The papers of Elizabeth W. Tyler were recently opened to research at the Schlesinger Library. Tyler (1918–2013) grew up in the greater Boston area and from an early age demonstrated a talent for fashion design. As a schoolgirl, she began sketching outfits for women and girls, with some whimsical sketches based on the “Flapper Fanny Says” cartoons created by Beatrice Hays and continued by Gladys Parker.
She also designed a paper doll, named “Sally,” and created a wide array of outfits for her. Sally’s wardrobe ranged from pajamas to evening gowns and included a variety of coats and sport dresses, all reflecting the styles of the day.
Tyler was a popular student—a scrapbook documenting her high school years reveals a life filled with school dances and sporting events and other social and cultural activities. A school assignment, for which she received an “A,” required her to decide on a color scheme for herself and create miniature versions of costumes for day and evening. It is not clear whether Tyler actually wore the outfits she designed, but the exercise provides a strong sense of her preferred style in dress and her attention to detail. She probably wore outfits similar to these when at school and when socializing with friends.
After graduating from high school in 1935, Tyler studied at the Worcester Museum of Art and the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, graduating in 1939 with a degree in industrial design. In 1938, she noted in a letter to her mother, “Being an artist is awful wearing . . . I’m behind in my work but I’m happy.” Although her interests eventually shifted away from fashion design, she continued to draw and paint throughout her life, creating watercolors, sketches, silhouettes, and, toward the end of her life, quilts. One of her quilts was featured in a national quilt show in California.
In 1941 she married Harry Tyler, whom she had met while living and working in New York City. The couple had four children and lived in Maine, where Harry worked in industrial sales and Tyler was an active member of the local League of Women Voters and the PTA. Harry died in 1969 and after his death, Tyler found a new outlet for her design interests, opening Tyler Interiors, a home decorating business that specialized in slip covers, bedspreads, and window treatments for local businesses and residences. In August 1985, she was hired to oversee the redesign of the Maine state legislature’s chambers, which she declared to be her most exciting decorating job.
The range of Tyler’s artwork is represented in her papers. Other highlights of the collection include diaries of her years in New York City as a young working woman, wife, and mother; her correspondence with Harry while he served in England during World War II; and her son Hank’s travel diaries from a trip around the world in the early 1970s.
For more information on Tyler and her papers, see Papers of Elizabeth W. (Elizabeth Woodward) Tyler.