's in Centerville for your Easter Hats." Mrs. Amenskamp operated a Millinery Parlor that featured Spring Hats and Bonnets and even bleached old hats to "make them look like new."

It appears that Centerville had a variety of beauty parlors in the thirties and forties. Amanda Simmons was proprietor of the Centerville Beauty Shoppe in 1936 where ladies could get "Permanents and all Lines of Beauty Culture." Two years later this same ad was by Anne King. Swainson's Beauty Salon on South Main boasted "that the correct interpretation of the smartness of the day is always found in Swainson's Style Coiffures," and Rita Mae's Beauty Salon gave "Auto-Thermac Machineless Waves." Esther Jason operated the Cut-n-Curl Beauty Salon in 1940 featuring Revlon products and "all types of beauty culture." Mrs. Rachel Gillett later operated her Rachel's Beauty Shop.

Women also engaged in other business ventures. Mrs. John Harry advertised "Tailored to Measure Drapes and Curtains." Viola Davis and Beatrice Smith sold Knodt's Flowers at the Vee Bee Apparel Shop, and Thelma Lemas operated "The Floral Bouquet" for Henry Miller.

One of Centerville's most enduring business women was Velma Francis Lewis. She was born to a pioneer Centerville family in 1904, grew up in the area, graduated from Washington High School and married highway patrolman Joseph Duffy Lewis. Velma served as organist at Holy Spirit and St. Leonard's Catholic churches and also owned and operated Velma Lewis Real Estate, Broker and Insurance for some 60 years.

Now a number of women conduct a variety of successful business enterprises in Centerville. They follow a long line of pioneer women who led the way.

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