Wouldn’t you like to purchase a lovely hat like this one? That’s what Miss Gertrude Darby, Gaithersburg milliner, hoped when she sent out this advertising postcard in the early 1910s.

Gertrude Darby (1884-1931) lived all her life in Woodfield, near Damascus. She was the second child of Samuel Trott and Rosabel Verlinda Hieronimus Darby. Samuel died in 1900, leaving Rosabel with eight children, aged 17 to 3, to support. A fragment of a 1902 letter to Rosabel from a friend begins, “You don’t know how glad I was to hear from you once more. I had thought of you all so often. Then when I thought of the size of your family and the many cares that rest upon you, I would just conclude that you didn’t have the time to write. . . . Dear Rose, I am glad your health is better than it was but my dear girl you should take good care of yourself for the sake of your family. I hope you will be spared to raise them all.”

The 1900 census, taken before the death of Mr. Darby, shows the family living in Woodfield; Dad is a farmer, and 16 year old Gertrude (actually “Harriet G.” here) is in school. In 1910 Rosabel is the farmer, with all eight kids still at home; 26 year old Gertrude H.’s occupation is given as Milliner. This and the advertising postcard (the postmark date of which is almost illegible, but looks like 191something) are the only pieces of evidence that I’ve been able to find for Gertrude’s venture into business, which I imagine was part of the family’s attempt to support themselves after Mr. Darby’s death. By 1920 the shop/business is absent from the census; the 1930 record literally gives Gertrude’s occupation as “none.” Her 1931 obituary in the Gazette (she died suddenly of a heart attack at 47) makes no mention of her (possibly brief) career.

How, and when, did Miss Darby get her business started? It was clearly more than a make-some-money-on-the-side venture, as the shop was located in Gaithersburg rather than out of her home in Woodfield. She shelled out the money for postcards (and the postage), at least once; was it an attempt to drum up custom for her new business, or the fruits of a successful year or two? Why and when did the shop close? Was she a predecessor, or a rival, of the better-known (as far as these things go) Miss Hattie Plummer, who had a millinery and dress shop on Frederick Avenue in the early 20th century?

The advertising postcard, addressed to Mrs. E. E. (Clara May) Mullinix, was donated to MCHS by the Mullinix/Grigg family as part of a large collection of correspondence. Also donated was this snapshot, identified as “Gertrude Darby with Clara Shipley, 1904.” There are several Gertrude Darbys to be found in Montgomery County history, but the connection with the Mullinix family makes me think that this is our Miss Darby, perhaps right around the time that she began her business. Thanks to Mrs. Mullinix’s saving ways, we have a few pieces of Miss Darby’s story; do any readers have more pieces to add?

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