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La Crosse County Historical Society discovers, collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Object Record

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Object Name Combination
Catalog Number 2005.015.02
Description Women's undergarment designed and made in La Crosse, WI. Called "The Leona," after its inventer and manufacturer, this is a "three-in-one" which consolidates camisole, drawers and slip into one undergarment. This Leona is constructed of a white cotton batiste. The skirt has a ruffle of a gauzier cotton, trimmed with lace that appears handmade. The arms and neckline of the bodice are trimmed with the same lace, and there is a ribbon insert at the waist and neckline which serves as a drawstring.

There is a 2 button closure at the waist and one button at the neck. The bodice is otherwise open in front, and the skirt is also open in front, with overlapping sides. Each side of the skirt has a "built-in" leg, making the drawers part of the slip.
Other Name Leona
Collection LCHS Undergarment Collection
Year Range from 1905
Year Range to 1920
Provenance Found among the items in the estate of Marjorie Murphy.
Made By Leona Foerster
Material Cotton, Shell
Dimensions L-35.5 inches
Length (in) 35.5
Dimension Details Skirt length is 20".
Place of Origin La Crosse, WI
People Linker, Leona
Murphy, Marjorie
Search Terms Featured in Things that Matter
Leona
Combination
Undergarment
Made in La Crosse
Notes The Leona is a women's undergarment invented and manufactured by Leona Foerster Linker, a La Crosse Resident. Leona was 23 when she opened her own dressmaking shop in La Crosse in 1895 and it was 10 years later at the age of 33 that she designed the revolutionary undergarment. The "three-in-one" garment which consolidates camisole, drawers, and slip into one undergarment was patented Feb. 7, 1905 in La Crosse, Wisconsin and styles sold from $1.00 to $25.00. The three-piece suit was advertised and sold nationally as a less bulky undergarment that fit better underneath the new style of women's clothing, through the newly formed Leona Garment Company. Leona's business prospered until styles changed again in 1920.

Featured in Things that Matter

"Through 21st century eyes, the Leona is a paradox in lace, combining slip, camisole and drawers. It was the cotton drawers portion that proved perplexing.

They are not sewn together at the bottom, but are left open between the legs. Today we find this somewhat scandalous, but in 1909 it was both practical and modest. A woman did not need to undress to answer nature’s call, thus preserving her virtue.

Back then, the Leona was in that class of clothes dubbed “unmentionables” that was not universally worn when the Leona Garment Co. produced it between 1907 and 1920. The end came when flappers changed to “very risky attire” that included shorter dresses baring more chest and legs. Women left their corsets at home, along with the layers of undergarments that went under and over the corset.

The Leona sales catalog claimed it would cut “your laundry bills in two.” It was lighter and easily washable, and it served as a barrier between outer clothes and bodily secretions. Thus, wearers laundered outer clothing less often, something significant when cleanliness and wearing undergarments indicated higher social class.

Leona Foerster Linker designed and manufactured this undergarment and named it after herself. Linker was apprenticed to a dressmaker at age 12 in Minneapolis, and she opened her own shop in La Crosse in 1895, at the age of 16. Later she also became an agent for the Gossard Corset Co. of Chicago.

A 1900 La Crosse Daily Press article about her first travels abroad for Gossard carried this headline: “La Crosse Girl’s Luck: Miss Foerster goes to Paris:” It described her as “one little La Crosse girl with a happy heart. For not only will she be enabled to see the great World’s Exposition at Paris and travel to other points of interest, but she will do it at no expense to herself and get a salary besides.”

Clearly, her talent went un-noted in that article, replaced by luck. In keeping with the custom of the day, she did not travel alone — instead she had a chaperone in Harry Kirby.

Who knew the Leona would say so much about the role of women in the early 20th century?"

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune.
Title: The Leona and Social Norms
Author: Susan T. Hessel
Publish Date: December 19, 2015


Leona Foerster was born in La Crosse to George & Catherine Foerster. Taught to sew at an early age (the usual for the day), and apprenticed to a seamstress in Minneapolis in 1884 at age 12, by 1893 she was going out and sewing by day in Minneapolis. By 1895, she had returned to La Crosse and opened her own dressmaking shop with her sister, Catherine, working for her.

On a trip to Chicago to purchase materials for her business she impressed the people at the Gosshard Corset Company with her skilled work and ability to speak foreign languages. They hired her as their designer and foreign agent and gave her a desk in their office for when she was working in Chicago and not La Crosse. In the days of full length skirts and dresses there were many pieces of women’s underwear: a corset with ribbing and laces to lace it up (for a slender figure), a cover over the corset (like a camisole), drawers (long legged underwear), and a skirt (like a slip).

Leona traveled to Paris for the Gosshard Company, making her headquarters in Paris. The custom of the day required that women, especially young single women, did not travel, eat out, or go abroad without a male escort and Gosshard always provided someone else on their staff to travel with her. Leona’s travel was first class all the way with a private train compartment to New York City, fine hotels, fine restaurants, and first class travel on ships crossing the Atlantic. When she was in Paris, as well as when she traveled to other places in Europe, Leona met with retailers, showed her design samples, and encouraged them to order items to sell to their customers. She would then return to La Crosse to supervise the manufacture of the items.

Leona patented her undergarment, a combination of corset cover, drawers, and skirt in 1905. She called it the Leona and set up the Leona Garment Company in La Crosse to manufacture it.

She married Charles Linker, who operated businesses in La Crosse with his brother, and later opened the Linker Hotel. Charles also helped Leona with her business since she continued to work, and travel, for the Gosshard Company.

In 1910 the Linkers built a home at 718 Main Street.

With the changing styles of the flapper era in the 1920’s Leona’s undergarment became less popular and she terminated her garment manufacturing business in 1920. She continued to work and travel for the Gosshard Company until the 1930’s and retired with a pension. Charles died in 1943 and Leona died in 1952.

Their house survived, in transformed form. It was added onto and is now Treasures on Main, 722 Main Street. If you look up you will still see the upper stories of the house.

Information from: La Crosse Public Library Archives
Website: From: https://archives.lacrosselibrary.org/blog/the-leona/
Article Title: The Leona
Author: Archives Staff: Megan
Accessed 06/23/2017