Thursday, August 3, 2017

Who? Nelly Don Part 2

The Nelly Don Handy Dandy Apron was a genius of manufacturing. The seamstress never had to remove the garment from the machine to sew seams and this cut down greatly on production time. These aprons are the main reason Nelly Don managed to stay afloat during the Great Depression and keep most of her employees working year around.



By 1930 Nelly and her husband Paul were only married by name alone and Nelly was keeping company with her married neighbour James Reed. Reed was a three time Senator of Missouri and fought strongly for what he believed- "Rather Be Right Than President"- which prevented him being supported by his party as their presidential candidate. He retired from politics in 1929 and returned to his private law practice. 


In the summer of 1931 Nelly supposedly went to Europe to adopt a baby. Her husband Paul had always been opposed to the idea of children and was known for threatening to kill himself if she ever became pregnant. When she returned she had a baby boy named David Quinlan Donnelly born Sept 1931. It was accepted in most circles that he was the biological son of James Reed. 
During this period Paul seldom left the house due to illness and on Dec 16, 1931 Nelly and her chauffeur were kidnapped at the front gate of the house. It was thought that Paul was to be the intended abductee. When Reed heard of the kidnapping he was in trial in Jefferson City Missouri and he rushed to the Donnelly home from the courtroom. He forced Johnny Lazia a political gangster to find Nelly with a 24 hour time limit. Lazia is rumoured to have sent 25 carloads of hoodlums to find Nell, they found Nell and her chauffeur within 34 hours of the initial abduction.
Nell divorced Paul in 1932 after 26 years of marriage, in Oct of 1932 Reed's wife died of pneumonia at the age of 88(she was Reed's senior by 14 years). December 1933 at a dinner party Reed and Nell were married by a federal judge, Nell and Reed had a happy marriage and Reed officially adopted David. After 11 years of marriage Reed died of bronchitis September 1944 just a few days before David's 13th birthday. Nell never remarried but had a successful business for many years until selling her interest in the Donnelly Garment Company in 1956 at the age of 67.


Throughout her career in the world of fashion Nell was known for treating her employees well. She always said that anyone who worked at the company was part of her family. She established a pension plan for employees, provided morning and afternoon snacks, subsidized a cafeteria so staff could eat well but inexpensively. She also encouraged education by paying for any employee who wanted to do night courses for college and establishing a scholarship fund for employees children. She had a full medical clinic on site, paid for group hospitalization benefits and life insurance. Nell installed air conditioning as soon as it was provided to make working conditions more pleasant. Donnelly Garment Company also had a farm and mansion which were made available to employees for picnics, hiking and a rec centre. In 1947 Nelly Don was posting $14 million in annual sales and was the largest company of its kind in the world.
In the 50's Nelly Don's were famous for fit and how well they were made considering they were mass produced, employees were paid some of the highest wages in the industry. The Donnelly Garment Company was an example of what ready-to-wear manufacturing could and should be, high quality garments made by skilled workers in a supportive environment. After selling the business in 57' Nelly continued her involvement in business and civic affairs in Kansas City. She served on the school board, Kansas City Art Institute and many other social and cultural institutions. 
Nelly Don died Sept 8, 1991 at the age of 102, 47 years after her beloved Reed.

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