(written by Megan, Archives Staff)
Leona Foerster was born in La Crosse to George & Catherine Foerster. Taught to sew at an early age (the usual for the day), and apprenticed to a seamstress in Minneapolis in 1884 at age 12, by 1893 she was going out and sewing by day in Minneapolis. By 1895, she had returned to La Crosse and opened her own dressmaking shop with her sister, Catherine, working for her.
On a trip to Chicago to purchase materials for her business she impressed the people at the Gosshard Corset Company with her skilled work and ability to speak foreign languages. They hired her as their designer and foreign agent and gave her a desk in their office for when she was working in Chicago and not La Crosse. In the days of full length skirts and dresses there were many pieces of women’s underwear: a corset with ribbing and laces to lace it up (for a slender figure), a cover over the corset (like a camisole), drawers (long legged underwear), and a skirt (like a slip).
Leona in 1912
Leona traveled to Paris for the Gosshard Company, making her headquarters in Paris. The custom of the day required that women, especially young single women, did not travel, eat out, or go abroad without a male escort and Gosshard always provided someone else on their staff to travel with her. Leona’s travel was first class all the way with a private train compartment to New York City, fine hotels, fine restaurants, and first class travel on ships crossing the Atlantic. When she was in Paris, as well as when she traveled to other places in Europe, Leona met with retailers, showed her design samples, and encouraged them to order items to sell to their customers. She would then return to La Crosse to supervise the manufacture of the items.
Leona patented her undergarment, a combination of corset cover, drawers, and skirt in 1905. She called it the Leona and set up the Leona Garment Company in La Crosse to manufacture it.
Advertising piece for the Leona
She married Charles Linker, who operated businesses in La Crosse with his brother, and later opened the Linker Hotel. Charles also helped Leona with her business since she continued to work, and travel, for the Gosshard Company.
In 1910 the Linkers built a home at 718 Main Street.
The house in the summer of 1913
corner of the outdoor living room and sleeping porch (trying to stay cool in hot weather)
The Linkers in their living room
The Linkers on the front steps (the corner of the sleeping porch is behind Leona)
With the changing styles of the flapper era in the 1920’s Leona’s undergarment became less popular and she terminated her garment manufacturing business in 1920. She continued to work and travel for the Gosshard Company until the 1930’s and retired with a pension. Charles died in 1943 and Leona died in 1952.
Their house survived, in transformed form. It was added onto and is now Treasures on Main, 722 Main Street. If you look up you will still see the upper stories of the house. For more information on other interesting La Crosse historical facts please come down, or contact, the La Crosse Public Library Archives.