Nora C. Edwards papers
Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
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Nora C. Edwards was one of several children of C.A. and William Edwards and attended school in Wisconsin. She taught school sporadically in Shoeyville and Monroe, Green County, Wisconsin in 1887 and in the mid-1890s in River Falls, St. Croix County, Wisconsin. During 1888, she and her sister Annie worked in an overall factory in Beloit, Wisconsin. By 1898 she was involved in business in Rockford, Illinois, and continued her work after a move to Waterloo, Iowa in 1900. The earliest extant correspondence with a patent attorney regarding her invention dates from 1900.
Edwards's skirt supporter was first patented in the United States and Canada in 1903. The purpose of the skirt supporter was to fasten a dress skirt and a shirt waist together so that the shirt waist would not slip up the back, and that the dress skirt would not drop below the waistline. It appears that the Edwards Skirt Supporter Company was established around 1903 in Spooner, Wisconsin, where her family resided.
Edwards was the manager and inventor for the company and her brothers Charles H. Edwards, and then later David W. Edwards held the position of secretary/treasurer. During 1903, her sister-in-law Carrie Edwards (living in Spooner) made the supporters from materials the company purchased from suppliers. During the years 1903 through early 1905, Edwards traveled throughout the south and midwest United States, making contacts and hiring women agents to sell the skirt supporters. By September 1905, Nora Edwards permanently relocated to Buffalo, New York, where she maintained the company's headquarters. She also had an office in Toronto, Canada which was managed by Florence Harvey. As early as 1907, Edwards applied for a reissue patent application for improvements on the skirt supporter and many of her claims were disallowed. She also faced competition from other skirt supporter 2 manufacturers that used construction techniques similar to hers. Edwards also received patents for improvements on a garment fastener and skirt gages, and planned on applying for a patent for a bunion protector. By 1917, Edwards sold out part of her business.
The papers of Nora E. Edwards are both personal and business and consist of letters she received from family members, agents, friends, and patent attorneys. The letters often combine personal and business matters. Letters from her agents describe conditions they faced while attempting to sell the skirt supporters, ordering additional supporters, and trying to interest customers in purchasing them. There are also letters from patent attorneys James L. Norris, Emil Newhart, and Geyer and Popp regarding patent applications, challenges to Edwards's patent, and reissue of the patent. The letters from family members include her parents, C.A. Edwards and William Edwards; brothers Charles H. Edwards and David W. Edwards; sisters Annie Keister and Mattie Brown; and sister-in-law Carrie Edwards (wife of Charles). These letters mention her business as well as family matters and give descriptive accounts of life in rural Wisconsin.
Edwards also received letters from friends living throughout the United States. There is correspondence from Retta H. Wecherly and Winnifred Hildebrant describing life in North Dakota in the 1890s and early twentieth century. Letters from Edwards's friends (primarily female) frequently contain their observations regarding their occupations as teachers, clerical workers and store clerks.