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A big day, Mama: Easter bunnies, cherry blossoms and picture taking. Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C. Photo by Martha McMillan Roberts, 1941.

Hats On For Easter

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The following is a guest post by Kate Fogle, Assistant Curator of Photography, Prints & Photographs Division.

Bunnies and baskets. Two words heard often this time of year. With the Easter holiday nearly upon us, the consumer push to provide a bountiful Easter, even to the youngest of children, is felt by most parents I know, myself included.

But when looking through the holdings related to Easter in the Prints & Photographs Division’s online catalog, another word came to mind—bonnets!

New York shop-girls buying Easter bonnets on Division Street. Wood engraving by W.A. Rogers, 1890.

A nineteenth-century milliner beckons young women to her shop to view Easter bonnets for sale.

While the Easter bonnet connotes a gendered hat-wearing experience, one aimed at women’s adornment, classily covering one’s head was an opportunity open to all.

Two men in high silk hats, one with Kodak camera, on the White House grounds, Washington, D.C. Photo by Uriah Hunt Painter, April 22, 1889.

These two men brought their best hat style to the White House Easter Egg Roll that took place the day after Easter on April 22, 1889.

Though not all Easter hats can be classified by the jaunty term of “bonnet”, the Easter hat owes its prevalence to the history of spiffying up for spring, with our forebears breaking out new outfits and head coverings as a way of meeting the moment, or in this case, the season of renewal.

The practice of showing off new duds and ornate millinery took root as a cultural phenomenon, with Easter strolls morphing into full-blown parades.

Easter Parade, dressmaker taking notes. Photo by Bain News Service.

In this image from the George Grantham Bain Collection, a dressmaker notes the fashionable outfits on display during an early twentieth-century Easter parade, certainly with the intent of incorporating popular elements into her own designs. Easter hats abound!

The domain of Easter hat wearing was not exclusive to adults, as dressing up one’s head was also a family affair.

Children with Easter baskets at White House, Washington, D.C. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1931.

Girls hold hands and Easter baskets while posing in matching outfits and berets.

Adolescent boy dressed up for the Easter parade, Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Edwin Rosskam, 1941.

An older boy looking dapper in a suit jacket and tie, sports a newsboy cap at Chicago’s Easter parade in 1941.

As for me, once Easter arrives, I think I’ll feel most like the mom depicted in this Office of War Information photograph taken over Easter in 1941.

A big day, Mama: Easter bunnies, cherry blossoms and picture taking. Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C. Photo by Martha McMillan Roberts, 1941.

Sitting on the ground and surrounded by a crowd, her son’s energy radiates even as he lies across her lap. A basketful of Easter goodies suggests the day’s fun is winding down, and her neutral expression reveals an awareness of a stranger’s camera lens–and her exhaustion, too.

And yet her Easter hat endures.

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  1. Thanks for the hat tour! And for the spotlight on Martha McMillan Roberts, a new (or forgotten) name for me from the Farm Security Administration group of photographers. I see that she has 150 photos in the FSA/OWI collection: the 1941 examples (before Pearl Harbor) have Farm Security Administration “codes” for the negatives, while the 1942 examples (after the US enters the war) have codes for what I believe is the Office for Emergency Management (many photos of old tires gathered to support the war effort). The year 1942 is when the series of related government photo unit(s) launched during the Great Depression were shut down. Meanwhile I see that Martha McMillan Roberts (1919-1992) gets a very skeletal Wikipedia article (two sentences) with links to two of her post-war photos — rather FSA-like — in museum collections. Perhaps someday we will learn more about this interesting-sounding person!

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