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Nelly Don Collection

The Modern Classic Society has collected over 20 Nelly Don dresses dated from the early 1930s to the 1970s.


Dr. Lisa S. Thompson, founder of The Modern Classic Society features her research study titled Nelly Don:  An Educational Leader.  Thompson’s research revealed evidence that further acknowledged Mrs. Nell Quinlan (Donnelly) Reed as revolutionary 20th century dressmaker and owner of Donnelly Garment Company as well as a visionary educational leader and dutiful benefactor at Lindenwood (College) University for over sixty years.

Nelly Don

Photography of Nelly Don, 1926.  From "Nelly Don: A Stitch in time, " by T. M. O'Malley 2006

Nelly Don: An Educational Leader

Summary, from the dissertation of

Dr. Lisa S. Thompson, ED. D.

In 1916, Ellen Quinlan Donnelly aka Nelly Don started

a fashion empire from her humble Kansas City home.

She became one of the wealthiest and most celebrated

American women in business with a career that spanned

well into the 1960s. The Nelly Don Empire reportedly

sold more dresses in the 20th century than any other

single person in the United States, and she started as a

Lindenwood College student.


This study investigated Nell Quinlan Donnelly the “Grand Lady”

of the garment industry beyond her millionaire status and

revolutionary business leadership at Donnelly Garment

Company. The reexamination of Nell Quinlan Donnelly’s

60 year relationship with Lindenwood College began in

1907 as the first married student to attend. Donnelly graduated in 1909 with a Seminary Diploma and later became a phenomenal business, civic, and educational leader. 

The significance of Nell Quinlan Donnelly’s relationship with Lindenwood College has been identified by her recognition of the changing role of young women post World War II. Donnelly, a visionary leader, and a member of the Lindenwood Board of Directors and several other administrative boards, encouraged developing programs that focused on mathematics and computer science. Donnelly challenged Lindenwood education leaders with the idea of “reaching beyond traditional confines of Liberal Arts programs and to expand student experiences that would offer ‘unlimited opportunities’ for young women” (Lindenwood Board of Director notes 1944 & 1962; Ebling & Kavanaugh, 1980). The foresight of “unlimited opportunities” afforded to young women as envisioned by Nell Quinlan Donnelly would prove her to be a woman ahead of her time and one of Lindenwood’s most loyal and dedicated educational leaders.


To read the full dissertation please click on the link below


Nelly Don
Nelly Don

Nelly Don

Nelly Don

Nelly Don

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