By Molly Harris
At ESA 30 and at every postcard show dealers arrange their stock so that one spot is reserved for Sunbonnets. Ever since the early twentieth century when Bertha Corbett of Minneapolis first drew her bonnet-wearing girls they have been a favored collectible. Milady and her daughters had long worn hair-concealing headgear, but what Bertha Corbett drew, in response to a challenge, was different and quickly popular. Another artist once said to her that it was impossible to show emotion if a face was not drawn. Miss Corbett said that you could and promptly sketched a figure in a long dress with a simple bonnet completely hiding its face. That was the beginning.
In 1900 Corbett published abook about her Sun-bonnet Babies, as she spelled the word. Within two years another author, Eulalie Osgood Grover, collaborated with her on the first of a series of books published by Rand McNally featuring the Sunbonnet Babies, and later, the Overall Boys, drawn by Corbett. There were postcards, advertising cards, blotters, sheet music and cards to be colored by school children. Even sets of Royal Bayreuth china dishes used transfer images of the various scenes Corbett sketched of the Sunbonnet Babies.
Bertha Corbett's creation was imitated by other artists on postcards, Valentines, and other holiday cards. Her series of books eventually totaled nine. The books have been reprinted, but an even longer life for Bertha Corbett's babies resulted when women realized that the Sunbonnet Babies could be simplified into patterns for applique quilts. Thus Baby could be lulled to sleep by the words of the storybook while tucked snugly in a crib quilt decorated with one or more Sunbonnet Babies.