Corrine Armer’s brief residency in Hannibal paints a memorable picture of the fashion era
John Thomas Michael and his wife, Cora Irene Hey, are pictured circa 1891, around the time of their marriage. Cora, later known as Corrine Armer, operated a custom corset shop in Hannibal for a time in 1913. Photo shared by Eric Abel on Ancestry.com. Reprinted with permission.
The building where Corrine Armer operated her custom corset shop at 607 Broadway in Hannibal in 1913, burned in August 2016. This is a photo of the building’s shell, the photo taken on May 27, 2018, after the building itself was demolished. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Kansas native Corrine Armer, 37, came to Hannibal in 1913 and settled into business as the state manager and scientific fitter for the American Corset Co. She established her office (and residence) at 607 Broadway, directly across the street from the town’s grand Federal Building.
On the first floor of this building was a shop operated as Leonard and Son, painter and wall paper. Upstairs, in her office, Mrs. Armer met confidentially with women, promising them a customized fit from a quality undergarment.
The American Corset Company, manufacturer of the American Queen Corset, touted its product thusly:
“You want the corset you wear to be correct in every particular. The Designer of the ‘American Queen’ is recognized as the foremost corset artist in the country and the corset is correct in its minutest detail. It is the most stylish, and, at the same time, the most comfortable corset you can have.”
The company’s home office was at 411 S. Sangamon St., Chicago, Ill.
Instead of selling its product in via local merchants, the company sought out women to sell their corsets to other women. In order to recruit women for this task, in 1912 advertisements were placed in targeted newspapers, reaching to out men who could in turn recruit the women.
Such an advertisement was published in the Topeka State Journal on June 1, 1912:
“Traveler to employ women to sell American Queen Corsets. Best corset, best terms. Liberal salary and expense allowance. Extra commission and bonus. Permanent position. American Corset company, Desk 16, Chicago.”
Before coming to Hannibal, Mrs. Armer visited Waterloo, Iowa. Mrs. Armer was to demonstrate the American Queen Corset at the Lewis Millinery shop, 517 Lafayette Street, on Aug. 15, 1913.
Just as Mrs. Armer (widow of Elmer) was getting her independent corset business up and going, along came a disrupter to her plans.
The story goes that while dressing in one of her ball gowns, Mary Phelps Jacob wanted a comfortable replacement for her corset. She tied two handkerchiefs together and added some ribbon, creating a bra. In 1913 she obtained a patent for her invention, and her actions soon led to the decline of the more restrictive corset.
Mrs. Armer’s presence in Hannibal was such that she is only recorded in the 1914 city directory, which was published in 1913.
Daughter of Kansas
Corrine Armer was born Cora Irene Hey circa 1876, and grew up on a farm in Fairfax, Osage County, Kansas. Her parents were Jacob and Marthia Hey, and her father was a Union Army veteran of the Civil War.
Her siblings included an older sister and brother, Mary D. Hey and William Hey. Her birth in 1876 was followed two years later by that of her brother, Clarence Denton Hey, in 1878. Annie M. Hey was born in 1884.
Tragically, Marthia Hey died in 1884-85, leaving her children motherless. Cora was just 8 years old.
In May 1885, Jacob Hey married Rosamond L. Frazier of Carbondale, Kan., and she would give birth to a son, Roscoe E. Hey, in April 1893.
At the tender (and estimated) age of 15, Cora Hey married Thomas Michael in August 1891. He was seven years her senior. Son Lionial was born in 1893, and daughter Zelda was born in 1894.
They lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., until early in 1901, when John T. Michael filed for a divorce from his still young wife, and sought custody of their two children.
Cora moved to Pueblo, Colo., where she worked for a time as a servant at a boarding house. On Sept. 19, 1903, she married Elmer Armer, an upholsterer in Pueblo. Her visits back to Kansas to see her father and step-mother were often noted by the Overbrook Herald, which served her Kansas hometown. For a time the Armers lived in Wichita, Kansas, before moving to Montana, where they lived in 1910. Elmer Armer was listed in the census as an upholsterer for a furniture store in Helena, Mont.
By the time she came to Hannibal in 1913, she listed herself as a widow.
At the time of her father’s death in 1924, she was married to Barnett Mason Hill and they were living in Denver, Colo. Records show that at one time he operated a furniture store, and another time he was managing an apartment complex.
They had one daughter, Frances Corrine Hill, born about 1922.
This marriage lasted. Corrine Hey Hill died Jan. 10, 1951, in Denver. She is buried beside her husband, who died in 1948, at Fairmount Cemetery in Denver.
“Please note the style of the above garment. The Perfection Front Piece lies directly under the frontal opening, prevents the soft flesh from pushing against and between the lacers, gives perfect lines to the figure, permits a variation of adjustments no other front lace corset could have. The ‘Perforated Back Section’ is a most novel idea for the comfort and health, of the front laced corset wearer.” Reprinted from the Garden City Telegram, March 8, 1912, newspapers.com