Nelly Don

I can see this bit of street art (pictured below) from the deck of my loft in Kansas City and have wondered what the story was behind the image. Here is a bit of it from

John and Catherine Quinlan had 13 children. Nell was the 12th child and the fifth daughter. She was christened Ellen Howard Quinlan but her older sisters quickly took to calling her Nell. She grew up in the small railroad town of Parsons, Kansas, where her father worked as a farmer and worked in the shop at the Katy Railroad. ... Nell was relegated to wearing hand-me-down clothes from her older sisters and learned to sew early on so as to repair and re-size the clothes that she was given.
At age 16 she moved to Kansas City in 1905. Nell did not want to wear the everyday Mother Hubbard fashions women were resigned to wearing in those days so she started making her own dresses. She gave them away to her family, friends and neighbors who soon encouraged her to sell them, which she did. In 1916, Peck's Dry Goods Store in Kansas City ordered 18 dozen of Nell's dresses and her business was off and running.

The name "Nelly Don" was a creative transposition of Donnelly (i.e Don Nelly), her husband's last name, and her nickname. By 1923, Nell had 250 employees. By 1931, Nell had more than a thousand employees and $3.5 million in sales. Her factory was making five-thousand dresses a day and continued to do so under her leadership for the next 25 years. ... Nelly Don manufactured 75 million dresses from 1916 to 1978 making it the largest dress manufacturer of the 20th century. They were one of the first companies to apply assembly line techniques to clothing manufacturing. It was reported that she only had to dismiss one employee in the entire history of the company.
Nell was greatly loved by her employees. She was the largest manufacturer of women's military and work clothing during World War II. She fought unionization successfully. In 1947 she built the largest dress manufacturing plant in the world. Nell lived to be 102 years old, outliving all her brothers and sisters.


  1. She probably wouldn't do so well today what with all the government regulations.

    1. I wonder about that too Lana. Nelly Don did have to declare Chapter 10 bankruptcy in 1978. More about that here.


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