Mary Brooks Picken at the height of her powers.Mary Brooks Picken

Mary Brooks Picken was an extremely prolific author on the subjects of fashion, sewing, needlework and home economics in the early- and mid- twentieth century but there isn't much information about her readily available. She was born August 6, 1886 in Arcadia, Kansas, moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania at some point, and then moved to New York around 1930. She died March 8, 1981 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in a nursing home. (Previously she had lived in Pawling, New York.) Her father was Christopher Columbus Brooks. She married New York advertising executive G. (Guy) Lynn Sumner, one of the fathers of direct-mail advertising, on November 21, 1931.

Although many of her books are better characterized as "booklets"— they were installments of a correspondence course in dressmaking offered by the "Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences" in Scranton, Pennsylvania (part of the International Correspondence Schools), many others were full-length books, some written under a pen name for the Women's Institute. She was the author of "The Language of Fashion," published in 1939, which some, including the June 26, 1940 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, say makes her the first woman to write an dictionary in the English language. It was republished in expanded form as "The Fashion Dictionary," in 1957 and is still in print under the title "A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion: Historic and Modern." She was also the author of several editions of the "Singer Sewing Book."

Mary Brooks Picken was influential on the subject of fashion and a strong believer that women should wear only well-fitting clothing in styles that are flattering on them, no matter what everyone else is wearing. She was named a trustee of the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1951— the first woman to be so honored. She was one of the founding members of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and taught at Columbia University. She was member of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Advisory Committee on Women's Clothing as of 1949. She was also one of the founding members of the Fashion Group in New York and at one time was its Chairman of the Board.

As prolific a writer as she was, very few of her books are in print today. As a service to those who are interested, below I've linked pdfs of some of her books. I hope you find them informative, I certainly did.

Online at this site, Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences pamphlets (warning, large pdf files):

Other books by Mary Brooks Picken can be found online at:

Tailored Skirts (1916)
Tight Linings and Boning (1922)
Tailored Pockets (1922)
Woolen Materials and Tailored Plackets (1923)
Laundering and Dry Cleaning (1931)
Principles of Tailoring (1933)

Books by Mary Brooks Picken currently in print:

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© 2007 Katharine Whisler