Company name
Peacock Alley
"Catherine Evans, Addie Evans, and the Creation of the Bedspread Industry"
Randall L. Patton, Professor of History, Kennesaw State University
Program in conjunction with the exhibit Peacock Alley: The Early Years of Gordon County's Chenille Industry
24 September 2009
Harris Arts Center, Calhoun Gordon Arts Council

Catherine EvansCatherine Evans was born in 1880 in the farming community of Reo in Whitfield County, Georgia. She grew up, as did most Georgia women in the late nineteenth century, on the farm. She was clearly a very talented girl, yet her horizons were limited by both the circumstances of her birth and her gender. Rural Georgians, male and female, faced few opportunities for education beyond the elementary grades. Catherine was no exception to this rule. Late in life, Catherine mused about the restricted economic prospects for women of her generation. "When I was a girl I wished that I had been a boy," she wrote, "because a boy could find work to make money and there was nothing a girl could do to earn money." i Catherine earned some money in her time, and helped create an industry that earned fortunes for a few and provided employment for thousands.

For anyone searching for a candidate to initiate a homegrown industrial revolution, Catherine Evans appeared a most unlikely candidate. Yet today she is widely credited as the mother of the region's carpet industry, the economic lifeblood of much of Northwest Georgia. Dalton, in turn, became the tufted bedspread capital and the carpet capital of the world.

While visiting a cousin in 1893, twelve-year old Catherine saw an old candlewick bedspread that had been in the family for many years. The candlewick method created a pattern of raised tufts of thick yarn on the surface of the spread. She had never seen anything like it. Catherine "admired it so much" that she decided that she would try to duplicate it when she got a little older. At fifteen, in 1895, Catherine kept her pledge. Rather than precisely duplicating the difficult candlewick method, she actually developed a new technique, a variation on candlewicking, called tufting (or turfing as most called it in the early twentieth century). Jean Manly, longtime interpreter of local lore for the historical society in Dalton, alluded to Catherine's variation on the traditional candlewick craft in a recent conversation, observing that Catherine's lack of any sort of formal training in the textile arts might have actually helped her create a somewhat simpler method for achieving a visual effect that closely mimicked candlewick.ii

The work process for Catherine's earliest spreads was tedious and time-consuming. To form the initial piece of sheeting to serve as a base for the tufted design, Catherine seamed together bits and pieces of material. She purchased white thread and used a spinning wheel, homemade by her father, to wind twelve strands together, forming a thick yarn. "I placed this thread in a bodkin needle and started working." At one point during this period, Catherine's mother, Nancy, observed her daughter's intensive labor and offered a casual observation that proved prescient. "My mother told me I had started something I would never finish," Catherine recalled. "But I did finish it." Catherine referred, in a matter-of-fact fashion, to the single spread that prompted her mother's observation, and her mother certainly meant her comment in the same way. Yet in a larger sense Catherine's labors initiated a process that came to define Northwest Georgia and dominate the livelihoods of its people.iii

Catherine gave an early spread as a wedding gift to her brother and his bride in 1900. Her friends and neighbors saw Catherine's handiwork and asked if they, too, could buy such spreads. Soon Catherine had a lucrative side business supplying her tufted spreads to households in North Georgia. Apparently she also raised her prices somewhat, though the increase did not deter sales. Catherine "kept making spreads and filling orders." During the early years of the twentieth century, she "worked in the cotton field" and "did house work of every kind between spread orders for several years after I quit going to school."iv

Soon Catherine was organizing a thriving home-based business. She began asking neighbors to come to her home in 1918 or 1919 to spread the work. Catherine employed the women as helpers and taught them the new craft she had developed in the process. She planned meals for the group, scheduled household chores, and spread work. Women would arrive in the morning and work all day. Organizing, teaching, directing, and feeding a group of women daily was a large undertaking for Catherine, yet she enjoyed it, according to relatives. Many of the women she taught in those earliest years would go on to become her competitors, or perhaps more properly, members of a network of small craft producers. Catherine always insisted that there was more than enough work to go around as demand grew.v

Catherine Evans, the rural craft worker, partnered with Eugenia Jarvis, the better-educated town dweller who had been an insurance agent, to take tufted bedspreads from a hobby to a thriving home-based business. Catherine taught the craft to women first so that they could help her fill orders. Inevitably, with demand for "traditional crafts" expanding in the 1920s, many of those Catherine employed decided to strike out on their own. "Several of my friends began making spreads with all kinds of new designs," Catherine wrote in 1938. "Many of them have become wealthy and for this I am proud."vi Among Catherine's friends who became competitors was Eugenia Jarvis herself, who split with Catherine and formed her own firm in the early 1930s. Eugenia and her family stamped spreads and farmed out the work to women in the countryside. Perhaps Catherine's most intriguing competitor, though, was her sister-in-law, Addie Evans.

Addie Lee Cavender was born in 1889 and later married Catherine Evans's brother, Eugene, in 1912. The newlyweds moved into a small farmhouse just across the road from Catherine and her parents. Addie learned tufting from her sister-in-law and initially worked with Catherine to make spreads. Addie eventually went into the bedspread business herself. W. R. insisted years later that his aunt "just stayed at home . . . and made what few little spreads she could make. And she, as time went along, would train what lady or two that would come in. She never did go into any real training program. She never did really go to work on this thing and try to get production."

Addie set about building a business very different from Catherine's. Addie had a fifth-grade education and a "crippled foot" that limited her mobility. Yet, her granddaughter recalled, "to speak to Addie, you would never have known that her formal education was so limited." Addie "was self-educated," and she worked hard at self-improvement, struggling to overcome her lack of education and limited rural background. And she worked hard to build a business out of tufting spreads. "I would put my young children in the buggy and go throughout the countryside and teach people how to tuft," Addie Evans recalled in a 1980 interview. She taught "the man, the woman, and the child if they showed that they wanted to learn." Addie built her business by recruiting these home workers. "I took them the sheeting and the yarn and on a regular schedule I'd return and pick up the finished product."

In 1917, Addie formed the Evans Manufacturing Company, based in her home. Initially Addie's business was a small affair, marketing spreads to neighbors and a bit more widely by word of mouth. Among those who heard the word was Lizzie Maddox Parmalee. Lizzie Maddox, born in 1885, was the daughter of former Dalton mayor Sam Maddox. She married Ohioan Frederic Parmalee, a Southern Railway agent. Lizzie later benefited from both her father's connections and Frederic's railroad experience in her efforts to find markets for Addie Evans's spreads.viii Parmalee arrived at the Eugene Evans farmstead on July 3, 1918, just as Addie and her family were "getting ready to go on a picnic." Addie described Parmalee as "a fashionably dressed lady" who announced, "you don't know me, but I know about you and know about your bedspreads. I want to sell them for you." Carrying a sample spread, Parmalee quickly boarded a train for Atlanta. She soon convinced Rich's, Atlanta's signature department store, to try selling some of the spreads. Rich's ordered twenty-four spreads.ix The initial Rich's order was a huge success that spurred Parmalee to market Addie's spreads more widely.

Addie began recruiting area women to help her "turf" (as the verb "tuft" was generally rendered in the local dialect). Addie typically worked late into the night preparing the spreads and yarn and finished preparing breakfast before dawn. She suspended the business briefly in the early days of the Great Depression but revived it in 1933, and it was in this incarnation that Evans Manufacturing Company continued as a family enterprise for thirty years. Addie's granddaughter recalled that her grandmother was "president, CEO, and everything else for that company." Addie managed the business conservatively as it expanded and met new challenges. She used a chicken house that stood on her family's property for stamping spreads in 1933 but a year or two later built a spread house for stamping and laundering.

Addie and Lizzie were among the first to use colored yarns in their spreads. Lizzie identified a Delaware company that could dye thick yarn spun for tufting. But Addie and Lizzie, cautious businesswomen that they were, feared that their competitors would discover their connection with northern yarn mills and try to exploit it as well. Lizzie had the company's yarn shipped to her home in Kentucky, where she would unpack it from its marked wooden crates. She then re-packed the yarn in unmarked crates and shipped it to Addie in Dalton, thus concealing from prying eyes the potential connection with outside yarn manufacturers. Evans Manufacturing was apparently "the sole spread business offering colored yarn for some three years" before competitors found their own sources.x The colored yarn anecdote illustrated as well as anything the differences between Catherine Evans and her sister-in-law. The personal characteristic most often used to describe Catherine was generosity. Addie has most often been remembered as a hard-driving, ambitious businesswoman who could be generous but emphasized what was best for her business.

The emergence of home work in bedspread tufting in the early twentieth century mirrored developments in other crafts. As rural folk cultures faded in an increasingly urbanized America, consumers sought comfort in the consumption of handcrafted "traditional" products. Indeed, ads for tufted bedspreads often traded on this appeal. Sage-Allen & Co. of Hartford, Connecticut, marketed candlewick bedspreads in a typical ad in 1927 by observing that the spreads were "made by hand by the mountain people of Georgia."xi

The home work phase of the tufted textile industry's growth reached its peak in the mid-1930s. Despite apprehension that wage and hour laws would destroy the industry, business boomed. Tourists traveling a sixty-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 41 (popularly known as the Dixie Highway) between Ringgold and Acworth were fascinated by "the sight of myriads of the candlewick bedspreads hung on lines and flapping in the breeze," as an Atlanta Constitution writer observed in 1935. The colorful peacock-perhaps the one design that came to characterize the tufted bedspread industry-appeared frequently in a host of variations. The reporter noted one reason cited by locals for the prevalence of the peacock. Tufters could use virtually any colors in any combination to create peacocks. This made the peacock a sort of "catch all" design that home tufters could use to consume small amounts of yarn left over from a variety of more disciplined designs. This section of Highway 41 became known as Bedspread Boulevard and Peacock Alley as the spreads continued to flap in the breeze in large numbers through the 1960s. After 1970, the roadside business declined sharply. Yet even in the 1930s, while the Bedspread Boulevard /Peacock Alley idea conjured visions of a true home craft hawked by small makers on the roadside, more than 90 percent of tufted spreads were sold by manufacturers through department stores and distributors.xii

The Atlanta Constitution estimated that the Dalton area was home to about thirty bedspread firms, with nine of those "managed partly or entirely by women" like Addie Evans and Eugenia Jarvis. (Catherine Evans Whitener's business was probably not included in this total. Catherine always operated her business on a less formalized basis.) Manufacturers estimated that the industry's sales exceeded $2 million in 1935. Between 7,500 and 10,000 home workers, the vast majority of them women, labored in the industry. The thirty manufacturers estimated a total payroll of about $600,000, or $60-80 per worker. The Constitution's Henry Nevins reported that the "wives and daughters" of tenant farmers were glad to have the needlework as a means of earning a livelihood. These earnings "in a great many cases" kept entire families "off relief rolls out of charity."xiii

The heyday of the handicraft industry passed in the mid- to late 1930s as the tufted bedspread industry began to mechanize. By 1939 companies like Cabin Crafts (consciously named by its founders to take advantage of the romance of handicraft production) had ceased the elaborate putting out system in favor of concentrating workers in its factories. As Jane Becker has pointed out, spread-house owners increasingly experimented with and invested in machines to duplicate the hand-tufting process. Catherine Evans Whitener had largely exited the industry by the time mechanization swept through it. By 1940 factories produced and sold $12 million worth of tufted spreads. More than three-quarters of them were manufactured in the Dalton area. Yet Catherine Evans Whitener was "still unmechanized," according to a brief Time magazine profile in 1940. "Grey-haired and 60," the magazine reported, "she still produces for any friend who wants a handmade spread."xiv Catherine may have still been producing for sale on a limited scale, but she did not follow the craft she helped create into the machine age.
Addie Evans forged ahead, adapting to the new mechanized environment. As larger firms such as Cabin Crafts began to dominate the high-volume market for tufted bedspreads that Addie and Catherine had helped create, Evans Manufacturing moved into new products such as small tufted rugs. Small rugs kept Addie Evans's firm solvent and profitable through the late 1940s and 1950s. Evans Manufacturing and other firms used modified spread tufting machines to create the small rugs. They became the bridge to the Dalton area's economic future-carpeting. The rugs and machines became larger and larger through the 1950s until, by the early 1960s, cheaper tufted carpeting and large room-sized rugs made from synthetic fibers had supplanted traditional woven carpets and rugs made from wool. The bedspread industry had been a novelty industry in many ways. Low-cost tufted carpeting would become a staple product in the housing boom of the 1950s and 1960s.xv

Even as Evans Manufacturing enjoyed the success of its distinctive poodle-tuft rugs, patented in the 1950s, Addie Evans's family was pondering its future in the tufted textile industry. Addie's conservative business philosophy would not permit her to consider borrowing money on the scale necessary to move fully into the production of wall-to-wall carpeting by the mile. Over seventy years old by now, Addie chose to leave the tufted textile industry that she had helped create. She sold Evans Manufacturing in 1963. As her granddaughter (an adult working in the business at the time) remembered, Addie and her children decided "it was time to go."

As Addie exited the industry and carpet took center stage, the labor force was transformed as well, though it has not yet been well documented. During the 1950s, the bedspread and small rug companies primarily employed women as production workers. Carpet manufacturers, with the exception of a few job categories, preferred male employees. The testimony of workers from the era indicated that the two branches of tufted textile manufacture operated with very different work forces until the 1960s. As spread mills began to struggle in the early 1960s, women sought employment in the rapidly expanding carpet mills. Unlike the spread and small rug mills, men occupied the top production jobs in the carpet mills-machine operators and inspectors. Carpet mills employed women largely as creelers, a difficult, repetitive, lower-paid job that involved keeping full spools of yarn attached to the creel rack that fed the tufting machines. Lower and middle management jobs at first were almost exclusively held by men. And the entrepreneurs who built the carpet mills were virtually all male. Though middle management and a greater variety of production jobs opened slowly for women, upper management jobs remained elusive through the 1990s.

Catherine Evans Whitener observed the growing dominance of men in the industry she made. B. J. Bandy, perhaps the most successful of them, had sought and received her aid. As the industry demonstrated its growth potential in the 1930s, men formed new firms that fully exploited machine technology. Catherine said of the early days of the industry, "The men began to notice that the ladies had something worthwhile and began talking about machines to make spreads." The men brought machines and technology into the industry, she recalled. "I never dreamed such a thing could happen."xvi The skill, enterprise, and labor of women built a foundation for one of Georgia's most important industries.

RP: I'm going to stop there and open this up for questions or comments or objections that y'all may have.

Aud: [A question about the origin of the term "Peacock Alley."]

RP: That's hard to tell. We don't know for sure. I think 1920 is probably the best. . . . they were there-I can't find any references to Peacock Alley in the Atlanta Constitution from 1920 to 1940. I was a little surprised at that. Now there may be some, but I'm encouraged-I think I'm probably right, because I did find another phrase, "Bedspread Boulevard." In the twenties, that's what that section of highway 41 was known as, Bedspread Boulevard. I found three references to that phrase in the Atlanta Constitution; 1927 I believe was the first reference. The reference made it clear that this was not new, that it had been in use for some time, so I'm guessing sometime in the early to mid twenties Bedspread Boulevard-and that would imply bedspreads hanging along the side of the road. About the mid twenties.

Aud: Beverly [?] What can you tell me about her family?

RP: Well, when they sold, they just got out. Beverly went to work at First National Bank and worked there until she retired. She lives in Florida now. I caught up with her, tried to catch up with her all summer. She was traveling. I finally caught up with her last week. She lives in Destin, Fla. She's retired.

Aud: Have you any idea how much they sold out for?

RP: I do not. She probably knows, but I didn't want to ask. A good question. Probably a couple of million, something like that. It would have been a nice sum.

Aud: Just some food for thought. I came to this community because of the tufted bedspread business. I went to work for what was the remnants of OJay Mills, here in town, American Home Fashions, and that became Perfect Fit Industries and closed. We had over a hundred jacquard looms weaving [cloth] and tufted bedspreads. I was told the story that basically the industry developed from New York carpetbaggers bringing cloth to northwest Georgia with lines draw on it as to where they wanted the designs sewn into the fabric and that it became a cottage industry with women sewing on their front doorsteps, sewing the designs into the fabric, and that a lady in Sugar Valley with her cousin, or uncle, developed the capability of taking a single-needle sewing machine and actually sewing the tufts into the fabric with the single needle machine, and that she developed the main process that cut the threads-and the needles-in sewing, and that in time they developed two-needle machines, and three-needle machines, and improved until you had the twelve-foot machines that we currently have in the carpet industry. That's the little story that I was told, working in the industry some years ago.

RP: I think the industry started doing it like [that; I'm not sure, but it is pretty clear that] Catherine [and Addie] and these others [did not start that way]. I don't think-that's not to say that, later on, people from New York City and other places came down-but that comes a little later. That comes in the thirties, really, when people from outside the region began to come down and build their own companies, hiring people, and the technology certainly did develop that way. Lots of people claim credit. There were lots of legal battles over who built those first machines. Patent battles over who built those machines.

Aud: [Something about mechanization.]

RP: 1937? Cabin Craft had some needle [something] machines before that that they developed themselves; I think about 1932 or '33. But for everybody else, it was about 1937. I think that's when Glen Looper [??] finished his machine, and there were some others who came along about that time. As far as we can tell, there was a push to develop machinery because minimum-wage regulations and other things were pushing. . . . You hear the story that it was minimum-wage law that forced them into-and that's what spurred people to come up with the machine. There's truth in that, but it was also more productive, and I think they would have done it eventually. But it probably did speed things along; I don't doubt that it sped that process up. It's a little more complicated, because minimum-wage law didn't come along until 1938. There are a couple of things mixed in together. In 1933 the National Recovery Administration developed a tufted bedspread code which had within it an effective minimum wage, but that goes away. The Supreme Court struck that down in 1935. But in 1935 there's a certain effective substitute for that that also imposes costs on manufacturing, and that's the Social Security Act. There was a lot of controversy over who and exactly what kinds of workers would have to pay the Social Security tax. They fought over that, and the bedspread workers, the bedspread makers managed to delay enforcement of it in their industry until about 1938. But I think it was in 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act imposed [something, wage] that really did drive mechanization a good bit. So the NRA code, the Social Security Act, and the combination of all those things which roughly functioned as a minimum wage of sorts, driving costs together, was a little more complicated than just the minimum wage, but that's fair enough a description. It encouraged manufacturers to look for machinery.

Aud: We got out of the business, Georgia Tufters ultimately got out of the business, but don't think that the business is dead, because, certainly, once every two weeks from the time we got out of the business until we closed the [?], I'd get a call from somebody somewhere in this country wanting to know if we were still doing them or if I knew somebody that was. And in my job currently I'm working with an importer who is importing tufted bedspreads.

RP: Yes, it didn't go away completely, but the demand certainly slumped. That drove a lot of folks out of business, but you're right, it didn't go away completely. And it's going to revive, because it's become a novelty item again, and a collectors' item, in a lot of ways.

Aud: What was the market? We hear stories about people driving down 41 and stopping to buy a bedspread, but it looks like it would need more than that.

RP: Sure, sure. They were sold in department stores. May's Department Store out in Los Angeles marketed Addie's bedspreads and her small rugs later on. Wannamaker's Department Store, Macy's, Rich's in Atlanta. Department stores around the country bought these bedspreads.

Aud: Did she get into the shipping business? How did they know she was making these?

RP: Women like Mrs. Jarvis, who worked with Catherine Evans, traveled around, and other people did, too.

Aud: And sales people?

RP: Sure, you had sales people, especially once a business starts to [grow. I made some] calculations to see what [Catherine's spreads] would sell for in 2008 dollars. The first spread that Catherine sold, in 1900, the first one that she sold, if I recall correctly, was the equivalent of about $66, in 2008 dollars. It was $3, or $4, $2.50, something like that. It was the equivalent of $60 in 2008 dollars. So they were not super cheap, but they were not a king's ransom, either. They cost enough to make people think they might be worth something, but not a fortune.

Aud: But the ladies who made them, the hand tufters, were being paid-?

RP: Very little. Five, ten, fifteen cents a spread, depending on. . . . And that was one of the [new/good?] things. If you're going to have to pay these women on an hourly basis for the labor they put into these spreads, you can't do it! There's nothing left. What that reflects is the amount of work that went into making these spreads. It took hours and hours. It's the kind of thing-if you compensated the way we compensate factory labor now, you can't. That's part of what drove-well, the manufacturers were upset about it; some of the home tufters were upset about it, too, because it threatened to take away this income that they were able to make. On the other hand, if you opposed that minimum wage, what did that really do? It [minimum wage] drove those manufacturers to figure out a way to mechanize this process, and then you're able to pay people at least a minimum wage, because you can do it cheaply enough to be able to help. There are lots of arguments you can have, but one of the arguments against the minimum wage was that it would destroy jobs, in 1938, and President Roosevelt replied, essentially, if you can't afford to pay people this much to do this job, then maybe you ought to rethink whether it's worth paying somebody to do this job. In other words, if people can't earn a living doing this job, maybe we ought to rethink this. Maybe you ought to figure out a way to try to mechanize this job, try to introduce some labor-saving technology, or it may just not be worth doing. Granted, people worked long hours, but that cash income during the Great Depression was critical. What else could you do in much of rural north Georgia to make any kind of money? It was crucial to a lot of people, in the early 1930s, especially.

[Applause.] Jane and Patton

JPW: Thank you, and thank all of you for coming. Please take a minute to fill out a survey on the table in the back of the room, and then join us downstairs for the reception. I want to add that I'm glad I didn't know when we began this project about "Bedspread Boulevard," because it doesn't have nearly the cachet of "Peacock Alley," somehow.

Randall L. Patton, Ph.D., is the author of the books Carpet Capital: The Rise of a New South Industry and Shaw Industries: A History. He was born in Dalton and grew up in Murray County. He is professor of history and holds the Shaw Industries Chair at Kennesaw State University.

i Catherine Evans, "Bedspread Beginning," n.d., probably late 1950s, Catherine Evans Whitener File, Crown Archives, Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, Dalton, Georgia. Hereinafter referred to as Whitener File.

ii Catherine Amoroso Leslie, Needlework Through History: An Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007), 35-37.; author's notes from interview with Jean Manly, April 20, 2009.

iii Evans Whitener, "A history."

iv Evans Whitener, "A history."

v Author interview with Joe Evans, Catherine's great nephew, June 15, 2009.

vi Evans, "A history."

vii Author interview with Beverly Ann Whitfield interview, June 10, 2009, author's notes; Addie Evans quoted in Thomas Deaton, Bedspreads to Broadloom (Acton, MA: Color Wheel Press), 5.

viii Bureau of the Census , 1920, 1930, accessed via, June 15, 2009. Curiously, Lizzie listed no occupation in either the Census of 1920 or 1930. By 1930, the Parmalee family had moved to Louisville, Kentucky. Addie's family believed that Parmalee lived in Louisville in 1918 and was simply in Dalton to visit family that July.

ix Cheryl Wykoff, "Addie Evans," manuscript provided by Beverly Whitfield.

x Beverly Whitfield interview and Wykoff, "Addie Evans."

xi Hartford Courant, May 3, 1927, 5.

xii Henry Nevins, "Bedspread Sales Reach High mark in North Georgia," Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 29, 1935, 13A.

xiii Ibid.

xiv "Catherine Evans' Bedspreads," Time, Sept. 2, 1940, 8.

xv Randall L. Patton with David B. Parker, Carpet Capital: The Rise of a New South Industry (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999), 81-122.

xvi Whitener, "Bedspread Beginning."

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