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Lou Tate, the Hill Sisters and the Little Loomhouse

What do three extraordinary women, two significant creations, and one Louisville landmark have in common? They are all the focus of this Et Cetera.

Little Loomhouse in south Louisville’s Kenwood Hill neighborhood is a weaving center dedicated to the teaching and preservation of the textile arts. It was begun by master weaver, author and teacher Lou Tate Bousman, who inherited the property from her mother in 1938.

Lou Tate was an acquaintance of first ladies Lou Henry Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt, both whom helped push her work into the national spotlight.

Through these relationships, Tate developed and sold a small table loom called the Little Loom that was popular for more than two decades. Many of the looms are still in use today all over the world.

However, long before Little Loomhouse became a local attraction, it was the birthplace of the "Happy Birthday" song.

Sisters Patty and Mildred Hill first penned the tune as a nursery school song, titled “Good Morning to All”.

The Hill Sisters, who were Louisville kindergarten and music teachers, owned a cabin near what is currently Little Loomhouse.

According to local lore, the sisters changed the words of the song to “Happy Birthday to You” while attending a birthday party at a friend’s home, now known as Esta cabin. The rest is history.

Until recently, the only public memorial to Mildred and Patty Hill had been a parking lot in the underpass of Interstate 64 and 9th Street, downtown.

But on October 19, 2009, a Historic Highway Marker was dedicated, honoring the contributions of not only the Hill Sisters, but of Lou Tate and the Little Loomhouse.

Why October 19th? Because it marked the 103rd birthday of Lou Tate.

More to note:

  • Lou Tate’s first local exhibitions of Kentucky hand weavings were held at the J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville in 1937.
  • According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville," Lou Tate’s Little Loom helped rehabilitate servicemen injured in World War II.
  • The cabins of the Little Loomhouse complex were once Victorian summer homes for Louisville’s elite. They were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, three years before Lou Tate’s death.
  • According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville," the site of Little Loomhouse was originally an Indian hunting ground. Later it was a quarry business and then an artists’ colony before Lou Tate Bousman made it her residence and weaving center. Esta Cabin was her home for 40 years.
  • June 27, 2009, was the 150th birthday of Happy Birthday song coauthor Mildred Hill. The Louisville Historical League celebrated - appropriately - at the Little Loomhouse Esta Cabin.
  • According to Snopes.com, “Happy Birthday to You” was used for Western Union’s first “singing telegram” in 1933, and under current law will be copyrighted until at least 2030..
  • "A View From the Top: The Neighborhoods of Iroquois Park and Kenwood Hill," published by Little Loomhouse (2007), is a resource for those wanting to learn more about Lou Tate Bousman, Mildred Jane Hill and Patty Smith Hill.

For more in-depth information on this Et Cetera, check out our past "Louisville Life" segments on the Happy Birthday Song and the Little Loomhouse.

Program 403
"Louisville Life" meets youngest Tony-nominated producer, coordinates with The Event Company, goes shopping at Just Creations and more. (#403)