Last year we acquired a very nice forest green knit suit from the early 1930s. It is dead plain – consisting of a straight, ankle length skirt, and an open jacket with a belt. In the nape is a small tag that reads “Mrs. Franklin Inc. Chicag0 – New York – Philadelphia”
With the help of some members of the Vintage Fashion Guild, we looked around the internet but didn’t find much of anything. All that could be found was a mention of Mrs. Franklin sponsoring a fashion show, and a few advertisements (all dating between 1931 and 1938) with references to Mrs. Franklin being available in Bar Harbor, Palm Beach, Haverford, Watch Harbor, Jenkintown, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. However, this chain of boutiques carried some fashion weight as Mrs. Franklin was included in several American Vogue magazines during the 1930s.
In 1933 the actual Mrs Franklin was interviewed by Vogue, who pointed out that her specialty was knitwear “Heavy, tweedy-looking fabrics were made by loving hands… on actual needles.” Vogue noted.
I thought that was it…
Added November 9 Marianne Dow found a legal document that outlines more history of Mrs. Franklin, which lead to a few more documents…:
Ellen J. Franklin, wife of William B. Franklin, was born in 1875. In 1915 she began knitting women’s sweaters and selling them from her home. In 1917 she opened The Sweater Shop in Philadelphia. In 1920 she bought a new premises for her shop and in 1921 incorporated the business, changing the name to Mrs. Franklin Incorporated in 1923.
In 1927 she opened a branch in New York, and in 1932, a third shop was opened in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Franklin had built a good reputation for her tasteful designs, and she is credited with popularizing knit dresses and suits. By 1938 she had shops in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and was operating a factory in Philadelphia, making women’s knitted dresses and accessories for wholesale.
However, by the summer of 1938, the business had not been profitable for several years and was in financial difficulties. Mrs. Franklin owed nearly $150,000 for mortgages, rents, and past stock, and didn’t have enough credit to acquire any autumn merchandise. The board negotiated a plan of readjustment with creditors by re-organizing under a new company called Mrs. Franklin Shops of Philadelphia, Inc. Ellen Franklin ceased working for the company and paid out $5,000 on the more than $21,000 she personally owed. She then requested a weekly payment of $75.00 for the use of her name for the company, which was paid towards the balance of her debt. The New York shop and Philadelphia factory continued to operate until the end of 1938 before closing. The new company went back to making hand-knitted sweaters and dresses and continued in business until at least the end of 1941. After that the trail goes cold, although the company is mentioned in several legal papers dating up to 1954 over precedence regarding the taxation of the money paid to Ellen Franklin for the licensing of her name.