James’ Brand New Blog

Holeproof Hosiery, Marie Prevost & Dana Brushette

- February 2nd, 2013

Holeproof Hosiery col

London’s hem lines were on the rise in the 1920s.
Credit image to Alice Gibb’s SoHo industries project.

This charming image is a reminder JBNBlog’s search for the stories behind (shaped by? embraced by?) London’s hosiery industry is just beginning . . . thanks to Stephen Harding for sending it along & a deep bow to Alice Gibb for discovering it in the mighty SoHo rephoenixing. Its appearance here is part of JBNBlog’s effort to help Jennifer Lorraine Fraser’s Women, Freedom & Hosiery project.

Details follow . . . Marie Prevost, may you be up there smiling somehow & know JLF will do right by you . . . Dana Brushette, you are part of creative London — what a talent . . . &, while this may surprise JLF & everybody else, leading Canadian historian Joan Sangster (cited here) & JBNBlog were ball hockey teammates some decades ago at Trent U & later . . . Joan, now & then, you patrol the left wing like nobody else.

First some Penmans images & then more background on this project. Thanks to everybody who has & will jump in . . . the whole proof is out there.

penman women (2)

  1. Unknown, Young Woman Working at Penman’s LTD, http://images.ourontario.ca/brant/72350/data accessed November 22 2012

 

  1. Unknown, Penman’s LTD, London Ontario circa 1919, http://images.ourontario.ca/london/2419140/data accessed November 22 2012

 

  1. Unknown, Penman’s Hosiery Advertisement, circa 1934 http://www.adclassix.com/a5/31penmanssilkhosiery.html accessed November 25, 2012

 

3. Women, Freedom and Hosiery

“When I put on my own silk stockings, then I knew I was free.”[1]

The history of hosiery is vast, and this piece will outline the role London, Ontario and surrounding area has played within the large historical landscape. Within you will find three sections; the first being a brief history of the hosiery mills of London, the roles women were forced to participate within, and, finally, a localized curatorial proposal to highlight these lost histories. Which is inspired by the article by Margo Mensing, “Lace Curtains For Troy.” Which discusses how a region explores their textile past by creating a contemporary artistic conversation with the past to highlight their present.[2]

London, Ontario was home to (at least) three hosiery mills, stemming as far back as 1911. These were; The Holeproof Hosiery Mill, 1911, The London Hosiery Mill LTD, 1915 and Penman’s LTD, 1919.[3] The company with the most transcribed information is that of Penman’s (figures 8-10). Begun in Paris, Ontario in 1868, Penman’s was at the forefront of the textile industry in Canada.[4] It is now the name brand of hosiery for Walmart Canada, and is used to instill a sense of Canadian Identity and longevity within the company.[5]

Penman’s came to London in 1919 to set up an underwear and hosiery mill.[6] “Women were preferred as workers for their dexterity.”[7] However, women had different working regulations than men, especially during the 1930s and 40s,[8] a worker relates: “The job (to make the foot of the stocking) had always been done by women but all the women were aged from 30 to 45 and no newcomers had been taught for years. The laws in Ontario at that time were very strict as far as women workers were concerned. There was a minimum wage and hours of work law. It was very strict on overtime and night work was prohibited.”[9]  What he does not mention, is the potential reason for younger women to work at the mills. (figure. 1) Young girls who were considered to be in need of discipline began to work at the mills between the ages of 14-16, much younger than their male counterparts.[10] There is also mention of female displacement and how they came to work at the mills, as single mothers or single-headed households.[11] However, many references lack the information of how working at hosiery mills was, at times, legally imposed upon young women.

The Female Refuges Act (FRA) of Ontario, 1897-1964, allowed for young women to be incarcerated, primarily, those who showed signs of sexual transgression and a questioning of authority. [12] “From 1920 to the late 1950s these provisions in the FRA allowed Parents police, welfare authorities and the Children’s Aid Society ( CAS) to use incarceration as a means to regulate the sexual and moral behavior of women perceived to be “Out of Sexual Control.” [13] One woman recounts how: “She tried to support herself and the baby by working at the hosiery mill and as a domestic issued a warrant for her arrest and the prison urged sterilization.”[14]

I have not found definite examples that the specific hosiery mills of London, Ontario played a role in the punishment of women. However, I did find information that women who were sent to Toronto were in-turn sent away to work at the surrounding hosiery mills.[15] The knowledge of the FRA inspired me to imagine an exhibition that illuminated, and uplifted the lost histories of these women; accomplished through the use of past and present transgressive imagery of women.  The pin-up is an icon of 1950s North American culture, however, it had its roots in the arcade cards of the First World War era, the 1920s – 30s and earlier. (Figures 11,12) Marie Prevost, an actress who was born in Sarnia, Ontario, was the subject/object of many of these girly cards. (Figures 13-15) Upon discovering her story, (which would be another thousand or more words) I imagined what could happen if her image, and the historical arcade cards of Canadian women were juxtaposed with contemporary imagery. Could it open the door for a discourse on the nature of women’s work. I set out to search for a contemporary artist working with the idea of the pin-up today. Found was the stylized images created by Dana Brushette of London, Ontario. (Figures 16-18)

Brushette found her love of vintage images and textile from her mother and in her discovery of Marilyn Monroe.[16] As a graduate of Fanshawe College in 2005, she began to create modern pin-up images to showcase the confidence of contemporary women,[17] “when I do a pin up session I can tell the women really love it, it’s for everyone and every size, it shows confidence and sex appeal without having to expose the self, It’s about the tease and the taunt.”[18] I propose that juxtaposing Brushette’s work with images of Marie Prevost and other arcade cards of the 1920s could be a start of conversation into the silence of what women have endured in this region, and while offering the dignity in the ability to express their sexuality, which our predecessors lacked.

The history of the hosiery mills is one that is wrought with silence. Perhaps, it could be because of the horrific actions of those imposing the FRA on young women. Whatever the case, a 500+ word essay can barely scratch the surface of the roles these mills played in the lives of women living in Ontario, and London in particular, during the first part of the twentieth century. What can happen is a complete embrace of women that have and continue to step out on their own and fight for the right to their own sexual expression and identity.  This can begin with embracing images of women. Images used to challenge stereotypes with beauty, humour and a freedom of expression, as we see, in the girly pictures from the 1920s to today

 

Bibliography:

Austin, Barbara. Penmans, Faculty of Business of Brock University, ASAC Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2002 http://luxor.acadiau.ca/library/ASAC/v23/232401.pdf accessed November 16, 2012

 

Brushette, Dana. Email to Author, November 12, 2012

 

Edwards, Alfred. The Mill: A Worker’s Memoir of the 1930s and 1940sLabour/Le Travail, 36 (Fall 1995), 253-98. http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/llt/article/view/5008/5877 accessed November 16, 2012

 

 

Landsberg, Michelle. Plight of Incorrigible Women Demands Justice, Sunday Star May 6 2001 http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/news/plight-incorrigible-women-demands-justice accessed November 15, 2012

Mensing, Margo. Lace Curtains For Troy,

Parr, Joy. The Gender of Breadwinners: Women Men and Change in Two Industrial Towns 1880-1950, University of Toronto Press 1990

Sangster, Joan. Incarcerating “Bad Girls”: The Regulation of Sexuality through the Female Refuges Act in Ontario, 1920-1945 Journal of the History of Sexuality , Vol. 7, No. 2 (Oct., 1996), pp. 239-275 Published by: University of Texas Press http://www.jstor.org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/stable/3704141 accessed November 15, 2012

 

Inspired by a favorite song from my teenage years. Rattled Roosters. Bad Girl Too, Vancouver, BC 1994 Video 2007 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FPUZmB6HUk accessed November 16, 2012

 

hosiery woman (2)

 

  1. Unknown, Arcade Card, circa 1920s http://chuckman1920sarcadecardbeauties.wordpress.com/2012/02/ Accessed November 22 2012

 

  1. Unknown, Arcade Card, circa 1920s http://chuckman1920sarcadecardbeauties.wordpress.com/2012/02/ Accessed November 22 2012

 

marie on swing (2)

  1. Unknown, Marie Prevost on Swing, circa 1920s, http://chuckman1920sarcadecardbeauties.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/photo-for-arcade-card-movie-star-marie-prevost-on-swing-in-bathing-suit-in-studio/ Accessed November 15 2012

 

  1. Unknown, Marie Prevost in The Godless Girl, 1929 http://thebluelantern.blogspot.ca/2009/02/marie-prevost-in-godless-girl.html accessed November 15 2012

 

  1. Unknown, Found image on a search for images of Marie Prevost, lost link and unsure if it is actually her, Love the imagery and think that the use of hosiery is interesting would love to search for more information on this image if the time allowed. Accessed November 12 2012

 

dana brushette hosiery (2)

16-18. Dana Brushette, Cheesecake images, recent, http://www.danabrushette.com/gallery-2/cheese-cake/ accessed November 12 2012

 

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16 comments

  1. Alice Gibb says:

    Great to see that someone is highlighting London’s hosiery factories. There was a huge spread on the Holeproof Hosiery enterprise in the Free Press on January 25, 1950 when the plant was expanded. Also, former Free Press columnist Christine Dirks (I still miss her wonderful Cityscapes column) highlighted the factory in an Oct. 17, 1999 piece. For many years, I had a storage unit at the former Holeproof building, which later became City Centre Storage. It was very spooky to go in at night, and ride up on the creaky old freight elevator with the heavy steel doors. You would think you were alone in the building, and suddenly there would be all sorts of mysterious sounds – likely just an old building settling but of course, one always imagined the worst!! Sadly, many of the original fixtures, like the brass lamps on the exterior of the structure, had to be removed because they were being stolen or damaged. I know that there was a very bitter labor strike at Holeproof at one point – I just don’t know the dates. There are still women who are members of the Horton Street Seniors Club who once worked at the hosiery company.

  2. Women's paid work says:

    Do these ex-stocking makers recall the job as oppressive
    as suggested or was it their choice over other occupations
    for women at the time? Did any work in this industry during
    the second world war and if so what related products were
    being made ? We do know that in the first world war there
    were constant pleas for more socks for soldiers overseas.
    Companion to female hose were the gartered devices to
    hold them up, a line to pursue next ?

  3. Women's paid work says:

    Our guess is that the females portrayed were not exploring their
    sexuality, just trying to bring home a paycheque. Who was
    “exploring their sexuality” were the gawking guys who bought into
    the imagery.
    Any idea who the early advertising agencies were? The artists and
    photographers who make their livings from girly work ?
    Reference online to the City of London going up against Holeproof
    Canada in 1933, right up the SCC. What was that about ?

  4. Douglas Flood says:

    You missed Supersilk Hoseiry Mills on Florence and Eleanor Streets. Owned by Col Thompson. Buiding is still there. I have an old picture of the begining of it when it was at the corner of Richmond and Piccadilly streets under the offices of the Supertest building. They owned it too. Also Richmond Hoseiry. It was located on Ridout street west side between King and York streets. When they closed John Parker and his brother Wilffred bought some of the machines and opened up a mill in Clinton and called it PAR-KNIT Hosiery . Several of the Parker family worked at Supersilk and at the mill in Clinton. Holeproof became Keyser-Roth and moved out to Highbury and Brydgess Streets. Holproof had a strike in the early 1950 and the plant was closed and the machines were taken out and sent to a mill in Quebec. If you look at the East end of the building you can see where the bricks were replaced after the mechines where removed. It was then converted to Keyser-Roth. as well as Jansens bathing suits. Eleanor Flood is a Parker and worked at Supersilk as a summer student.. Findley Carrol’s wife worked there. He was an insepector on the London Police department then. He went to work in a suit and tie she went to work in overhaulls. I worked the site during the strike when it was closing.

  5. Douglas Flood says:

    Forgot to mention they produced rayon as well as nylon hose. My father in law Jim Parker was a knitter at Supersilk and started at the Richmond Street location.. There were toppers, seamers,loopers boarders a die house
    as well as people sizeing and packaging the stockings. The mill worked pretty well 24 hours a day. My father in law died at the age of 39 years. He was full of silk dust. He had bininousis. Hewas not the only one. They were all on peice work and made very good money.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Hello everyone! Thank you so very much for all of your comments. Thank you James for posting this! :) The piece that you are reading is a very rough draft of a class assignment. The project is now set to be created and you can find a more condensed version here. http://www.indiegogo.com/jenniferlorraine I am looking for any and all stories. if you have any please email me at jenniferlorraine33@gmail.com
    Any info on the hosiery mills would be greatly appreciated.
    As for the question about the women’s work… and hosiery I am still in the research phase. But please do come to my show in May to be held at Weldon, and hopefully by then I will have a more clear understanding of the project I am undertaking.

    Thank you,
    Jennifer Lorraine Fraser

  7. Re silk stockings quote says:

    We need to remember that the teenager so happy to be rid of the cotton stockings of reformatory wear also had acquired a baby while in custody, according to the much later Star piece by Ms. Landsberg.
    “Preggies” were given better care by that time, including being taken into warm friendly families to help with domestic chores while the months passed. Thanks to Mr. Flood for more on the hosiery industry skills..no
    Luddites there.

  8. Pat Massier says:

    My mother, Ethel Mitchell (nee Foreman) worked at London Hosiery starting at about the age of 19 after coming from England at the age of 16 in 1929. Her older brother and an Uncle worked at Penmans and her younger brother started at “The Hosiery” sweeping the floor and moved on to later become the Controller.
    I have pictures of her and her friends standing out side of the plant in about 1940 when she was about 28. There were 20 or so women from the Hosiery that formed the knitting club about 1935 or so and they continued to meet every second Monday for about 60 years. When they had children, they stopped the meetings for the summer but they met at each other’s houses the rest of the year.
    When I was a child my mother looped in our basement and Ray Capener (I believe that was his name) delivered bags of stuff every few days and picked up the finished product. My mother was very fast on the looper and made what she called “good money” at it. She never considered herself exploited and loved the work and the friends she made. One of these friends married into our family and one was my godmother so they were life-long friends. I think there may be 2 women who belonged to the club still living.

  9. Ms Fraser at Western a question says:

    Could you tell us the exact title of the class assignment, and in what course it was given?

  10. To whom it may concern says:

    FYI A site called UrbEx Barrie has 2 good pix of the SoHo building as of04.2008. Here is his comment..
    “Holeproof London
    The building located at 203 Bathurst Street in London is known as the “City Centre Storage” building, but only a limited number of Londoners know that this was at one time a textile factory and a very important industry.
    In 1919, American industrialist Carl Freschl constructed this 4-storey, 9,000-square-metre structure on the corner of Bathurst and Clarence to house his hosiery business, Holeproof Hosiery Co. This company’s flagship factory was in Milwaukee but was expanding by leaps and bounds. Holeproof already had a smaller operation in London from 1911 but needed to expand their production capabilities. As Mr. Freschl needed to received his raw materials and shipped his finished goods for this factory by rail, the location was expertly chosen just south of the rail yards. The business at one time employed 500 Londoners.”

  11. Jennifer says:

    The course I took was the first one: You can find more information on their website here: http://www.uwo.ca/visarts/undergradcourses.html I wish I could’ve also taken the second on with Professor Elliot. Two remarkable profs, Prof. Robertson and Prof. Elliot offering these courses that are so incredibly interesting! The assignment was to read the article lace curtains for troy by Margo Mensing and create an artistic statement about my own home town’s textile history and this is what I came up with. : )

    VAH 2235F What (Not) to Wear: Fashion, Textiles and Art I (Fall 2012) – Tuesdays > 2:30-5:30 pm
    This course looks at convergences between art and fashion from the 19th century to now. From the catwalk to the sweatshop, this class investigates how clothing ends up in our hands, and asks what we can learn from its passages across the globe. How the making, wearing and disposal of fashion impacts the world? From the high fashion scenes of designers such as Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan to the lesser known world of prison couture, and from low-tech hand-knitting to the high-tech world of intelligent textiles, smart fabrics and wearable technologies, this class will introduce students to the many layers and wide expanse of the fashion industry, particularly as it intersects with the art world. Please note that this course complements VAH 2236G but can also be taken separately.

    VAH 2236G What (Not) to Wear: Fashion, Textiles and Art II (WInter 2013) – Tuesdays > 2:30-5:30 pm
    This course looks at convergences between art and fashion from the 19th century to now.
    It will consider the work of artists like Sonia Delaunay and Issey Miyake who have designed textiles and clothing as well as more popular cultural icons such as Lady Gaga and Madonna whose distinctive styles reference the art world. We will trace the complex histories of textile production with its patterns and fibres such as paisley and felt, not to mention particular items of clothing like the corset and saree. We will also examine how subcultural styles — from skinhead and goth to rapper and steampunk — have been defined, mixed and mashed. Central to all of these topics is the way fashion has been exhibited in museums, films and the media as well as on television and the internet. Finally, the everyday art of DIY refashioning and retrochic will set the stage for studying antifashion and ecofashion. Please note that this course complements VAH 2235F but can also be taken separately.

  12. Jennifer says:

    Also, to the people sharing stories here would I be able to have your permission to include them in my catalogue? I would love for positive examples of the hosiery industries as well.
    I found an incredible book if anyone is interested: http://www.amazon.ca/Torontos-Girl-Problem-Pleasures-1880-1930/dp/0802005985
    I’m wondering if any or much of the research found holds true for London?

    Thank you to everyone for helping me!! With only a month or so to have a rough draft written I need all the help I can get : ) Such a huge project with a limited amount of time to execute I am grateful for all of your posts.

    Jennifer Lorraine Fraser

  13. Douglas Flood says:

    Jennifer you may use what ever I have sent you re Supersilk. If you search Richmond Hoseiry you may find it was like Holeproof an American chain. If you would like a copy of the picture of the Supersilk starting point at Richmond and Piccadilly streets we would be happy to get you one for your project.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Thank you Douglas, I will do. I also found a thesis from the 1930s describing all of the hosiery mills. If you are on facebook, the event page is here. I’m working now on editing my exhibition catalogue what a daunting task. So far have 24 pages. Your info will be of use. https://www.facebook.com/events/140767759428424/permalink/140782179426982/?notif_t=like

  15. Jennifer says:

    oh and yes please if you could forward me the picture of the hosiery mill, I will be greatly appreciative.

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