Kate Handley - Early 1900's

1900’s Santa Cruz Milliner Kate Handley

I was delighted to see three different and unique hats by Kate Handley from the early 1900’s in the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (SCMAH) archives.

Kate Handley was born in New York in 1857. The family moved to Santa Cruz sometime prior to the birth of her younger sister Maggie who was born in 1864. Miss Handley’s shop was at 138 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz California, USA.


to READ MORE about Kate Handley in a post by Marla from the Santa Cruz MAH. Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz MAH
Kate Handley photo
Photo courtesy ‘The Guide to Old Holy Cross Cemetery’ by Phil Reader and Norman Poitevin.

This first of the three hats is a brown fur felt with orange feathers. This hat was a bit worse for wear, but there is something nice about a hat that has obviously been worn.

Kate Handley brown felt feathersKate Handley brown felt bows

Kate Handley brown felt label lining

The second hat was black fur with a silk ribbon and purple pansies. I loved the hand painted canvas pansies. They added a great texture to the piece and the interesting gathered, feathers shape trim was nice touch.
Kate Handley black fur purple pansiesKate Handley black fur purple pansies (2)Kate Handley black fur purple pansies (1)Kate Handley black fur label lining

Black Straw with a wonderful modern shape and so shiny. This piece you could wear today and nobody would know it was from the early 1900’s.
Kate Handley black straw label (2)
Kate Handley black straw label (4)Kate Handley black straw label (1)
Kate Handley black straw label

It was interesting to see such old hats.  None of the three hats had head fittings, the band around the inside edge of the hat. When did head fittings come into fashion? Were these intended to be worn on large hair styles, thus no head fitting was needed?

The linings were also very roughly sewn. I always envisioned beautiful little invisible stitches in old hats that were all made by hand. However these pieces had  large and inconsistent stitches holding in the lining. I also found the open hole at the top of the linings some what odd.  Why not draw the hole closed or put a small disk to cover it for a more finished look? Ventilation? Conserve fabric?

The labeled side of the black hats were soiled by what looked like make-up, but I would have thought the label would be in the back and the make up from the face. Peculiar. Any one have any ideas? Were labels put in the front of hats rather than the back?

All three of these hats have Kate Handley labels, however each label is unique. If I were to guess, I would say the black fur with the pansies is the oldest, followed by the brown felt with the black straw being the newest. That label was stamped and not a sewn in label.

Kate Handley died 5 December 1940 and is buried in the Old Holy Cross Cemetery in Santa Cruz. She never married or had children.

SC MAH Marla Tina Leanne cropped
Thank you Marla Novo from Santa Cruz MAH and Tina Brown from Ilka Style for this very fun morning of looking at amazing hats from the archives.
Kate Handley feature

and remember…Interesting people wear hats.

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Hatter, Milliner, Adventurer, Mother, Wife, and maker of many things including this blog and podcast.

4 thoughts on “1900’s Santa Cruz Milliner Kate Handley”

  1. Kate Handley’s sister Maggie Handley is my great great grandmother. Here are some articles on Kate Handley that I clipped, though I am not sure if they can be viewed without a newspapers.com subscription. Kate studied at some millnery in San Francisco and went into business in Santa Cruz as a teen under shortly before her death, so some of her hats could be as old as 1880 or so, and her shop moved a few times. To some extent I think Kate Handley raised her niece Katherine Gilleran whose mother Maria Handley and then father died when she was young, and Katherine Gilleran married Judge Walter Bickford, an associate of Montana mining baron and senator William A Clark, but they had no children. Kate Handley hosted all her nieces and grand nieces frequently for many years and traveled numerous times to Europe including when my grandmother was in boarding school there for several years. Maggie Handley’s husband, James Henry O’Brien, built the now abandoned Yosemite Railroad from Merced to El Portal.



    1. Hi Marc,
      Wow, Thank you for this great information. I look forward to reading the links you provided. Does anyone in the family have any of Kate Handley hats? I appreciate you taking the time to share this with me and my blog readers.
      Kind regards, Leanne

      1. Nobody in my family that I know of has any of the hats, unfortunately. I have some extended family in other states I still need to ask. I am sure Kate made at least half of the hats in old pictures of women in my family wearing hats, but I can’t be sure which ones. However, I just found a picture that includes Kate’s Millinery Storefront, circa 1932 I think, in bottom right of frame. https://digitalcollections.library.ucsc.edu/concern/works/7m01bn57d?universal_viewer=true&locale=en&fbclid=IwAR18Kejv1oo6AxBTVt_z8-PBSHZOr_AoTE_jj18YLXRDmfMw3iaRGiI9o-o#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=1900%2C1176%2C2670%2C843

        1. Marc, I am thrilled you found that photo of the Handley Milliner shopfront at 135 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz California, next the the Hotel Palomar. Oh, how I miss the El Palomar taco bar in the back. Another little piece to the history puzzle. Old family hat photos would be very fun to see. It looks like I would have to pay to use the photo online, otherwise I would add it to this post, but having the link is fantastic.

          Thank you again.

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