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Dressmaker Madame Hancock of Winston-Salem

Madame Hancock. Image from Winston-Salem Time Traveler.On December 13, 1951, North Carolina dressmaker Molly McCoy Hancock died.

Born in 1863, McCoy grew up in Rockingham County with her five siblings. Her mother owned one of the first sewing machines in the area and wove her own cloth. Hancock learned how to be a seamstress by watching her mother work. She found the work to be so engaging that she ended up designing and making dresses for her sisters and classmates.

Eventually, Hancock took her passion to the next level and moved to New York to study fashion. She opened a sewing room in Reidsville in 1884, the same year she married Thomas Hancock.  They had one child, a boy named for his father.

The couple moved to Winston-Salem, where Molly operated a custom dressmaking shop. She ran the shop for 60 years, often traveling to New York to obtain fabrics and see the latest Parisian designs. By World War II, she employed 40 seamstresses who used her patterns to make wedding gowns, trousseaux, day and evening wear, smallclothes, christening gowns and even shrouds.

Most knew her best as Madame Hancock, a nickname coined by her husband. It was a title she earned for being considered a couturiere, a rare designation for an American, and an even rarer one for a North Carolinian.

Visit: In January, the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh will premiere an exhibit on Willie Kay, another prominent North Carolina dressmaker.

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