Nelly Don: Self-Made, Ready-Made (2013)

Nelly Don was a successful design label of the Donnelly Garment Company, an apparel manufacturing company in Kansas City, Missouri. Mrs. Ellen Quinn Donnelly Reed was a truly self-made American success story, creating and managing one of the largest women’s dress companies in the United States. The Nelly Don label grew into a multi-million dollar company, producing good quality dresses at reasonable prices. “Out in the Mid-west a woman has this big American idea: to use modern factory dressmaking to give the ‘mostest of the bestest for the leastest.’” Locally, Nelly Don garments were offered to the public through Parks Department Store, a long-time retail establishment once located in downtown Columbia.

This exhibition highlighted a variety of modestly-priced yet fashionable Nelly Don styles and the quality workmanship and design details involved in the creation of these ready-made designs. Artifacts on display included those in MHCTC holdings as well as garments belonging to Terence O’Malley, great-nephew of Reed. Also included were company papers and advertisements from the State Historical Society of Missouri – Kansas City. The collaborative exhibit was created for Women’s History Month and was displayed in the State Historical Society of Missouri Art Gallery on the University of Missouri campus.

display of several Nelly Don pieces

Click images to learn more. Historical and donor information will appear.

Cotton Dress; c. 1950s; Gift of Brown
Cotton Dress; c. Mid 1940s; Gift of Cortelyou
Rayon Dress; c. 1940s; Loan by O’Malley
Cotton Dress and Jacket; c. 1920s; Loan by O’Malley
Cotton Dress; c. 1950s; Gift of DRI
Dotted Swiss Cotton Dress; c. Late 1930s; Gift of Deaton