The History of Purses Museum
San Diego, California USA Purse Exhibit
100 Years of 100 Handbags was a tribute to women’s purses and handbags, and the women who carried them. There was an exhibit at the Women’s Museum in California where the handbags were on display from June 2nd to July 2nd, 2017. Museum director Diane Peabody Straw stated that it was their mission to tell stories, and the collection was a reflection of that.
The purses came from Jean Nemer from Chicago, currently living in San Diego California. She donated the collection to the museum including two vintage bags that her Grandmother Anna Larson owned. A photo of her Grandmother is displayed next to the fan she is holding.
The Handbag Collection
The handbag collection consisted of small beaded bags from the 1880’s and ended with a bright Art Nouveau clutch from 1960. There were ring size bags that would dangle from a finger, purses made from abalone shells, some made with swingy flapper fringe, and gold mesh glamour bags from the 1950’s.
The smaller purses from the mid 1800’s were a reflection of the limited space women had in society. Women of a certain class used these bags for going out at night to a theater or social events. The purses of the past were tiny, some just big enough to hold a house key as the men carried the money. They didn’t carry makeup because women would not be seen putting on make up in public. The purses get bigger in this time period.
The Evolution of Design and Size
As more people moved from farms to cities, the purses got larger. They planned outings, and their lives were similar to the way we live today. From the petite pouches of the 1800’s making them grateful for the big life and massive bag it demands, to the bags from the 1920’s that devoted the Roaring Twenties of a rainbow riot of gleaming glass-beaded purses with swinging fringes among others. Women were taking on an authenticity and living their lives outside of what others expected of them. They cared about movement and broke free.
The zipper was introduced in the 1930’s and also brought an early version of today’s flash fashion. Two women started a company called LuJean Inc. where they made more affordable purses. The collection’s red velvet LuJean clutch looked like a Valentine but was big enough to carry a wallet, hankie and more. You can tell a lot about a woman by looking at her purse.
The Best Exhibit Bags
In the exhibit there was a hand tooled brown leather purse from 1918, one of the few leather bags there. Also a white beaded purse from the 1940’s that could have been used for a wedding. There were vanity purses from 1910 that came with compacts that had a comb, mirror, rouge, powder and powder puff. There were classy tapestry bags, slinky chain link styles or Dresden mesh bags with Art Deco clasps.
At this museum you will find the permanent tribute to the pioneering women who attended the Seneca Falls, N.Y., women’s rights convention in 1848, rallied for equal pay for equal work in San Diego in 1910, and marched in the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C.
The collection from the Women’s Museum in California is seen in this short video. The purses are in mint condition and reflect the history and evolution of 100 years of handbags.
I would like to acknowledge and thank Reporter Karla Peterson, and Director of News and Programming Luis Cruz both of The San Diego Union Tribune in San Diego, California, USA for allowing me to share this story published in their newspaper.
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