Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Theodore Roosevelt sat in the oval office, and World War I was still 7 years away. The Civil War had just ended 40 years ago. Men wore suits as they tipped their hats politely to passersby. Women donned fluffy sleeved blouses and skirts, often hair tucked neatly atop their head. They were not yet able to vote. It was the busiest time in history for Ellis Island, welcoming 1.1 million immigrants. It was the year this was made, 1907.
How it ended up in Little Rock, Arkansas, it’s likely no one knows. It’s a souvenir purse from the 1907 Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first U.S. settlement. In the early 20th century, expositions and world’s fairs had become quite popular. It’s likely a female visitor purchased this purse during her visit.
The Jamestown Exposition opened April 26 and closed that December. An average of around 13,000 people visited each day. What do you do at an exposition? History shows there was a relief model of the Panama Canal, a wild animal show, a wild west show, and a re-creation of the Battle of Hampton Road—much different than the fairs and festivals we see now. The buildings still standing, now part of the National Register of Historic Places.
Goodwill is full of history, whether it’s a 113-year-old purse from a festival in Virginia or a century-old pair of leather boots crafted by a former boot company on Main Street in Downtown Little Rock. People can find all kinds of valuable memorabilia at stores around Arkansas, but sometimes even more valuable is the story behind these unique pieces.
As for this Jamestown purse, it shows signs of its age. The leather is becoming more brittle and the hand-crafted embossing has faded some. But to see the purse and imagine a woman carrying it through Norfolk, Virginia in the early 1900’s, wearing a flowing skirt tightly cinched at the waist, maybe even carrying a parasol or wearing an elegant hat ... It takes you to a totally different time, virtually a whole different world.
(The purse seen here has been placed for auction on ShopGoodwill.com, Goodwill’s online sales site. You can bid at https://www.shopgoodwill.com/Item/84881462)