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The Jean Estrella Nicholls Dress, Circa 1899 Artifact Highlight #39

This beautiful dress was donated to our collection in 1996. It is made of silk, cotton and linen.

Originally the dress was blue and white, but the fabric faded over time.

Jean Estrella Nicholls. 1899. PCM Collection

It has a high collar trimmed with ruched ribbon and lace. The puffed shoulders are decorated with lace butterfly applique.

The cuffs are made with knife pleats and lace trim, finished with ruched ribbon of white linen and black velvet, resembling military uniform ornamental braid decorations.

The decorations loop, ending with velvet-covered buttons. The same pattern, similar to epaulettes, is repeated on the shoulders.

The bodice is tailored to resemble a jacket based on menswear. It has two lapels decorated with lace butterfly appliques. Four black ribbons run vertically between the collar and the waist. The skirt has multiple layers. The overskirt has a pointed hemline. The underskirt has two layers of flounces trimmed with black ribbon and lace. An additional layer of cotton eyelet ruffle is sewn onto it. A wide blue silk sash is tied around the waist.

After the age of four, 19th-century girls’ dresses reflected the fashionable silhouettes worn by their mothers, although their dresses were shorter in length. The skirts lengthened as girls grew older, reaching floor length by their mid-teens. The puffed sleeves, appliques, ribbons and lace reflected the richness of detail shown in the fashion plates of the 1890s. Military-inspired fashion elements were very popular during the Victorian era, and the decorations were given their feminine interpretation. White dresses were especially important for Sundays and formal occasions. Girls were required to wear stiff undergarments comparable to adult corsets that became tighter as they grew older. The outfits were not complete without matching hats and gloves.

Ladies Aid Society, 1950. Jean Quinn standing furthest right. PCM Collection

The dress belonged to Jean Estrella Nicholls. Jean was photographed wearing this dress in Oakland in 1899 when she was 11 years old. The dress was found in a trunk on the family home on Sacramento Street in Dutch Flat by her granddaughter Roberta Kaiser, who donated it to Placer County Museums.

Dutch Flat, Nichols house lower right. PCM Collection

Jean’s mother, Sarah Olive Nicholls, was a dressmaker who made many of their clothes. Sarah was born on October 31, 1851 in Woodstock, Illinois, and came by train to Dutch Flat to live with an aunt after her parents died.

She married John Nicholls of Dutch Flat on February 21, 1878 at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. John’s father, William Nicholls, was the co-founder of W&P Nicholls Bank in Dutch Flat.

Nichols Bank, John and William Nicholls. PCM Collection

He took over the bank after his father’s death. Sarah and John purchased a home in Dutch Flat and raised four children. Sarah died in 1915 in Berkeley and John died in Auburn in 1926.

Jean married E.B. “Kirby” Quinn in 1924 and lived in Dutch Flat. Kirby was the postmaster and owner of the general store on Main Street.

"Kirby Quinn with the mail" PMC Collection

Following the deaths of her parents Jean and her husband lived in the family home for 50 years. Jean died in 1974.

Auburn Journal June 26, 1974