Sepia Saturday #321: Hats Off to You










Golden, curly locks spill out while blue eyes look out from under a flower-adorned blue bonnet. This vibrant card is one of my Aunt Sadie’s Easter cards in her Shirley Temple scrapbook. Coincidence that Shirley Temple had curls and this girl does too? Not likely, Shirley Temple was one of the most beloved movie stars when Sadie received this card. It’s not a stretch that card makers would want to capitalize on that popularity.

As an embellishment, a real feather tops this little girl’s hat with a splash of canary yellow. Feathers on hats were all the rage at the turn of the 20th century which makes this girl’s feather seem a little subdued. The fashion craze of using feathers as decorations began in the 1870s. By 1886, plume hunting to supply the hat makers’ demand for feathers nearly wiped out certain species of birds. In that year, wild birds were being destroyed at a rate of 5 million per year.[1]

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been in the national news lately and it’s interesting that it was set aside to help the wild bird populations rebound. It was established on August 18, 1908, by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Lake Malheur Reservation. Roosevelt set aside unclaimed government lands encompassed by Malheur, Mud and Harney Lakes “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.”

According to their website:
“In the late 1880s, plume hunters decimated North American bird populations in pursuit of breeding feathers for the hat industry. Hunters targeted large flocks of colonial nesting birds and shorebirds, killing birds indiscriminately and orphaning chicks. Eventually, the large numbers of colonial nesting birds on Malheur Lake were discovered by plume hunters. In 1908, wildlife photographers William L. Finley and Herman T. Bohlman discovered that most of the white herons (egrets) on Malheur Lake had been killed in 1898 by plume hunters. After 10 years, the white heron population still had not recovered. With backing from the Oregon Audubon Society, Finley and Bohlman proposed establishment of a bird reservation to protect birds, using Malheur, Mud and Harney lakes.”

The signer of the card above, Grandma Repsher, was not immune to this fashion craze. I have a photograph of her as a young girl (she was born in 1890) sporting a fancy hat. She and her mother had their portraits taken at a professional studio in New York City with their feather-topped hats.

The photo below shows Anna Marie Karthaueser in a high-collared white top typical around 1900 for a young woman. She had no earrings, necklace, or broach but she had a fancy hat to fall back on. The large, fluffy plumes in the front highlight the stiffness of the feathers sticking up in the back. The hat was set back far enough on her head to show off her beautiful, wavy hair.


Anna Marie Karthaeuser, circa 1900

Her mother, Anna W. (Mergenthaler) Karthaeuser, also had a portrait done. Anna W. had a beautiful pin on her hat holding her decorative feathers which swoop back over her left side. She had a pair of pierced earrings and a necklace drops down the front of her blouse. There was a tuft of dark ribbon pinned to her blouse on the left side. She had her hair swept up in an Edwardian fashion and it just covered the tops of her ears. She had the same frank expression as her daughter’s portrait.

Anna Merkenthaler Karthaeuser 099

Anna W. (Merkenthaler) Karthaeuser

My next photo is of Anna Marie Karthaeuser and her mother Anna W. Karthaeuser.  For this photo, they stood behind Charles Gruber who was Anna W.’s half-brother. Anna Marie was wearing a white, knee-length dress with a dark sash and a dark full-brimmed hat with a broad ribbon hanging off the back. She was wearing a necklace and had two tufted ribbons (like her mother had in the picture above) pinned to her blouse on the left side. Her mother Anna W. has the same necklace as the portrait above and this photo shows that it’s attached to a watch pinned to her bodice. She had rings on both of her hands, a broach pinned at her throat and pierced earrings. I’m not quite sure what her hat decorations are made of but they were quite elaborate.

Anna Charles and Anna Karthaeuser 097

Anna Marie Karthaeuser, Charles Gruber, Anna W. Karthaeuser

Fancy hats, as everyday wear, have long gone out of style. They are occasionally seen at events like the Kentucky Derby or the functions of British Royalty. Indeed, hats in general have gone by the wayside (I don’t count baseball caps as hats) and they seem to be more of a personality statement when worn in today’s day and age. I am fortunate to have these photos of my ancestors sporting their finest millinery.

The concept behind these weekly Saturday posts can be found at Sepia Saturday Intro.
Theme taken from Sepia Saturday photo: Hats

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8 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday #321: Hats Off to You

  1. The Anne’s were fashion plates. I’m sure wearing those elaborate hats improved posture…you couldn’t hang your head or slouch. On Avery Island in Louisiana a bird sanctuary was established by the McIlhenny family (Tabasco Sauce) to save the egrets, being decimated for hat plumes. Now there are thousands of them living in Bird City. The Easter card is sweet too.


  2. I guss that fashion was where the expression ‘feather in your cap’ came from. Those hats like were very stylish, but the cost to birds was clearly a lot greater than the wearers realised. Hats or fascinators are primarily only worn by racegoers here in Australia and hopefully any feathers used are now artificial.


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