Leona Linker (1872-1952)

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Helene Foerster was born to George and Catherine Stoehr Foerster on May 7, 1872 in La Crosse. She was taught to sew at an early age, and was an apprentice seamstress in Minneapolis, MN by age 12.

At age 16, she changed her name to Leona Foerster, and by 1895 returned to La Crosse to open her own dressmaking business, where she employed her sister, Catherine. While in Chicago to purchase fabrics and other materials, Leona impressed the Gossard Corset Company with her skill and was hired to work as a designer and foreign agent when she wasn’t working in her own shop.

Under Gossard, Leona traveled to Paris, France and based her design headquarters there. Leona traveled throughout Europe to work with retailers and obtain new design ideas, occasionally returning to La Crosse to supervise her dress shop.

In 1905, she patented an undergarment, which she called “the Leona.” The garment was known as a “combination,” because it combined several pieces of underwear into one garment, reducing the bulk of multiple layers of undergarments worn by women at the time.

Her unique design was popular, and she opened the Leona Garment Company in La Crosse to manufacture and sell the garments. They were advertised nationally, and sold through magazines and dressmakers’ shops.

In 1907, Leona married local business owner, Charles L. Linker, who helped her run her garment business while she traveled, and later opened the Linker Hotel.

As women’s fashions simplified, undergarments changed and the Leona combination was no longer necessary, forcing Linker to close her garment business in 1920. She continued to work for Gossard until her retirement in the 1930s. Leona passed away in La Crosse on October 2, 1952.

Location: 722 Main Street

1910: Home built by Charles and Leona Linker

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2019: Treasures on Main

401 Main Street 

1895: Leona’s Dressmaking Shop was on the Fourth Floor

2019: State Bank

Ball gown made and worn by Leona Foerster, c. 1890

Label: “Foerster/ La Crosse, Wis”

Materials: silk satin, chiffon, velvet, applied chenille, lace, sequins

From the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society

“Leona” combination undergarment, made in La Crosse. 

Materials: cotton, shell buttons, ribbon, lace

From the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society