Stephen F. Austin State University

A Once Thriving Business Remembered in Old Photographs (July 2011)

A Once Thriving Business Remembered in Old Photographs
By Deborah L. Burkett

What can old photographs tell us? It depends. Can the images be placed in context and can people be located who still remember those times? Fortune was smiling in this case.
In 2009, a box of old photographs was purchased by Lindsey Kirkpatrick-Terry of Jacksonville. During her quest for antique wooden fruit boxes she came across one that also contained damaged photographs. The entire price of purchase was $1.00.
Many of these 'found' photographs were dated and provided a look back at Marja's Brassiere Company, one of the major businesses in Jacksonville, 1939 - 1969.
The image accompanying this article shows working women who made the product; these ladies kept the machines humming and were ahead of their time. They made bras they didn't burn them; but were strong independent women none the less.
In 1903 Margia Childs was born into a successful business family in Jacksonville; the daughter of Carter and Minnie Lattimore Childs, owners of the Childs Brothers Grocery Stores. This enterprise became a chain of 35 supermarkets in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana which was eventually sold to the Kroger Company.
When doing historical research it is a boon to the researcher when someone is located who has been intimately involved in the story; Mr. Roland Offord was that someone. He explained, "Margia was a beautiful woman, this is evident in photographs that were found. She was also extremely creative. The business, at its peak employed over 350 women and 8 men...Margia designed the "Half-Hi A" brassiere; this creation was a half cup bra; very revolutionary at the time, considered risqué..."
"It was an immediate success! The slogan for Margia's creation was 'Holding up the Nation's Bust Line'. Margia, her company and Jacksonville, Texas were made famous by an article and full page color photograph in Life Magazine. Marja's was on the map!"
Further evidence that Margia Childs Hamlin was the creative force in the business was apparent during World War II. Fabric for women's lingerie was impossible to come by. Margia went to New York City to buy all the parachute material she could; making sure the business would flourish even in those tough times.
Marja's rented five warehouses in downtown Jacksonville, lofts or second stories were filled with industrial sewing machines. The primary location of Marja's was on the corner of Commerce and Main Streets, close to where Austin Bank and the big clock are now. A building caught fire in 1969 on the adjoining corner behind the Austin Bank which is now a grassy lot.
Mr. Offord explained, "We had gas-fired heaters hanging from the ceiling in the cutting room. I feel sure a heater malfunctioned but the cause was never determined. The building burnt to the ground. The top floor burnt and fell onto the first floor. Both floors held machines and the weight crushed everything into the basement. Everything was leveled and covered over with dirt. The sewing machines are still there, in the ground near the Austin Bank building..."
Old Photographs link us to the past, providing a valuable record of events by putting faces, real human beings into a historical framework. Without such images our history would be diminished, not as compelling. Making it all the more important to preserve and place these old photographs in context. And whenever possible, do this while there is still someone around to help with the details. After the Cherokee County Historical Commission conducted numerous oral history videos with Marja's workers and their families, Roland Offord passed away September 15, 2010.