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Don’t Get Stuck in the Rain: Celebrating National Umbrella Month

March 18, 2024

While April showers may bring May flowers, March has been dubbed National Umbrella Month. It’s unclear why Thomas Edward Knibb, the founder of the celebration back in 2003, selected March, but it is thought that it had to do with ensuring you were prepared for the rainy season with the proper gear. In Indiana, and many other places, weather changes in an instant, so rain is possible just about any time of the year.

In March of 1913, the umbrella was quite useful for all of these Hoosiers who were dealing with a massive flood throughout large parts of the state. Brookville, IHS, P0468; Shelbyville and Indianapolis, IHS, P0391, cropped

The mighty umbrella is an important accessory for many on a rainy day, though I’ve often joked that if I remember my umbrella, you can rest assured the rain will stay away. Something not everyone thinks about though is the way we have started to interchangeably speak about umbrellas and their counterparts, parasols. With parasols, the name says it all, coming from Latin it is meant to shield one from the sun. Alternatively, umbrellas are meant for rain protection. Therefore, these similar-looking items are not meant to serve the same purpose.

Events often need to happen rain or shine. Shown here is the cornerstone laying at the American Legion, Indianapolis, 1924, people dropping off other or awaiting trains at Indianapolis, 1940, and the groundbreaking for the Airport Hotel, Indianapolis, 1961. Bass Photo Co. Collection, IHS, cropped; Bass Photo Co. Collection, IHS, cropped; IHS, M1080, cropped.

In looking at our collections, I noticed that many of the umbrellas shown were being used as sunshades rather than rain gear. It’s hard to tell just by looking at the image whether the materials used allowed for interchangeable use, or if they were meant for a singular purpose. I’ve tried my hardest to narrow down the images to those that are truly umbrellas, of the rain protection variety, though I will ask your forgiveness if a parasol slips through.

Umbrellas can be used for advertising or simply as a practicality. Here we have a political campaign slogan for Benjamin Harrison, ca. 1888, promoting the Indiana State Fair and it’s ‘fair weather,’ a couple of ladies out campaigning for Ike (Dwight D. Eisenhower) on a rainy day. IHS, P0482, cropped; IHS, P0569, cropped; IHS, P0569, cropped.

I hope you enjoyed this jaunt with me through images of umbrellas in celebration of March’s National Umbrella Month moniker. As always, please visit our digital collections to see more images on this topic, and our blog site for more interesting information tied to Indiana history and our collections.

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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