Grandmother Elizabeth’s Fashions “Gone with the Wind”


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Most of my frocks or dresses were made by my Grandmother, Elizabeth Allen (Saunders). During my early childhood, I remember sitting next to my grandmother on her bed while she was diligently stitching something wonderful.

I was trying to create a hand stiched purse for myself. Grandmother Elizabeth, observant of what I was trying to do, took charge and hand stitch the remaining fabrics together, until she finished my purse. I was delighted. There is something special about a moment like that. To be fortunate enough to sit next to my grandmother, and observe her craft while making a creation of my own.

Grandmother Elizabeth was born in 1911 in New York City to Mary Ester Saunders (Shinault) and Charles Saunders. Grandmother Elizabeth had two sisters, Dorothy and Alma and a brother Billy. Her husband Carlito Benjamin Allen was often not present in the home. According to the 1940 census, Grandmother Elizabeth, a seamstress, age 29, b.1911 is listed as a lodger at 139th Street, in New York City, N.Y. with her 2nd grader son, Reginald Winston Allen age 9. Grandmother Elizabeth’s sister, Alma b.1915, in North Carolina, age 25, was residing as a lodger in the same building with her two year old son Bruce, b.1938.
My grandmother attended the Pratt Institute, 200 Willoughby Ave, in New York. She has been credited as the first person in our family at the time to graduate from College. Her yearning was to become a Dress Designer. Oftentimes one would find her tatting in her spare time. For those who are not familiar with tatting it is a craft, a technique that uses heavy thread to construct a series of knots and loops using a hand held shuttle to create the lace edging on a collar for example but, for the purpose of my grandmother, she did it to decorate the border of her handkerchiefs. Amazing work, which takes hours to complete, with a high learning curve to master.

Part of our family lore is a story my Dad had told me numerous times about his mother. Not only did I hear this story from Dad, but from many other relatives as well, including Cousin(s) Jean, Simone, Bruce, Ken, my Sister Charisse and Brother Scott. They all tell it like this…

Grandmother Elizabeth designed a collection of beautiful antebellum dresses for several dolls. She relinquished the dolls to a woman. The woman may have promised her a financial gain for the exquisitely dressed dolls. The transaction had potential to transition into a possible employment opportunity, considering the economic climate of the times in the 1930’s. My grandmother never heard from the woman who took the dresses and the dolls. Grandmother Elizabeth was absolutely astonished when she saw replicas of her dress design featured in the Epic Motion Picture Movie, “Gone with the Wind.” Believe me, this story has been told countless times of how my grandmother was “ripped off,” of her dress designs without compensation or acknowledgement of her work. She was tormented by this infringement, compounded by other unfair circumstances, which caused her to shift in mental status and become ill over time. Dad took me to visit his Mother in a Nursing Home in New York. Despite she had endured a stroke on her right side, she was still able to create things using her hands.

What does the law have to say about Fashion Designs and Copyright Protection?
The copyright Acts defines “useful article” an article having intrinsic utilitarian function that is not mearly to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information. An article that is normally part of a useful article is considered a useful article.17 U.S.C 101 U.S. The designer has no say concerning the useful and further disposition of the article that has registered copyright once the designer or manufacturer has released that article into general commerce by selling it or giving it away.
Second court of appeals (1991 and 1995) relating to clothing and the fact that clothing is not copyrightable. In essence, my grandmother’s dress design had a functional purpose for the dolls. It served to keep the doll decent in appearance. Had Grandmother Elizabeth established a mutual written agreement with the woman who took her dolls and her designs, I’m certain she would have had a more favorable resolve.

My journey continues…as I search for my Shinault, Gamble, Saunders, Allen, Garcia, Strother Heritage on my Paternal side, and the Williams, and Jacoways on my Maternal side. Stay tuned. There is more to come from my fabulous journey of family relations and discovery.

About Andrea.

A native New Yorker and resident of Chicago. A member of the Black Heritage Committee of NEIU. Family and Community oriented, loves to travel and experience other cultures.

Fashion design and the law the rule book for independent designers and the marketers behind them July 30,2012


Our SHINAULT Family Images


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Mary & Daughters3rd is Mary and her three daughters in NY on the roof. I think people spent social time on the roofs in New York City.

Mary & CousinsMary and the three cousins, my father in the dark suit

Elizabeth & AlmaMy Grandmother Elizabeth (left) & her Sister Great Aunt Alma who died recently. Her son is the one sitting on the lap of my Great grandmother Mary in the previous above photo

Mary on PianoGreat Grandmother Mary played piano for the silent movies I am told.

VaudevilleMary’s only Son Billy (right) was in Vaudeville.

Little Andrea & FamilyMe, Mom Marthamarie, and dad Reginald Winston ALLEN ~1957

My SHINAULT Family of Virginia & New York


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William and Mathilda SHINAULTMy 3rd Grandfather, William G. SHINAULT (b. 1857) moved to New York City with his Wife, Mathilda and Mother-in-Law, her last name CHRISTIAN. Also moving to New York with the family, someone with the last name of GAMBLE and a son William C. SHINAULT born 1881.

In June1884, their second son Robert H. SHINAULT was born in New York. Followed by Rosie H. SHINAULT (1885),  Edgar B. SHINAULT (Sept 1886), Charles SHINAULT (1888), Mary E. SHINAULT (1891), my Grandmother’s Mother.

Mary had 3 daughters and each of the daughters had one son each. Elizabeth SAUNDERS was my Grandmother, who graduated from the Pratt Institute as a dress designer.

My Dad, Reginald ALLEN was her son born also in NY, as I was born there as well in 1957. So, I follow in the house of Mary, from the SHINAULT Clan.

Family Lore says that William G. SHINAULT came from France via Canada. That is not true, a couple of generations proceed him in the States. Thus, I want to find out if William G. SHINAULT is related to the Huganot from France, Etienne CHENEAU, who came to Virginia via a ship the Nassau, departing from England in the 1700’s.

DNA testing is in order for me soon to find out and match up with others who claim heritage to him.

After Mary, my Grandmother’s Mother on my Paternal side in the birth order is, Chester A. SHINAULT (1893), followed by Frances L. SHINAULT (1897) and lastly Edith L. SHINAULT (June 1898). Nicholas GARCIA was her spouse.

My cousin Ken who lives in San Diego is related to the house of Edith. He and I share Ancestry information quite regularly. I met him late in life while on my journey to find my family on my Dad’s side.

My Mother’s side are WILLIAMS, WALKER, and JACOWAYS.

Our journey begins…