The Esse Purse Museum

Vibrant colors, designs, glistening glass and a variety of textures greet visitors with elegant showcases and models displaying the bags, costumes and contents of women who lived through all the transitions of the 20th century. 

Located in the oldest and most historic business and residential neighborhoods in the Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock, AR, this beautiful, fashionable and novel museum is a fun way to learn history, decade by decade via the changes in women’s roles, fashion styles, leisure activities, and daily responsibilities. It is one of only three handbag museums in the world, so if you are not in Amsterdam or Seoul, then this is the place to visit!

The permanent exhibit, “What’s Inside: A Century of Women and Handbags 1900-1999,” gives a historical view of women, decade by decade, through the objects and contents they carried in their purses. ”Purses are much more than fashionable objects containing items women need to go about their daily business. Purses are personal, private places into which” ...a woman’s story can be told, states collector, creator, owner Anita Davis, from her book, What’s Inside?

Currently, a temporary traveling exhibit of Hats and Pins is on display until the end of 2019. The hats are all handmade and many are displayed on the “Hat Dress,” artistically crafted and a prominent centerpiece in the museum. Further, a collection of pins used in women’s hats shows how we can, “Appreciate women through the objects they don’t necessarily wear anymore,” says Emily Hadland, the exhibition coordinator.

Besides serving as as a time-capsule, The Esse Purse Museum features unusual exhibits and has a retail store attached that sells purses, bags, travel accessories, jewelry, hats, scarves and art that features Arkansas artists. Prices range from a couple of dollars to a thousand dollar handmade purse.

Adults and kids will take away different experiences, but a visit to this unique museum will remain with everyone who takes part in the fashion and historical parade of objects and costumes of the 20th century.   1510 Main Street    Little Rock, AR   72202


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All photos from Press Kit and Esse Purse Museum publications


Maria C. Heberling

San Diego, CA 



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