Kathryn O. Scott – Galesburg’s Own


by Terry Hogan


Kathryn Scott was born in Galesburg on September 1, 1911.  She was one of Galesburg’s own.  She died on October 15, 2005 at her home in Manhattan, New York. She was 94. Her name is not a common household name, unless you are interested in the restoration of old textiles.  Her claim to fame, it is said, was that she was “Napoleon’s laundress”.


Kathryn found a unique niche to claim for herself.  After WWII, she became a free-lance textile conservator.   Her clients were many and well-known, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia), and a variety of private collectors.   


She became an expert in repairing and conserving vegetable and animal materials, ranging from silks, linens, wools, lace, and on a variety of items ranging from clothing, to flags, to dolls and other historic items. It is reported that she often had to work with dental and surgical tools in the restoration process.  Her work is displayed in museums and private collections around the world.


She was an adjunct professor of conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University from 1964 to 1990.  She became uniquely qualified in her self discovered field. Not many folks can claim the creation of a whole new study field.


But back to Napoleon, Kathryn was hired by a private collector to clean Napoleon Bonaparte’s stained white dress pants, vest, and a nightshirt.  She accomplished this in a slow and meticulous process of soaking the clothing in dilute hydrogen peroxide.  It required 14 different attempts before the discoloration was eliminated.   Thus, she later claimed to be “Napoleon’s laundress”.


This is just another story about one of Galesburg’s own who left her footprint in history. 



New York Times obituary, October 28, 2005

Joel Pounds, personal communication