The Textiles of Geneva Howard Bell

By: Jennifer Spence - Filson Volunteer

2015.28.1a [image 1]

Faux-wrap style dress of rose colored synthetic fabric and gold metallic thread, custom made by Utah Tailoring Mills, ca. 1979. [2015.28.1]

Earlier this year the Filson acquired a series of clothing pieces from the Estate of Geneva Howard Bell.

Geneva and her husband, Dr. Jesse B. Bell, the first black physician to practice at Jewish Hospital, worked tirelessly to improve the health and education of children in Kentucky. She was an active member of Mount Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church and former teacher of the Louisville Public School System. Geneva touched the lives of many people in her long life–in 2013, she died at the age of 108.

2015.28.9 [image 1]

Teal and burgundy wool-blend coat by Utah Tailoring Mills, ca. 1988. [2015.28.9]

Geneva's fashion sensibility, spirit, and personality live on at the Filson Historical Society. The Geneva Howard Bell textile collection, made-up of designer labels, custom dresses and outerwear, personify her character and fashion trends in American clothing from the 1940s to the 1990s. Over the summer months, I cataloged, measured, and photographed each piece in the collection.

2015.28.5a [image 1]

Custom made polka-dot shift dress by Utah Tailoring Mills for Geneva H. Bell, ca. 1974. [2015.28.5]

In the spirit of the holiday season, I bring you some of my favorite pieces–some of which Geneva may have worn during this festive time of year.

Stay tuned for an online gallery with images of the entire collection. In the meantime, be sure and check out our other online galleries.

2015.28.5a [image 2]

"Especially for Geneva Bell"

Note: Today is Jennifer's last day at The Filson; beginning  early 2016 she will be the new Curator of the John James Audubon Park and Museum in Henderson, KY. The Geneva Bell Collection is just one example of the numerous textile collections Jennifer cataloged for us. Her expertise and attention to detail will be missed! On behalf of Filson's Special Collections: Thank you (!) & best of luck. –JLP 

About the author: Jennifer Spence is a Filson volunteer and a native of Prince Edward Island, Canada. She moved to Louisville, KY, in 2008 and worked for five years at the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) in Frankfort. There Jennifer served as a collections management assistant and the project coordinator for the Churchill Weavers Collection, KHS's single largest collection. Jennifer holds a master's degree in museum studies from the University of Toronto and a BA in historical studies from the University of Newfoundland. In March 2016, Jennifer will be starting a new adventure as the curator of the John James Audubon Park and Museum in Henderson, KY.

Opening image: Sequined and beaded evening jacket by Jainson's International, ca. 1988. [2015.28.3]

Johna Ebling

Johna Ebling is an Associate Curator of Collections and Exhibits Manager. She studied Journalism and English at Ball State University and earned her master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When she isn’t orchestrating an exhibit or engaging in public outreach, Johna is working with the Filson’s architectural holdings. When away from The Filson, Johna enjoys reading, cooking and spending time with her Chihuahua, husband and friends.

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