Nell Donnelly Reed

Nell Donnelly Reed

Business Woman —

ELLEN QUINLAN DONNELLY REED WAS the 12th of 13 children born into a Parsons, Kan. family. She married Paul Donnelly and moved to Kansas City, Mo. As a housewife, Reed was concerned with the lack of style of the ordinary housedress of the 1920s, so she created a smarter, more colorful style of dress for herself. 

After attracting a great deal of attention for her own dresses, Reed decided that all women should have the opportunity to share the more stylish clothes. She opened a small factory in 1919, the Donnelly Garment Co. in downtown Kansas City, for less than $1,500.  Women paid what was considered to be a very high price, one dollar, for the new styles.

Reed was an astute businesswoman who led her company through depressions, recessions, wars and battles with the federal government over regulations. She sought to create better working conditions for her employees. Her company was the first in Kansas City to pay for group hospitalization, provide welfare benefits and make educational opportunities available for workers and their children. She also had survived her own tribulations, including being kidnapped and held for ransom. U.S. Senator James A. Reed was instrumental in securing her release from the kidnappers. Two years after her release, she divorced Donnelly and married Reed.

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