History of the Loaning Closet

Providing Oregon School children with costumes for “Pioneer Days” and the “Wax Museum” projects

Brooklyn-studentsmIn the spring of the year you may see 4th graders wearing pioneer clothing and carrying tin lunch boxes on their way to school. It’s for “Pioneer Days.”   Where do the clothes originate?

The Oregon Area Historical Society has a “LOANING CLOSET” and has developed a partnership with the Oregon Schools. Each year the OAHS “Loaning Closet” outfits approximately 350-400 students from the Oregon Schools. Schools include Brooklyn Elementary, Netherwood Knoll Elementary, Prairie View Elementary, and Rome Corners Middle School. This is totally a volunteer effort.

The Background: In 1997 preparations were in progress to celebrate the state of Wisconsin’s 1998 Sesquicentennial. Grants were available for historical societies to do something special to celebrate the state’s 150-year anniversary. A proposal was submitted and a grant awarded to the OAHS for a project to provide pioneer clothing for Oregon 4th grade students when they have their special “Pioneer Days.”

Sarah Orvick went to the Oregon Consolidated School and talked to Marilyn Murphy (one of the fourth grade teachers) about how we could best help. Marilyn indicated that we could assist by providing costumes for 20 boys, 20 girls, and 20 adults for their “Pioneer Days.” Some students did not have a way to dress the part for the special days.

IMG_6744smIn November of 1997 the committee put out a request for seamstresses. Dorothy Tauchen contacted the Senior Center about participating in the project–donating fabric, using their space for cutting out patterns and general help from the “Craft Afternoon” for sewing assistance. The seamstresses donated fabric and thread and patterns and their time. Janet Keenan started making dresses, many, many dresses. Pauline Champion took on the project of making many knickers and shirts, in addition to making dresses and bonnets. Dorothy Tauchen made shawls and petticoats. Dorothy Davidson, Ruth Hauta, Phyliss Hanson, and Nina Noyce contributed their time and efforts to building the collection of pioneer clothing. Several dresses were also donated by people who had made costumes for their children.

In addition to providing 4th graders with pioneer clothing, the OAHS has expanded the clothing collection to assist 5th graders with their “Wax Museum” projects.

Fifth grade students in the Oregon School District select a character in American history, do a report dressed as a particular historic character. Initially, the OAHS received a few requests from some parents asking if we had some items for outfitting a particular historic character. This project has continued to grow. Staff members are working to increase our collection of clothing and accessories to help transform students into their historic persona, be it Henry Ford, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sacajewa, Clara Barton, Thomas Edison, Harriet Tubman, Dolly Madison, Rosa Parks, Levi Strauss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harry Houdini, Molly Brown, Pocahontas, Babe Ruth, or someone else.

Janet Keenan served as the coordinator for the OAHS “Loaning Closet” until January of 2009. Sharon Hansen, then Ellen McKirdy managed the project until 2013. Amanda Wallisch coordinated the project through 2016. We are now seeking a volunteer coordinator—please contact the OAHS for information.

Grant-Chapes-as-Billy-the-KidsmSpace is limited at the museum. The “Loaning Closet” had to be moved to the lower level to make it accessible for all students. We were able to do this but had to give up some exhibit space.

Many volunteers created the OAHS “Loaning Closet.” This very successful partnership with the schools continues to be one of the major projects of the Oregon Area Historical Society. Volunteers today continue to help with sewing, mending, scheduling, fitting, collecting, laundering, ironing, and donating fabric. The project is supported by the donations from those who borrow the clothing. It is self-sufficient and continues to grow. We welcome support with donations to our “Loaning Closet”.

We are especially in need of people with sewing skills to replenish our “Loaning Closet.” We have patterns and fabric available.

We need volunteers to help with fittings and laundry. It’s a very enjoyable volunteer effort!

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