Unraveling Workers’ Letters: The Voices behind Nelly Don

All in a Day’s Work: What Mattered to the Letter Writers

Fair wages, safe working conditions, health insurance, and paid vacations—the workers who cut, stitched, pressed, and packed Nelly Don dresses consistently expressed a sense of satisfaction, even pride, in being employees of the Donnelly Garment Company (DGC).  Their letters also provide a glimpse into how their jobs allowed them to support their families through the Great Depression and pursue their own dreams.

Page one of letter

Mildred Reece

In her two-page letter, Mildred Reece describes the poor health of her mother and husband and her family’s struggle to make ends meet.  The DGC advanced her enough money to get back on her feet.  “I shall never be able to thank them enough for that,” wrote Reece.

Anna L. Molle, Letter

Anna L. Molle

Born in February 1907, Anna L. Molle shared a house in Kansas City’s Columbus Park neighborhood with two of her siblings, Bert and Angeline.  Molle’s wages from the DGC allowed her to keep the home in good repair and pay off the mortgage.

Gladys H. Austin, Letter

Gladys H. Austin

A widow, Gladys H. Austin was the sole provider for her two children. Though she had worked in hotels and stores, her job at the DGC was unrivaled in terms of “good salary and pleasant work.”

Rhoda Jackson, Letter

Rhoda Jackson

Rhoda Jackson used her wages to purchase a home, and in her letter, she notes that her coworkers are also buying houses; sending children to school’ and “doing a lot of good with their earnings.”  Jackson closes by expressing gratitude for the “brightness and sunshine” her job affords her and other DGC employees who joined her in affiliating with the Donnelly Garment Workers Union (DGWU) that had been organized as an alternative to the ILGWU.

Minnie Allen, Letter, page one

Minnie Allen

A 63-year-old widow, Minnie Allen had been working at the DGC for 15 years, when she penned her letter in 1937.  She declares that feels “younger and better” than when she first started sewing Nelly Don dresses.  Like many of coworkers, she depended on the DGC’s steady wages to support her loved ones.  She financed the educations of her two sons and supported her aging mother.