History of old aprons : "Along the Way"

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN)- So what do you think of when you think of old aprons?
Probably nothing right? Nothing at all.
But we found one woman, who's spent a lot of time, thinking about old aprons.

Keystone was once a gold mining town, where riches were discovered underground.
Now it's a bustling tourist mecca, where it's visitors who bring the riches to town.

And up at the Keystone Museum, we found a jewel of another color:
Jeanie Kirkpatrick is the director of this place, but she's also a bit of an expert on something else: unrelated to the museum but still old, aprons, really old aprons.

Author Jeanie Kirkpatrick says, "People didn't have washing machines like nowadays and so Monday was wash day and remember there was usually no closets, very limited storage. You had to protect your clothes," says author Jeanie Kirkpatrick.

A few years ago in college, as part of earning her Master's Degree, she studied Aprons from the era of 1894 to 1944. She's even written a book about them.

"So my research was based out of popular women's magazines at the time, the Sears catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog," Kirkpatrick says.

Her inspiration? Observations of how aprons were used in her childhood church back in Iowa.

"And it seemed like there was a hierarchy, which woman got which apron. Then it was real interesting which apron was allowed to leave the kitchen and go back and forth. And then certain aprons had to stay in the kitchen because they weren't worthy of being seen outside the kitchen," she explains.

Often overlooked now, it appears, aprons once carried different levels of prestige, and were assigned different roles.

"This would be known as a hostess apron so say if your huband all the sudden come home, and he brings home the boss, the wife would take off her kitchen apron and this apron would be able to go back and forth between the kitchen and hosting," Kirkpatrick says.

This one is elegant, a hostess apron, too fancy for doing dishes. This one, not meant for working at all, known as a souvenir apron, not to be worn but rather placed on a wall.

"This is from Poland, World War 1, dated 1918. And so some of the soldiers would get these and bring them back," she says.

She says they'd either give them to their mother, or if married to their wife. This year this apron is 100 years old. It is, she says, the oldest apron in her collection of about 25 or 30 aprons. The fabric of an apron weaves a tale as well, like one she shows us, and estimates it's from the 1940's or 50's. It's crocheted she says in a common pattern and color.

"The one thing about this one, someone with a very small waist, you can tell," points out Kirkpatrick.

Everything from fancy and sheer to something far different.

"So this is a work apron, not a hostess apron, it actually is probably a feed sack apron, so it was popular in the 30's and 40's for companies to put material that could be used for the family, because times were hard into a feed sack," she says.

But she does have a favorite apron. She shows it to us and explains why it means so much to her.

"This is my Great Aunt Marian's apron. She's no longer with us, she would always wear this when we would get together and she would prepare a meal," she explains.

However, aprons, once standard, fell out of favor for a while.

"It kinda shows when women were starting to work out in the workforce , or in the 60's when they burned their bra's, it was almost like they burned their aprons too," Kirkpatrick says.

She says aprons are making a comeback. As for the old ones, they have stories of their own, preserved in the fabric they were made in.

"Think about maybe the possible woman that owned it at one point. Think about how she used it, how many noses were wiped on it, how many tears were wiped away, how much hardship it saw or how much happiness it saw," Kirkpatrick says.

Often aprons are handed down from generation to generation. Her book "Dating 50 Years of Aprons 1894-1944", is meant to help people figure out the era their old aprons are from.

While Jeanie is the Director and Curator of the Keystone Historical Museum. Her apron collection is not part of the museum itself.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let us know.