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Kate Hinkle´s French Laundry, Near Linwood Blvd. & 3121Gillham Road

Kate Hinkle
Kate Hinkle
Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO

In 1908 a very determined woman bought two wooden tubs with a portion of the sum total of her capital, $8, and launched Kansas City´s first French laundry. Needing to earn a living following her husband´s death, Kate Hinkle turned to what she knew best: the care of fine laces, priceless linens, and exquisite embroideries. When she had worked as a children´s nurse, she deplored the many pieces that were discarded because of poor laundering. She knew she could do better.

The first customers of Kate Hinkle´s French Laundry were former employers living along Armour Boulevard or in the vicinity of 44th Street from Warwick Boulevard to Oak Street. She was asked to work on their daughters´ bridal trousseaux. Hinkle went into their homes to launder the linens and embroidered articles of the brides–to–be. In those days many brides had an abundance of French embroidered pieces and household linens that required laundering.

Since Kansas Citians were accustomed to sending their fine laces and linens to New York City or other places in the East, Hinkle´s business was not an overnight success. She pushed a cart making pick–ups and deliveries with her ever–present Irish smile. Work was being done at their home. It was truly handwork with wooden tubs, washboards, and padded tables for ironing.

The business prospered and grew. Hinkle moved from her home to a rented building on Gillham Road near Linwood Boulevard and finally into a brick building she had constructed at 3121 Gillham Road where she employed 30 women to wash and iron and had two delivery trucks.

Her customers were located from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, from North Dakota to Texas with the heaviest concentration in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Her work was always done by hand; the only machine used was a huge centrifugal wringer that gently squeezed water out of material.

Fine washing was her pride. Hinkle retained her enthusiasm and desire and saved the biggest problems for herself. Once she was asked to launder a damask tablecloth owned by William Rockhill Nelson that was worth several thousand dollars. She worked on the eight–yard–long piece by herself. Hinkle said that her most difficult job was washing an embroidered 90-inch round tablecloth made in a French convent. She remembered, "Well, this cloth was so fine and the embroidery so heavy that when I took it out of the water, it looked just like a bird´s nest."

Kansas City Women of Independent Minds , Jane Fifield Flynn