Making a Living Making Quilts: A Historical Perspective

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Emma Zimmer Brockstedt and the Mail Order Business

Dry goods store about 1900

In 1885 Emma Zimmer, a 20 year old resident of St. Louis, is listed in the city directory as running a dry goods store at 2930 Chouteau Avenue. She was second to the last in a long alphabetic list of dry goods merchants.

In this series I've been following women business owners and Emma is one worth following. The next year she married Henry Marcus Brockstedt, fourteen years older than she. Henry ran a job printing shop; he was a  professional printer who might produce books like the city directory above or single sheets such as handbills. Born in Europe, he came to St. Louis as a young child.

Olive & 3rd Streets looking North in 1854 
Missouri Historical Society

Henry's printing business was at 3rd & Olive between 1887 and 1891 according to quilt historian Connie Chunn. Brother Walter was also a printer. Their father Johann Brockstedt ran a St. Louis grocery store. 

In September, 1886 Henry and Emma's daughter Alma was born and two years later another daughter was named Emma. 

The couple combined their businesses---drygoods and printing. In 1889 they published a catalog of  the needlework designs with a focus on patchwork patterns. The enterprise was called the Ladies' Art Company in keeping with the late-19th-century trend for art needlework (the implication being that the patterns were more sophisticated and a better use of one's time than old-fashioned fancywork.)

Cover of the 1897 edition of the catalog
Collection of Connie Chunn.
Notice the name under the Ladies' Art Co. title
"H.M. Brockstedt, Manager."

Emma Z. Brockstedt was never mentioned.

Quilters value the Ladies' Art Company for the pattern booklets, which were reworked and re-published over the years between 1889 and into the 1930s and then again in the 1970s. Connie estimates over 75 catalogs were published. I assume she means catalogs of all kinds of needlework.

Their Practical Tatting Book was copyrighted by Deaconess, a pseudonym for Emma Brockstedt, according to the copyright records from the teens. She also published crochet and cross-stitch books.

See more about the Ladies Art Company in this post:

An ad for Fancy Work Hand-books
Written By Deaconess, probably Emma.

Patchwork was popular but redwork outline embroidery was
the rage. Many of their quilt catalogs included ads for printed paper

Stamped decorative linens...

And stamped pillowcases.

They seem to have sold everything at one time or another...

From needlework tools
to furniture.

Their business model is familiar. In fact, it's quite like Emma Keytes Wilcockson's who with her husband Herbert operated a Fancy Repository in London in the 1850s and '60s. Emma Wilcockson knew needlework; Herbert was a printer, a practical partnership.
Read about the Wilcocksons at this post:

My guess is that H.M. Brockstedt was responsible for the printing from patterns on pillowcases to paper pamphlets and Emma Brockstedt was responsible for the needlework content. He has gotten all the credit because that is the way they presented the business.

The only mention I can find of her is in the copyright records of her publications under the penname Deaconess.

Emma probably did not write this booklet in their catalog,
Hunters and Trappers Practical Guide

 They must have been quite successful. Connie found records of 50 employees in the 1930s.

Their crypt at Hillcrest Abbey Mausoleum in St. Louis.

I haven't found much information about their personal lives. After Henry died in 1920 Emma went to live with her eldest daughter Alma in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she died on September 2, 1948 when she was 84 years old.

Alma married Charles Lane and died in Wyoming in 1973. At 19 she'd made headlines by swimming three miles in the Mississippi River.

Younger daughter Emma died in a terrible accident, playing with a bonfire when she was seven years old. A telling news story announcing her death ended with,
"The victim was a daughter of Henry M. Brockstedt....He is almost frantic with grief."

Once again, no mention of Emma Zimmer Brockstedt.

Ladies' Art Company printed pattern card

1 comment:

  1. Hi Barb,
    Thank you for this write-up on Emma Zimmer Brockstedt in your Women's Work blog. Cuesta Benberry first mentioned that Ladies Art Co. employed more than 50 people in her "Nimble Needles Treasure" article on LAC in the Spring 1971 edition. In 1965 she had received a note from the Ladies Art Company which stated "At one time Ladies Art employed 58 people to handle the mail." They exchanged several letters during the 1960s when Cuesta was adding to her quilt pattern collection.

    After Henry died in 1920, Emma continued to run the Ladies Art Company business with her daughter Clarissa Brockstedt Sommers and her husband Gordon. Emma moved to Wyoming some time in 1947.

    Emma Zimmer Brockstedt was, indeed, an incredible woman.