Once again the internet has delivered some elusive information. Last year I posted photos of a Pat Baldwin cashmere sweater I’d found, and asked for more information as I’d found out very little about her. I recently got an email from her son, Art Baldwin, who very graciously sent a nice biography of his mother. It is always a treat to hear from a family member of an important figure in fashion, especially when they, like Art, can add to the historic record. Many thanks to Art Baldwin, the author of today’s post.
Pat Baldwin was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1905. Her given first name was Antoinette, but when she was about junior high school age, her friends decided that Antoinette was too much for them to want to handle. Someone out of the blue said, “Why don’t we call you something simple, like Pat? Do you mind?” She didn’t, and that is how she was known for the rest of her life – except by her mother, who liked Pat, but always called her Antoinette.
She married another Clevelander named Fred Baldwin after graduating from Smith College while he was in law school. Fred’s father, Arthur Baldwin, was the grandson of a missionary, Dwight Baldwin, who went to Hawaii in the 1830s. While Arthur, who lived on Maui, was attending Yale University, he would come to Cleveland for Christmas and spring vacations with his college roommate and ended up marrying his roommate’s sister. Although they planned on eventually returning to Hawaii to settle, Arthur started practicing law in Cleveland and became very involved with many activities, and remained in Cleveland for the rest of his life (he would normally spend a month during the summer in Hawaii, where he had an extensive family). He became one of Cleveland’s leading civic leaders.
Fred and Pat had three children, Isabel, Arthur, and Lee. When World War II broke out, Fred enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was sent to England as Intelligence Officer for a B-17 bomber group. After the war, he returned to his law practice.
Pat was always very civic minded and volunteered at many non-profits, serving most of them as president during her career. At University Hospitals she was instrumental in establishing an Art Cart, which was filled with framed works of art that was taken around to the patient rooms so the patient could borrow one of the pieces to hang in their room.
Fred died very suddenly of a heart attack in 1952 when he was 47 years old. Pat continued with her civic activities, but then, to keep busy, got the idea of decorating sweaters for more formal wear. Her concept was to have each sweater have an individual theme, the key element of which would be repeated on one sleeve. For instance, if the sweater incorporated daisies in a pattern on the front of the sweater, a single daisy would be repeated once behind one shoulder. She would do the designing and sewing herself and sell them at personal exhibits. As she became known, she would take orders for sweaters based on colors and basic design concepts.
Early in the planning stage, Pat wanted to use only cashmere sweaters and wanted the best. She bought Hadley sweaters at retail as each order came in. As her business grew, she went to see Hadley to see if she could buy directly from them. They told her they only sold to retail establishments, but she convinced them to make as exception for a widow trying to keep busy. They agreed since they figured that the number of sweaters would be very small.
She would sell at showings in Cleveland and take a trip to Florida in the winter and Maine in the summer to also put on showings. Within a couple of years, she had a real problem with backorders. Not from her suppliers, but from the sweaters she had promised by due dates. She was falling significantly behind. She brought a woman on to help her sew, but as the business continued to grow, Pat hired several full-time sewers and set up a production operation. Pat was not a business person per se, and after a while one of her sewers complained to someone of authority, and Pat was spoken to about running a sweatshop. Actually she was just trying to get product out as promised.
About this time, Pat realized that the operation was getting bigger than she felt comfortable with. The president of Hadley told her that, whereas they had agreed to quietly sell to her because they felt sorry for a widow, she had become Hadley’s largest customer. She decided to back down a bit with her personal time and turned the management of the company over to her first assistant. Pat would continue to run showings in Cleveland, Florida, and Maine, as well as other cities when invited. Eventually she sold the entire operation, which included the trade name.
Pat married Wally Quail in the early 1960s. She died in 1977.
Here’s the Pat Baldwin label, from the sweater in my collection.
The photos of Pat Baldwin are courtesy of and copyright of Art Baldwin. Do not copy or repost.