The Jackson County Historical Association and the Scottsboro Jackson Heritage Center are sponsoring an exhibit of ladies’ hats that will run through April 1.

The exhibit features  over 100 ladies’ hats, beginning as early as an 1880’s silk mourning bonnet that belonged to Lucinda Kirby Jenkins and emphasizing the work of Scottsboro’s last milliner, Sue Mae Freeman Powell.
The exhibit includes hats of various types—fedoras, turbans, fascinators, cloches, berets, pillboxes, bucket hats—primarily from 1940 to 1970. Many of the hats were the creations of Sue Mae Powell, and her daughter, Martha Powell Foster, provided a dozen of her mother’s hats for the exhibit, as well has supporting materials and photos that are part of the exhibit.
Sue Mae Freeman Powell was born in Princeton. When she needed to send her children to college and look after a sick husband at the same time, she turned to hat making. “I was looking in a magazine, and I saw an ad on how to make hats at home. So I ordered it and still  have it,” Sue Mae told Ron Dykes in 2003 when interviewed for his book Growing Up Hard. “So that is how I got started in the hat business. I closed in an open porch, and little by little it began to grow.” The home that she and Ralph Powell shared is still standing opposite the south side of the First Baptist Church, and the back of the house was the window for her shop.”
The exhibit was suggested by an article written for the Jackson County Chronicles, the quarterly history newsletter of the JCHA, produced by Annette and David Bradford. Annette Bradford was the energy behind the hat exhibit.
“Last year, the JCHA got behind the state and indeed, the international, commemoration of the end of World War I,” Bradford explained. “The Chronicles did an entire year of articles about the war, and hosted a traveling exhibit from Auburn University at the depot. After all this emphasis on something as sad as war, it seemed only appropriate that we counterbalance last year’s exhibit with something lighter that celebrated the coming of spring—beautiful women’s hats.”
Thirty of the hats in this exhibit are the personal collection of one stylish woman: Elisabeth Collins. Elisabeth’s daughter, Beth Collins Presley, contacted the JCHA and offered her mother’s hat collection as part of the exhibit. “We loved putting Mrs. Collins’ hats out of the closet,” Annette explained. “With Mrs. Collins looking on, Beth and I pulled each from its box and admired it, sometimes trying it on. We were like a couple of little girls. We hope that visitors to the exhibit find some of the same joy in reliving a time when dressing for church meant putting on a beautiful hat.”
Another major contributor to the exhibit is Page Airheart, the daughter of Joy and Gene Airheart. Joy Airheart died two years ago, and as Page was working in her mother’s house, she heard about the hat show from a friend and volunteered her mother’s considerable hat collection. Her hats include at least four hats that Sue Mae Powell made to match specific outfits. “When fashionable women had dresses or suits tailor made, they asked for an additional quarter yard of fabric so that Sue Mae could make them a matching hat,” Martha Foster explained. Page contributed some 56 hats to the exhibit.
“We even have one hat that was part of the stock of the Rossen sisters, Dovie and Sallie. Their shop was in the building that they built on Laurel Street,” Annette explained. “It includes the original tag where the Rossen sister were selling the hat for $7.95, but Bill Woodall, who bought the shop and its stock in 1951, has marked it down to $3.00.”
Wearing a hat used to be a natural part of getting dressed, whether it was Sunday or a weekday. Most women had a wardrobe of hats for various occasions. Hats for shopping. Hats for church. Hats for funerals. Summer hats. Winter hats. Hats that matched their outfits. Hats to keep the sun away. Rough hats for gardening. Hats that make you look taller or covered up a bad hairdo. The justifications were infinite. “We even wore hats to football games,” Inez Starnes remembered. And you can be sure these hats were not baseball caps or simple sun protection. Women used to put on their Sunday best for a football game, and men wore coats and ties. But the most beautiful hats were reserved for Sundays, and the tradition of a woman covering her head grew out of a tradition in the Bible expressed in 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16.
The exhibit runs the 40 days of Lent. It started on February 15 and ends on Easter.

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