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Lavinia Tarr Norrish

Married to John Freeman Norrish

BIRTH2 Mar 1835 England
DEATH7 Mar 1920 (aged 85) Dakota County, Minnesota, USA
BURIALLakeside Cemetery Hastings, Dakota County, Minnesota, USA
Cotton Dress


This paisley-printed, sheer cotton summer dress was worn by a young woman, probably for her wedding or the social activities preceding it. Godey’s Lady’s Book for April 1855 describes fashionable, flounced dresses and confirms what this particular garment tells us about Lavinia Tarr, for whom it was probably made: “A handsome flounced dress is always more expensive than one with a plain skirt, and ladies of ample fortune are apt to give a preference to what only a limited number can afford to wear.” Tarr married John Freeman Norrish, both of Devonshire, England, in May 1858. Immediately afterward they sailed for the United States, where Norrish had recently become a partner in the J. L. Thorne and Co. dry goods business in the upand-coming town of Hastings, Minnesota. Lavinia may or may not have been a lady of “ample fortune,” but she certainly had ready access to fashionable English dress goods from her husband’s store.
Though little information survives about Lavinia, records show that John Norrish was a well-known businessman and public official during the 40 years he lived in Hastings. Born in 1828, he emigrated to America in 1852 and found his way to Hastings by 1857. There he not only stocked a “superior line” of dress goods, but he became a member of the state legislature in 1876 and 1881, director of the state prison, and director of the state agricultural society. He easily fits the profile of a man who could provide for a lady used to dressing in the height of fashion.
What we know of Lavinia is limited to her 1835 birth date, her 1858 marriage date, her five daughters’ birth dates, recorded in census records, and the death dates of three infants, found in Hastings Gazette obituaries. We can guess, though, that as the wife of a prominent citizen and a resident of the only octagon house in Hastings, she must have indeed been a fashionable woman.
The muslin day dress with its flounces, paisley print, and tiny waisted full skirt was donated by the couple’s daughter in 1941.

—Linda McShannock