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It's a wrap: 'History of the Apron' featured at NCHS annual meeting

A collection of aprons is shown Friday inside the Nobles County Historical Society museum in Worthington. (Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — A flour-covered apron is typically a welcome sight for food-lovers everywhere — and Peggy Olson is willing and able to tell the tale of how aprons express as much about historical trends as they do about edibles.

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“Aprons were a good invention and have been used for many things,” affirmed Olson, a Worthington resident for the past 51 years. “They can tell us a lot about the domestic history of the country.”

On Sunday at 1:30 p.m., Olson will share her presentation, “The History of the Apron,” as part of the Nobles County Historical Society’s annual meeting at 407 12th St., Worthington.

A collection of more than 700 aprons, gathered over a decade, attests to Olson’s knowledge of the topic. Many of Olson’s aprons will be on display in the lower level of the Nobles County War Memorial building for the next few months.

“I had very few aprons — maybe a dozen in my house — before I did a program at Crossroads Care Center about 10 years ago,” Olson said.

“Then I got a call from Okabena Towers to do the talk there, and people just started calling, ‘Would you come and do it at my church?’ or wherever, and so I started traveling throughout the area and people kept giving me aprons.”

Olson says she stores the aprons in a closet at her home, often wrapped in old sheets and stashed in totes or boxes.

“Most of them have stayed quite nice,” said Olson. “I have aprons from the early 1900s, a number from the 1930s (when people would order a kit and embroider on them), work aprons, aprons made from feed sacks, tourist aprons purchased on vacations, and aprons you’d wear while serving coffee or cake at a wedding.”

“They are made from really light fabric and wouldn’t protect your clothes a bit,” laughed Olson of the latter type. “I think they simply told people who you could ask for a cup of coffee — very impractical but very pretty.”

Using aprons as a guide through the decades, Olson observes the useful garments have followed trends in fashion and interior design (with those from the 1970s often found in shades of orange, green or gold), and that when World War II ended and “our world really changed,” women would often make tablecloths and aprons to match for entertaining purposes.

“Aprons were a real fashion statement in the ’50s,” Olson said. “And there were some aprons that were very full at that time to fit over poodle skirts and crinolines.”

Aprons also have served as artistic outlets for women over the years, with many featuring elaborate embroidery or crochet work.

“Many women expressed their artistic ability through their aprons,” Olson said.

While technology and sleek contemporary homes might seem to make the idea of an apron obsolete, Olson claims that is not necessarily the case.

“Aprons are making something of a comeback,” Olson noted. “Stores carry some nice aprons now, and you’ll see many aprons with logos on representing certain churches — and ‘The Church Basement Ladies’ plays have promoted aprons, too.”

Attendees at the annual meeting of the Nobles County Historical Society (NCHS) are welcome to bring aprons, along with accompanying stories, to share at Sunday’s event as supplements to Olson’s comments. 

In addition, while admission to the meeting and Olson’s presentation is free, those making a donation to the NCHS will be invited to choose an apron to take home as a thank-you gift.

“I’ve donated between 50 and 60 aprons, so if anyone who makes a donation wants one, they can get an apron in return,” said Olson.

Besides being in demand as a speaker on the history of aprons, Olson delivers talks in the region on the topics of toys and spiritual gifts, among other areas. 

“I enjoy history, and I also enjoy getting out and meeting people,” expressed Olson. 

Does Olson just talk about aprons, or does she regularly use them as well?

“I’ll often wear an apron when I’m cooking,” Olson admitted, “and I like to cook and I have grandsons who like to eat.”

Olson is looking forward to sharing her apron collection, and her knowledge of aprons, with the public next Sunday.

“I am delighted to help out the Nobles County Historical Society,” said Olson. “It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing for our community — collecting history and maintaining it for us — and giving us a place to go to find good information.

“And there are lots of good books available about aprons; just check with the Nobles County Library,” Olson added. “They’re a fun read.”

“History of the Apron” is the spring exhibit at the Nobles County Historical Society (NCHS), in the lower level of the Nobles County Library at 407 12th St., Worthington. Peggy Olson will present “The History of the Apron” at 1:30 p.m. Sunday as part of the NCHS’s annual meeting, which is free and open to the public. Donations to the NCHS will merit a free apron. The NCHS is open from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 376-4431 for more information about the NCHS, its annual meeting or the apron exhibit.