Museum honors Gloria Gossard

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It's a little painful to look at -- a few yards of pink cloth hanging on the wall of the Tread of Pioneers Museum. When used properly, the front-lace corset from the early 1900s would be tied tight, pinching ribs and organs into the illusion of a tiny waist.

"Do not change your type; make the most of it," read an advertisement for the Gossard corset in the March 1922 issue of Ladies Home Journal. The corset came in varied sizes, designed to twist and shape any figure into a perfect hourglass. But it was a revolution in the fashion torture for women: It laced in front.

H.W. Gossard, an early resident of Steamboat, imported the new design from France and built his family's wealth on the waists of women. The H.W. Gossard Co. eventually became an international company and was the largest corset business in the world.

Because the Gossard corset laced in front, women no longer needed an assistant and could dress themselves.

"When he first brought it over from France, it was made of (pure silk) and cost $25," said Candice Lombardo, Tread of the Pioneers Museum curator. "No one thought people would pay that much but (Gossard) couldn't keep them in stock."

Over time, Gossard began manufacturing the corsets in the United States. He changed the materials and the price dropped to as low as $5.

"He made sure that every woman could have a Gossard corset," Lombardo said. "The corsets before this one were really uncomfortable, but the Gossard corsets were approved by doctors and any woman could still get her desired figure that was popular in the day."

A new exhibit at the Tread of Pioneers Museum traces the Gossard family from the Chicago-based H.W. Gossard Co. to his daughter, Gloria Gossard, who lives in Steamboat.

Gloria Gossard is known first and foremost for her generosity. She received the Yampa Valley Community Foundation's Philanthropist of the Year Award in 1998 and received the Hazie Werner Award for Excellence for her contributions to the community.

Gloria Gossard has been involved with the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, Strings in the Mountains, LIFT-UP, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurses Association, Bud Werner Memorial Library and the Tread of Pioneers Museum. In 1999, she donated a 120-acre piece of land on Emerald Mountain that connects Howelsen Park with a city-owned parcel of land south of town. The land is now protected from development.

Of Gloria, the book "Making Footprints: The story of Routt County's women" reads, "Gloria Gossard has helped underwrite almost every artistic, environmental and civic undertaking in Routt County where she moved when she was in the sixth grade."

"I think that's a true statement," Lombardo said. "She always downplays that about herself, saying that she isn't in the trenches like the volunteers.

"Honestly, she was one of the people who made sure that (the museum) stayed open last year. This family has always taken their good fortune and used it to better the community."

There are a lot of programs, arts and otherwise, and nonprofit organizations in Steamboat that would not exist without Gloria Gossard, Lombardo said.

"We built this exhibit to honor Gloria and to have the community recognize what she has done and let them get to know her family," she said.

The family moved from the Midwest to La Jolla, Calif., but the economy of the Great Depression priced them out of that coastal town. In 1932, after numerous summertime visits to the Yampa Valley, the Gossards moved to Steamboat Springs.

In Steamboat, H.W. Gossard was best known for his efforts to market the hot springs as a spa destination.

"He always had this vision of Steamboat as a spa resort," Lombardo said.

The exhibit, "Foundations of Steamboat: The Gossard Family," opened July 31 and will be on display for one year.

Gloria Gossard and her sister-in-law, Carol Gossard, came to the opening of the exhibit.

Of her life in Steamboat, Gloria Gossard is quoted in "Making Footprints" as saying, "I was dragged by the heels by my family to Steamboat Springs from La Jolla, California, where ocean and beaches were favorite diversions. My feet were strapped to two over-long wooden slats and I was turned loose on frozen water. I was the novice. Everyone else had been skiing for years. So it was adapt, learn to ski or be an outcast. That's the story of the West: One has to do what one has to do."

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