“She Reigned As Louisiana’s Queen”
As flamboyant as those gorgeous early hats she made, was Maggie Dunphy, milliner. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that she reigned in Louisiana, our Queenly milliner, for over sixty-five years.
In those days, the last decades of the nineteenth, and early decades of the twentieth century, hats were hats, were artistic creations, were made or at least trimmed by hand, and were worn by the ladies when they went out in the daytime. Hats counted; were plumed, beribboned, adorned with flower-and over all this Maggie presided. But that was not all – no, that was not all!
She arrived when she was fifteen, a real beauty, tall, black-eyed, with the wit of the Irish, and a tender heart besides, She worked in Miss Smith’s millinery shop on Georgia Street, and when Miss Smith married and retired from hats about 1892, Dunphy took over the shop and ran it herself.
Her shop was the place. A kind of a social center, where friends dropped in all day, the conversation was gay and lively. If Dunphy was alone, you were lucky and could have her undivided attention – over the hat her nimble fingers decorated. And more and more as the years went on, that shop was a place where the poor and needy came, knowing they would receive a welcome and real help with money, clothing or what was needed.
In her book of memoirs, “The Pleasure is Mine,” publishes in 1947, Sara (Sadie) Wald Hart, who lived in Louisiana from 1888 to 1901, described Dunphy in the following words:
“Maggie Dunphy, the town milliner, was equally popular. Her store on Georgia Street was really our information bureau, or gossip headquarters. No one would have dreamed of going downtown without stopping to see Maggie.
“She was a large handsome woman who never married. She was under forty when I first met her, but one of those unusual characters who impress you with their agelessness. Her vitality delighted me, and I can still hear her infectious laugh.
“She might be trying a hat on some woman when I entered, but a local politician, or a visiting traveling man would be sitting about and the talk would fairly make the air sparkle. It was rambling, good-humored conversation that made one forget the minutesness of Louisiana and conscious only that here one was at the crossroads of the nation, where you could listen in on anything. A milliner from St. Louis was alleged to bring the new styles, but I suspect that Maggie made them up as she went along. She was a joy.”
In the fall and the spring of each year, Dunphy had an “opening”, with all the new hat styles, and she’d dress up, and model some of the numbers, and all the ladies of the town turned out, and it was an occasion!
Dunphy never told her age. It was fun to speculate. She was in her nineties when she died November 29, 1960, some say early nineties, some say late nineties. But she never seemed really old, and ran her shop until the last.
She was a sparkling creature. Her personality was magnetic. She played an excellent hand of bridge, was everyone’s confidante – young and old, and a devout member of the Roman Catholic Church.
She used to go to the Lotus Club dances.
Long before there was a paid Red Cross representative in Louisiana, she was a Red Cross unpaid worker. She was the unfailing refuge of the ill, poor and troubled. In the middle years, she had a list of people, known to her, who would give money or supplies, and these she called on when something was needed. She tried to keep the individual contribution small, so that the donors would not feel too hard pressed – and this necessitated many a telephone call. She gave of herself unstintingly. The substantial persons on her list were glad to give for the families burned out or in the other trouble, the individuals in need, because Dunphy knew how to minister, and could be relied upon.
Friends and friendless could count on Dunphy to be the one to go along in the ambulance that took the seriously sick to St. Louis to the hospital, in the days before Pike County Hospital was built. How many persons near death must she have calmed by contagion of her own serene and simple faith!
There was nothing stuffy about Dunphy! She liked a drink and a laugh! She was vain enough to wear – for years – a thing called a “transformation”‘ which she tried to keep a secret – but could not. When short hair and simple hair styles came, back in the forties and fifties, she put aside the transformation, and appeared in her own greyed hair.
A younger sister came to stay with her, and Dunphy was like a mother to her. For years these were Dunphy and Miss Nell. Her sister’s death came long before Dunphy’s.
During the first World War she gathered together and organized the women to make the surgical dressings – which was done in one of the upper floors of the Younkers Building.
One citizen has a memory of Dunphy as co-leader of the wild parade that celebrated the false armistice that came about two weeks before the true armistice. Cowbells and Joy!
The writer of this article has a personal memory of roses Dunphy sent my mother, during my mother’s last illness. They were from Dunphy’s own back yard garden. Too ill for writing notes of thanks, my mother told me to thank Dunphy, and to say – which I did, “Your roses are magnificent – like you; and I love them – like you !” – Julia Benning1
Margaret (Maggie) Dunphy was born in Jerseyville, Illinois on February 29, 1872. She relocated to Louisiana as a young woman. For over 70 years she was a milliner in Louisiana. She worked with her sister Miss Nellie Dunphy for about 50 years and continued to make hats for about 20 years after her sister’s death. She owned M.M. Dunphy Millinery located at 318 Georgia from at least 1903 through 1906. At some point between 1906 and 1911 Maggie purchased 306 Georgia. Her shop is listed at 306 Georgia and her residence at 306 1/2 in the 1911, 1928 and 1937 directories. She lived in an apartment above the shop for the remainder of her life. She was a very charitable woman. During both World Wars she led the Pike County chapter of the Red Cross. She also supported Salvation Army fund drives. She died on November 29, 1960, at the age of 88. 2