Rosette Smith Brewer

Date in History: 1850 – 1909

Mrs. R. C. Brewer: Millinery and Ladies Furnishings.

“This exclusive millinery and ladies’ furnishing store as conducted by Mrs. Brewer on Milwaukee St. attracts the general attention of the women of this community. And justly, too, for it is one of the leading stores of its kind in this part of the state. It is supplied with every convenience for the most correct styles in bonnets, hats, exquisite trimmings, flowers, feathers and all kinds of ladies’ furnishing goods, notions and a large line of art embroidery goods, having a more complete line of these goods than will be found in Janesville, Madison, Racine, or any nearby town. . . ”

This 1881 testimonial to the great success enjoyed by Rosette Smith Brewer’s milliners shop ironically appeared as a feature newspaper article entitled, “The Men Who Do Our Business, A Personal and Business Description of the Leading Businessmen in Fort Atkinson.” Despite her gender, Mrs. Brewer was widely respected and admired by the entire community of Fort Atkinson for her business skill. She was a rarity – a prominent and successful nineteenth century businesswoman.

Rosette Smith Brewer was born in 1850 in Mukwonago, the eldest daughter of George Smith and older sister to Carrie Smith, the well known teacher and author of books on Wisconsin history. She grew up on a farm in nearby Oakland. At the age of 19 she married Daniel Brewer and she appears in the 1870 census as a housewife. But by the 1880 census she was back living with her parents and her occupation was listed as operating a dressmaking store. We do not know what happened to Daniel. What is clear, however, is that Rosette wasted little time in turning her business and marketing talents into a remarkable success and financial security for herself and family.

Mrs. R. C. Brewer’s Millinery and Ladies Furnishings Shop at 5 West Milwaukee Avenue opened its doors in 1879 and quickly became a mainstay of the Fort Atkinson business community. Rosette’s business acumen and ability to bring in customers from far and wide earned her the respect of the male shop owners. She was even included in the 1897 Fort Atkinson Industrial Review publication, which noted, “This business is conducted on up to date ideas, so nothing is neglected to meet all the trade demands.”

After Rosette died of cancer at age 59, her sister Jessie took over the shop. Mrs. R. C. Brewers finally closed its doors in 1930 after 50 years in the business.

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