Discover women’s economic history through ephemera

Mar 21, 2018

Historic New England has an extensive collection of ephemera – more than 25,000 pieces of printed and handwritten paper items – that informs and enlightens us about the everyday lives of New Englanders from the eighteenth century to the present. Much of this collection is catalogued, digitized, and available online.

The collection presents a unique opportunity to learn about women business owners in New England in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During this time, economic, political, and social barriers often prevented women from entering politics and business. Women, however, did pursue a variety of economic ventures throughout New England, and the evidence is recorded in ephemera. Historic New England’s collection holds advertisements, billheads, trade cards, brochures, and other items that give insight into women’s economic lives.


Many women found success in businesses that served a female clientele, such as millinery shops. The ephemera collection contains several trade cards for Annie E. Trenholm, who owned a millinery store at 197 Main Street in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Trenholm, born in Nova Scotia, immigrated to Massachusetts in 1880 and started running a millinery shop shortly thereafter.


Trade card for Miss A.E. Trenholm, millinery, 197 Main Street, Fitchburg, Mass., undated.

Food Service

The ephemera collection also has many trade cards and advertisements related to the restaurant and food industry, proving that numerous women participated in this field as well. Mrs. E.S. Shedd ran a bakery at 851 Harrison Avenue in Boston, while Sophia, whose last name is unknown, ran a waffle shop nearby at 52 Temple Street.

Handbill for New Bakery, Mrs. E.S. Shedd, 851 Harrison Avenue, Boston, Mass., undated.


Trade card for Sophia’s Waffle Shop, Restaurant, 52 Temple Street, Boston, Mass., 1926.


Florence Maynard, born circa 1867, worked as a photographer along with her brother, Karl. The ephemera collection contains a pamphlet and an advertisement for their photography studios, located in Boston and Waban, Massachusetts. Florence enjoyed a long career; she is listed as a photographer in the 1940 census.


Brochure for Miss Florence Maynard and Mr. Karl Maynard, photographers, 500 Boylston Street, Boston, and 34 Pilgrim Road, Waban, Mass., c. 1920.


These are just a few of the women business owners and entrepreneurs represented in the ephemera collection. These items provide insight into women’s economic success and expand our knowledge of the lives of nineteenth and twentieth-century women.

To learn more about this collection and others at Historic New England, contact us at [email protected].