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For three decades, Miss Joe Hart helped Hannibal women top off their wardrobes


Miss Joe Hart (1870-1930) was a milliner and subsequent influencer of fashion in Hannibal, Mo., during the last decade of the 19th Century and first two decades of the 20th Century.

Born circa 1870, Miss Hart, in her early years, went by Josephine. But during her business career, she shortened her name. Within the Hart family plot at Hannibal’s Holy Family Cemetery, is a small stone simply inscribed “Joe.”

Herein lies a key figure in Hannibal’s fashion industry.

A milliner is traditionally a person who designs, makes, trims or deals in hats, bonnets, headdresses for women. (Wordnik)

One of 13 children born to her Irish parents, William and Nora Cullen Hart, Josephine, as she was known as a child, was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. 

Miss Joe Hart was a working milliner as early as 1888, when such influential women as Pettibone, Drescher, Thomas Bacon, Robards might have been her customers. 

In 1888, there were eight milliners identified in the Hannibal City Directory, including:

Miss Bridget M. Cotter and Miss Julia Lavoo, working for Joseph Brinkman’s dry goods store, 213 Broadway;

Miss Biddie Ford and Miss Nellie Kelly, working for Mrs. Susanna Crosby’s millinery and notions store, 105 N. Main;

Miss Jennie Handsaker and Miss Rosa Hays, working for Williams and Co., 112-116 N. Main; and

Miss Joe Hart and Miss Rosa Kahl, independent milliners.

Two years after her father’s death in 1901, Miss Joe Hart and Mrs. Mary McClure (born in 1868 and a widow of Charles) were business partners. They advertised their millinery shop, located at 207 Broadway, in the 1903 Hannibal City Directory.

By 1905, they had moved their shop to 117 S. Main. 

In 1909, Miss Joe T. Hart and her sister, Julia Hart were milliners, working for Miller and Worley dry goods, millinery and carpets 122 N. Main.

By 1914, Miss Joe’s sister, Julia, was working for her sister as a millinery trimmer, and Kendrick O’Daniel was the shop’s delivery boy. 

She continued to operate her shop at 122 and 122 1/2 North Main throughout the World War I years, up until the early 1920s.

In 1923, Joe Hart was a milliner for the Samuel G. Barrett Dry Goods Company, 224 Broadway.

Fashion trends

The San Francisco Chronicle, in its March 31, 1909 edition, describes ornamentation for the upcoming season’s hats.

“The most marvelous orchids appear on some of the newest hats, combined with masses of billowy chiffon in delicate shades. Bunches of sweet peas in shades of pink and lavender form another favorite floral decoration. Tulips, hyacinths and lilies of the valley have almost ousted roses and poppies from the adornment of spring hats.

“The  accompanying illustration shows the latest Parisian fancies in smart hats that will be worn during the early summer, and which have their modishness indicated by a strict adherence to fashion’s latest mandates.”

South Side heritage

The Hart family lived in a one-story, frame house at 1012 Valley, on Hannibal’s South Side, as early as 1873. The children likely attended school at xxx and xxx, under the supervision of J.W. Ayres, principal.

The lot where their home stood is numbered 1012 Valley, located on the northeast corner of Valley and Buchanan.

The family moved to 907 (later reunumbered 905) Church St., a two-story frame dwellling, circa 1902, where the unmarried daughters who remained in Hannibal lived out their lives.

Called to serve

Among the children born to William and Nora Hart was Mary Hart, born circa 1859 in Adams County, Ill., before the family moved to Hannibal.

Mary Hart is believed to be the daughter who was received into the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Louis in 1885, as Sister Mary Elzear. Her death notice, published in the St. Louis Star and Times on Aug. 21, 1947, notes that Sister Elzear taught at Chicago and Peoria, Ill., and at St. Ann’s School, Page Blvd., and Whittier St., St. Louis, before going to Ste. Genevieve.

Large family

In Hannibal, the Hart family was associated with St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Miss Joe Hart died on Jan. 1, 1930. Less than a week later, her mother, Nora died, at the age of 93. Nora was survived by seven of her children:

Mary (Sister Elzear) Hart (1859-1947)

Daniel Hart 20 (1860-Jan. 20, 1940)

Ellen Hart 18 (1864-1931)

John Hart (1860-1920) (preceded his mother in death)

Hannah Hart 13 (Johanna) (1870-1930) (preceded her mother in death)

Jerry Hart 10 (1870-1957)

Maggie Hart 8 (1872-1961)

Jane Hart 4 (1876-1960)

Julia Hart 4 (1876-1950)

(These dates were culled from various sources, and should be considered as estimations.)


Jeremiah Hart was the sibling closest to Miss Joe Hart in age.

He spent his career working of the Burlington Railroad. He started work there as early as 1885, as a helper in the Hannibal and St. Joe shops. By 1888,  he was a boilermaker. In later years, he worked as a foreman for the railroad.

He was married to Mary Ellen O’Reilly.

Four children were listed in the 1920 Census:

Mary E. Hart, born 1902;

William Hart, born 1904;

Felix J. Hart, born 1906; and

Marguerite Hart, born 1908.

For many years, the family made their home in a two-story, brick dwelling at 200 S. Seventh St., Hannibal.

 Miss Joe Hart and Mrs. Mary McClure advertised their business in the 1903 Hannibal City Directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website.

 Published in the Sept. 24, 1926 edition of the Ralls County Record, this clipping tells of Miss Joe Hart’s long and successful career as a milliner in Hannibal, Mo.

 Miss Joe Hart advertised her business in the 1918 Hannibal City Directory,  accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’ and the newest book, “Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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