Beulah Blackmore understood that fashion is not a frivolous subject. The clothes we wear are an integral part of the human experience. Each piece tells a story about where and how the wearer lived, how they saw themselves and their place in society, as technical details like construction, fiber composition and the method of production.
Blackmore came to Cornell in 1915 as the first full time clothing instructor in what was then the Department of Home Economics. Over a career of 36 years, she led the College’s textile and clothing program as the curriculum expanded from a focus on clothing construction to more advanced study of design, psychology, chemistry and consumer selection in response to changes in clothing production and marketing as well as new technologies like synthetic textiles.
Perhaps Blackmore’s greatest legacy is the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection (CF+TC), which began in 1916 as a few pieces of clothing and fabrics that she used to illustrate lectures. She added to this teaching collection slowly over the years. Then, in 1936, she embarked on an international tour to learn about dress in different cultural contexts, starting in Cuba and continuing west, through the Panama Canal, to Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Europe. She returned with more than 20 complete ensembles, plus accessories and flat textiles, bringing an entire world of fashion to Ithaca. “We are building a collection of costumes which will give, when completed, a picture of our social history as well as being a very beautiful collection,” she wrote. Today, CF+TC includes nearly 9,000 items of apparel, accessories and flat textiles from the 18th century to present. The items are used for exhibition, research and teaching.