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April 14, 2022

Photographs of the Famous O’Neil Sisters Dressed Up Their Homemade Matching Clothes for Easter in 1952

In the 1940s and 1950s, one of the most indelible images of Boston was that of the O’Neil sisters, all ten of them eventually, in matching dresses, bonnets and corsages, promenading up the Commonwealth Avenue mall.

Wearing new clothes on Easter is a centuries-old tradition meant to symbolically honor the resurrection of Jesus. For the O’Neils, honoring that tradition required collaboration among the family members, who ranged from ages 3 to 19. Mrs. O’Neil sewed, the biggest girls ironed, the middle-sized girls attached buttons and the smallest girls attached basting thread and retrieved dropped thimbles.

“The Ten O’Neil sisters,” as they were known, regularly appeared in Easter parades in matching outfits and gave musical performances. The 1952 burst of outfit-making documented by LIFE photographer Nina Leen was in preparation for a weekend migration to New York where the O’Neils were scheduled to appear on an Easter television program.

The O’Neil sisters continued their public appearances well into adulthood. Their website includes a photo from the Boston Herald in 1983 of them marching arm-and-arm in Boston’s Easter parade.

Mrs. O’Neil pinned up hems on all ten of her daughters’ dresses in preparation for Easter, 1952.

The O’Neil girls’ hats and gloves were inspected by the youngest sisters in preparation for Easter, 1952.

One of the sisters, Jane, ironed a skirt while her mother and sisters worked another suit in preparation for Easter, 1952.

Cutting cloth for the Easter suits, Mrs. Daniel O’Neil and her daughters working from a paper McCall’s pattern, 1952.

The O’Neil family readied for Easter, 1952.

A little O’Neil admiring her four big sisters in their new Easter finery, 1952.

The O’Neil family readied for Easter, 1952.

Daniel O’Neil with one of his ten daughters in a new Easter outfit, April 1952.

The O’Neil family modelled their new Easter wear, April 1952.

(Photos by Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock)


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