Hall County's Pioneering Women
in Hall County
Like Nettie Boyd, seen here standing among the lady's hats made in her millinery shop in Cairo, Nebraska, the women of Hall County left a legacy of hard work and dedication in the workplace. Between 1870 and 1920, over 660 women operated, owned, or worked in businesses in Hall County. They were hairdressers, librarians, teachers, photographers, and midwives. Some owned their own dress shops and restaurants, while others operated rooming houses and general stores. Seventeen women worked as doctors in Hall County. Mrs. George Boehm ran a brewery. Mrs. S. Josephine Chinn was a poultry breeder. In 1894, Grand Island even had its own clairvoyant, Mrs. E. Ardenne. Women worked in a variety of different roles in many different areas of employment. We, here at the Stuhr Museum Research Department, continue to discover more and more women every year to add to our list of women in business in Hall County during 1870-1920. Our research continues and is always full of surprises.
Dressmakers account for nearly one third of the total women in business in Hall County. Dora S. Kolbeck not only operated a dressmaker school and shop, she was also an inventor. Her family moved from New York City to Nebraska when Dora was only 12. She returned to New York to study dressmaking. In Grand Island, Dora opened a dressmaking school (seen at right), which she operated for 14 years teaching over 600 students. On August 14, 1906, Dora received a patent on a plaiting machine that saved dressmakers a great deal of labor in creating pleats in clothing. The device grew out of frustration when Dora could not find a suitable plaiting machine for small dressmaker shops. So, she decided to invent one herself. It took her 2 years to perfect her machine, but in the end she invented a device unlike any of its time. It consisted of two attachments for which screws were used to adjust the plaiting from 2 to 44 inches and could do either gore or straight materials. In 1909, Dora, along with partner Agatha Tooher, incorporated the Mercedes Plaiter Company to produce her invention.
Another important woman in Hall County history is newspaper editor Maggie Guerin Eberhart Mobley. Born in Limerick, Ireland in 1846, Maggie, her parents and her older sister Kate came to America when Maggie was only 3 years old. Eventually, the Guerins settled in Peoria, Illinois. Her father died a short time later and Maggie’s mother sent her daughters away to school. By age 16, Maggie was teaching school in Peoria and had taken an active interest in writing. In 1867, at the age of 21, Maggie moved to Omaha, NE where she married her first husband Alvin G. Eberhart. The marriage did not last long. Maggie, however, kept the name Eberhart until her second marriage in 1871.
In 1869, while teaching classes in North Platte, Maggie began publishing the Platte Valley Independent, the first permanent newspaper in Lincoln County with partner Seth Mobley. The following year, Maggie moved with the Platte Valley Independent to Grand Island. Seth stayed in North Platte for a while managing and editing the paper there. The firm of Eberhart and Mobley published both papers (note that Maggie’s name is first). The Platte Valley Independent and its editors quickly earned a reputation for outspoken Republicanism. Maggie and her paper must have struck a cord with the people of Grand Island because on July 9, 1870, the Platte Valley Independent reported that: "Our advent at Grand Island has been. . . flattering. . . . No community ever took a greater interest in any paper, than the citizens of Grand Island. . . . $940 was subscribed for advertising, in one day. . . . $180 was raised in less than six hours...”
After returning from a trip to Illinois in which Maggie was caught in Chicago’s famous fire, Seth and Maggie married in Omaha on December 9, 1871. They continued to publish the Platte Valley Independent and were active in Grand Island and Nebraska politics. Seth and Maggie had two children together, but tragically both died in infancy.
The rivalry between newspaper editors in Grand Island was keen and Maggie and Seth often found themselves in the thick of battle. Editorials rebutted editorials, until one day in December 1874, a competing editor went too far. J. I. Wylie the editor of the Mirror, a newspaper dedicated to the Temperance movement, printed some very unflattering things about Maggie in his paper. Maggie took offense, and as the story goes, attempted to assult Wylie with a cowhide whip in public.
In 1883, Maggie and Seth sold the Platte Valley Independent to Fred Hedde, who turned the paper into a daily. After their divorce in the early 1890s, Maggie was institutionalized for a short time. She would dedicate much of the rest of her life to writing and lecturing on the poor conditions and ill treatment she suffered while in the insane asylum. She died on February 10, 1907 at the age 61.
Colorful and innovative,
the women of Hall County established themselves in business and earned
the respect of their peers as well as future generations.
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Created March 1, 2000
Up-Dated September 4, 2000
Research Department webmaster: Karen Keehr