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ESSE Purse Museum


I have an obsession with purses that I acquired from my mother. She has always loved purses and still to this day shops for a new one every season. Fortunately for me, I get her hand-me-downs, and then I pass them on to my daughters. So you see, purses are more than bags to carry a lady’s day-to-day necessities. They are fashion. They are personal. They are history.

One of only three purse museums in the world, the ESSE Purse Museum in Little Rock features the evolution of the 20th-century American woman as told through her handbags and the items she carried with her every day.


“The ESSE Purse Museum is all about honoring women. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the challenges and victories and remind young women of where we’ve been,” says Anita Davis, owner and visionary of ESSE Purse Museum.

The purses are Davis’ own collection. Each one of the display cases in the permanent exhibit represents a decade, and they are arranged by art director Steven Otis. “The best part of working at ESSE is everything I have learned about 20th-century American women. Their struggles, triumphs, perseverance and strength were phenomenal. The style evolution through the decades is pretty incredible as well,” states Otis.

Esse Purse Museum

women with purse

Devin Hancock, program and collections manager at ESSE, says “ESSE offers a smart combination of art, fashion, and history that gives an intimate portrayal of women in 20th-century America – and seeing guests of all generations, both men and women, connect these dots and reflect on the past is a wonderful thing.”

In addition to the purse exhibit, the temporary exhibit Changing Tides: 100 Years of Iconic Swimwear is on display through Aug. 7. Changing Tides highlights iconic women’s swimwear in the 20th century. From homemade to haute couture, the core installation features select suits on loan from the collection of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.

Esse Purse Store

The Store at ESSE Purse Museum sells fair trade and handmade purses, wallets, jewelry and other accessories including a men’s collection. Davis tries to find things that are unusual and not available elsewhere. She stocks items in a range of prices from quite affordable to more expensive. Interesting pieces for sale include neoprene purses from Italy, felt purses from Portugal, bags made from recycled bicycle tires, and so much more. There are pieces for sale from local artists as well.

“Most every bag we have has a story behind it,” says Davis.

contents of 40s purse

ESSE also has a small special event space available to rent out for bridal and baby showers, meetings and luncheons. The modern, sunny space holds up to 25 people and features an adjoining kitchenette. For more information, please call at 501-916-9022 or email devin@essepursemuseum.com. They would love to host your special occasion.


ESSE Purse Museum & Store is located at 1510 S Main Street in Little Rock. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. General admission is $10 and student, senior (60+), and military admission is $8. Group rates are available.

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Arkansas Women Blogger member Stacey Valley is a wife, mom of four girls (two by marriage and two by adoption), and public health professional. She adores her interracial, real-life modern family, and is thankful that her husband Anthony loves her kind of crazy. Cooking is her therapy. She dreams of moving to Italy one day, so you can often find her binging on House Hunters International. Stacey’s life motto is "Live big. Love deep." which is also the name of her blog.

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3 responses to “ESSE Purse Museum”

  1. […] What’s Inside?: A Century of Women and Handbags, 1900-1999 by Anita Davis, the founder of ESSE Museum & Store, the only museum focused on purses, located in Little Rock. The book serves as the museum’s […]

  2. […] streets meet the famed Community Bakery, Green Corner Store, The Root Café, Loblolly Creamery and Esse Purse Museum, the only museum of its kind anywhere in the […]

  3. […] Esse Purse Museum | Little Rock – telling the evolution of HERstory through 20th-century fashion artifacts. […]

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