Today’s advert brought to you by Single. Women. Entrepreneurs. by Erin Albert 

Check us out, Indianapolis, blazing a fashionable trail in the 1890’s! In the 1890, 1891 and 1892 Indianapolis city directories, it appears Indianapolis had manicurists.  This might not be so interesting or trail-blazing were it not for the fact that the timeline of “manicure history” sites 1892 as the year that introduced a new manicure method eschewing use of metal tools (a practice started in Europe in the 1830s) in the United States, increasing adoption and popularity of manicures amongst ‘society’ folk.


Also worth noting, March has been declared Women’s History Month–rock on trailblazer Mary E, single woman (ahem), for owning your own business in 1890’s Indianapolis. According to the 1900 census, she also owned the building she lived in at 707 Virginia Avenue.  (Address number may have changed post 1911, but she had moved by the time the 1920 census rolled around). As a quick reference for current Indianapolis dwellers, she lived in the block of where Calvin Fletcher Coffee Company is today.

So, in 1890, Mary E. Phelan was the only manicurist listed, but others followed suit.

In 1893, her manicure advert directed people to the hair section as well, showing how far back the association between hair stylists and manicurists goes. Who knew?

Then in 1895, Phelan was also added to her repertoire the sale of manicuring tools; see the alteration to her advert for that year. Seems the do-it-yourself trend has been around for quite some time.

By 1897, Ms. Phelan’s adverts no longer appeared in Indianapolis city directory.

Doing a quick online search, I found that a gentleman named Don elsewhere in the online-osphere–on a site called Hair Raising Stories had some of Ms. Phelan’s business cards!

And to boot–a bottle bearing her name! “Phelan’s Hair Coloring and Tonic.” Evidently, Phelan also produced her own line of hair products, as this bottle is also featured! Don graciously agreed to let me show his trade cards. He also informs me that he has another bottle like this one below, currently for sale. Contact info on his site page. Many thanks to Don!


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