After having worked for the famous milliner John-Frederics, Inc. for nearly 13 years, Blount submitted her fellowship application to the Rosenwald Fund at the age of 35. Not only are her professional experience and accomplishments impressive, but her recommenders are well-known and include the contralto singer Marian Anderson, herself a former Rosenwald fellow. While Blount hesitated to fill out a formal application due to her lack of education (which she notes in a letter to William Haygood), she narrates with passion the ways in which hatmaking allowed her to make a living and gain independence.
Blount's application expresses the beauty that she locates in herself and in her surroundings, which she channels into the creation of her hats. To gain inspiration for what Blount calls her "little hats," the miniature collection that she created while at John-Frederics, she visited several art museums and libraries.
In this application, she details the attention that this collection attracted. Astonishingly, however, she announces that she was not given credit for her work:
"I was never given any recognition for having done the work on them and the Good Housekeeping Magazine and the New York dailies as well as Look gave Mr. John credit for having made them himself."
That Blount announced this information quietly, away from public-facing newspapers, suggests that sharing such news might have hurt her career. This was not a risk she was willing to take.
Within this description, there is another statement that stands out. Surrounded by paragraphs describing her work for John-Frederics, the material collected, and her vision for future avenues of work, Blount confesses:
“My desire to do this work is first of all to acquaint all who see it with the hidden possibilities of women.”
With the financial aid from the fellowship, Blount wished to make another series of miniatures, a collection that would be credited to her own name. This project relates to her desire to enter more permanently the "moving picture industry" and also "to express in color and beauty the value of extended study in this field." Blount aspired not only to break into places previously inaccessible to her, but also to teach others the craft of millinery in hopes that they might one day join her in the craft. Again, Blount illustrates hats as a visual manifestation of feminine beauty that gives life both to the women wearing the hats and the women who made them.
In a letter dated June 17, 1943, Rosenwald staff member Margaret L. Utley assured Mildred Blount of the impression that her unique work had left on the committee:
"Yours was, of course, the most fascinating exhibit that has ever come to us, and it was with reluctance that I packed it for return."
A Photo Shared with the Rosenwald Committee
Mildred Blount dons the hat she created for actress Margaret Sullavan of the film Back Street (1941), one of the many hats she made for the picture. Blounts notes this work as an "accomplishment" in the yellow carbon copy of her application above.
Mildred Blount at Medcalf's
After having moved to Beverly Hills to continue work for John-Frederics, Blount became more engaged with the California community. To the right is a copy of the menu from the North Hollywood restaurant, Medcalf's, which displayed Blount's miniature hat collection in February 1943. The menu's language, however, rings as offensive to the contemporary ear:
“Only a most talented and unusual person could have surmounted the handicap of race and color that she had to overcome in her struggle to the top in her profession. Only a girl possessed of amazing determination would have worked as hard and studied as long as she did in the effort to equip herself, and only a sound and comprehensive knowledge of her subject could have given a colored girl the necessary courage to seek and the persuasive self-confidence to obtain a position with one of NYC’s most fashionable millinery establishments…”
Arna Bontemps writes more eloquently when he declares in We Have Tomorrow that Mildred Blount and others in her cohort opened doors for African Americans because their success proved their capability and brilliance as artists and scholars of the American population, regardless of color or race:
"[They] are doing what was never done by Negro Americans before; they are working in fields which for a long time seemed closed to members of their race. They are doing what couldn't be done – until they did it. They are working as Americans, not as Negroes, and they are making a success of it. [...] They contribute to American life as Americans. That is the way it should be, for the fact that they are young Negroes is interesting, but secondary" (Bontemps vi).
The impetus for Blount's fellowship
A letter composed on New Year's Eve in 1942 by sociologist Horace Cayton to "Billy" Haygood in which he encourages the Rosenwald committee to send an application blank to Mildred Blount. Blount notes Cayton's encouragement in her penned application letter to Haygood on Feb. 8, 1943.
Blount announces the feature of her hats in an MGM newsreel
Letter from William Haygood to Mildred Blount, Feb. 15, 1943
Haygood assures Blount that she should not let her lack of a higher degree discourage her application.
Letter from Blount to Haygood, Mar. 12, 1943
In this document, Blount shares that she is sending 12 miniature hats to the committee as a showcase of her work. She includes details on the materials of a hat she made that was featured on the cover of Ladies Home Journal. For this piece, the cost of the polka dot and green velvet material cost her 35 cents per yard, worth every penny to captivate the aesthetic from 1814-1818 period that she was trying to recreate. A perfectionist and the harshest critic of her own work, Blount expresses her wish that she had as much time to devote to this piece as she had for the miniature collection for the New York World Fair.
Letter from Blount to Haygood, Apr. 14, 1943
Mildred Blount expresses her delight over the Rosenwald committee's appreciation of her hats. She also shares updates on offers to showcase her work and on her gratitude for the friendship and support of Horace Cayton and Arna Bontemps.