259 – 1920, A Pivotal Year

1920 was a pivotal year for Tom Gallagher. He would move to Sedalia, become store manager for Cole’s, and meet the Riley family.

1920 was no less transformational for the Riley family. They would lose their business and try to re-invent their livelihood.

A Sedalia Store

Cole’s was going to open a store in Sedalia, Missouri. Henry and Tom were going to manage it. Cole’s had purchased the Soltz ready-to-wear store in Sedalia effective January 16, 1920. They would remodel and restock.

The Junction City Daily Union – March 3, 1920

Cole’s Women’s Shop opened with much fanfare on March 5, 1920. Henry and Tom were justifiably proud of the store renovations and merchandise offerings.

Cole’s Women’s Shop – South Ohio Street – Sedalia, Missouri – 1920

The Rileys

William and Josephine Riley were a prosperous Sedalia family. Will had grown up in Georgetown, just a few miles north of Sedalia.

As a young man, Will Riley had moved to Sedalia and gone to work for his brother-in-law E.G. Cassidy in his wholesale liquor and beer distributorship. Cassidy was successful in his business, and he mentored Will Riley. In the early 1900s, Will bought the business from Cassidy.

Will Riley married Josephine Pensa in 1891. Josie Pensa had grown up in St. Louis. She and her family were Italian immigrants. Her sister and brother-in-law Andy Gardella operated a restaurant in Sedalia. Josie met Will Riley during her visits from St. Louis.

Will and Josie had raised a family of six children.

Riley family – back row – John, 13, Catherine, 15, Josephine, 47, Irene, 23 – front row – William E., 17, William J., 52, Joseph, 20, Mary Agnes, 11 – c. 1915

The Rileys prospered throughout the first two decades of the 20th century. Then prohibition happened…


Prohibition (the 18th Amendment) was ratified in 1919, and enforcement began in 1920. That was the beginning of some transformational changes for the Rileys.

For the first time since 1881, Will Riley had no occupation. His beer and liquor distribution business had become a victim of Prohibition.

Riley had also divested of ownership of any saloon, a business that he had been in and out of for 25 years.

In St. Louis, Josie Riley’s brothers John, Andrew, and Steve Pensa had all quit the saloon business. They had worked in and owned saloons for four decades. In 1920, they were in their 50s and needed to find new careers.

Will Riley had to reinvent his career at age 57. By the end of the year, the Rileys owned and ran a drug store, Sedalia Drug Company.

While most of the country entered a decade of optimism in the Roaring 20s, the Riley family struggled.

Catherine Rose Riley

Catherine Rose Riley graduated from Sedalia High School in 1918. In 1920 she was living at her parents’ home.

Mary Agnes Riley

Mary Agnes Riley

In 1920, Mary Agnes graduated middle school at Sacred Heart School.

The Sedalia Democrat – June 8, 1920

Henry to Coffeyville store

The Sedalia Democrat – October 18, 1920

Henry and Tom presided over the new Sedalia store. From its opening day, the store was successful.

Now, in the fall of 1920, Cole’s was going to open another store in Coffeyville, Kansas. Henry would move to Coffeyville to manage that store.

Tom Gallagher, at age 26, was the manager of the Sedalia store.

Around town

Life goes on. As 1920 turned to 1921, Gallagher and Riley life events continued. Sickness, health, jobs, and family visits. Even a burglary at Cole’s.

Tom Gallagher and Catherine Riley

Meeting and greeting the women of Sedalia was Tom Gallagher’s job. Besides managing the clothing store, Tom hosted occasional fashion shows and style luncheons.

It’s easy to believe that Tom met Catherine Rose Riley, 19, soon after he arrived in Sedalia. They did meet, and began a relationship. By 1922, they were engaged to be married.

Catherine Riley – c 1922



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