A Model of a Mother

The hat, the jacket, the purse, the style!

It’s May 18th and in the Desmond family that can mean just one thing: it’s Mom’s birthday–her 101st to be exact. Though she’s been gone now for over 42 years, who could ever forget a face like hers? No wonder our dad fell so hard for her!

Dorothy May Donar, about 19 years old, a fashion model for Saks Fifth Avenue. (c. 1930)

Dorothy May Donar, the fourth of five children, was born May 18, 1911 in Albany, New York, to Peter Donar and Mary Agnes Kennedy. Little is known about her early years because she rarely talked about them, and sadly, it’s our loss that we rarely bothered to ask.

What is clear is that once she reached young adulthood, the  dynamics of the Donar family changed rapidly due to the early loss of  two brothers, Jack (26) and Matt (21), and the death of her father, Peter–all  before her 25th birthday.

On the streets of Chicago, early 1930s.

Dorothy never completed high school. She got as far as the 10th grade, though. And she did have, what I’d like to believe was a glamorous though brief career, modeling in Chicago for Saks Fifth Avenue. Eventually she met the man of her dreams, married him in 1934, and went on to have eight kids of her own.

The black-and-white photos in this post were scanned from original newspaper clippings found in an old family photo album. Another photo in the collection, also from a newspaper but not included in this post, was  dated October 16, 1933. I haven’t yet determined which paper these shots ran in. Someday I hope to find the original prints so I can obtain better copies of these family treasures.

But this post isn’t about all those folks. It’s a tribute to you, Mom, who–before kids and family obligations took over your life–was able for a few short years in the early ’30s to enjoy  your time in the spotlight.

Just you, Dorothy Donar: in  front of the camera, on the runway, and in modeling shoots on the streets of Chicago as you sported the latest  fashions of the day.

This newspaper image was discovered over twenty years ago behind some other photos that were removed from an old family photo album. It’s my favorite modeling photo of my mom, probably because it had been hidden for decades. Note the pose with Dorothy’s left foot on the running board of this (now) vintage car from the early 1930s.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

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This entry was posted in Biographies, Chicago History, Family Legends, Photo Stories and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Model of a Mother

  1. Bethany Biallas says:

    I so enjoy your posts, Patti. Your mom is so beautiful. It is easy to see her in you – you look so much like her! What a treasure these photos are:)

  2. ginisology says:

    A beautiful tribute to a beautiful, Mom!

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