Like all good archival collections, the Sween Library contains some unexpected* finds. Take, for example, our extensive family files. As you gently sort through pages and pages of genealogical charts, you’re likely to come across photographs, letters, and other primary sources tucked in amongst the research.

Prettyman anniversary booklet cover

From the Prettyman family folder, we have for you a hand-made souvenir booklet, prepared on the occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of the Prettymans of Rockville. Elijah Barrett Prettyman (1830-1907), then Principal of the Brookeville Academy, married Lydia Forrest Johnston (1832-1917) of Rockville in 1855. Fifty years later, the happy couple was joined in celebration by their six children, three in-laws, seven grandchildren, and two of Lydia’s sisters. The family gathered at the Maryland State Normal School (now Towson University), where Dr. Prettyman had served as Principal since 1890. Naturally, they commemorated the event with a group portrait:

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad's lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad’s lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

June 6, 1905. Guests of honor Lydia and Elijah Prettyman are seated in the center, with Lydia’s sisters Eulalia Johnston Gardette and Margaret Johnston Badger on either side; Dr. Prettyman is holding granddaughter Martha on his lap. The other six grandkids are in front, and the Prettymans’ six children and three in-laws are in back.

Son-in-law Albert J. Almoney (1858-1939), shown in the back row at left (next to his wife Miriam), put together our little souvenir booklet to commemorate his in-laws’ Golden Anniversary, using cut-out photographs, handwritten verses, and a printed poem.  It measures 5″ x 7″, with a hand-painted cardstock cover, and was originally tied together with a ribbon. Mr. Almoney signed the back – and, as a former publisher of the Montgomery Advocate, he may have had the best access to a printer – but perhaps other family members contributed (or at least commented on) the content: an 1873 photo of the family, including servants, at home in Rockville; portraits of Elijah and Lydia as young adults, and in contemporary form; and a sentimental poem, “Golden Wedding Bells” (which I cannot find online; did the Prettyman children/in-laws write it themselves?).

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)


Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)

Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)


Can anyone identify this poem?

Can anyone identify this poem?

This copy was donated to MCHS by the family of Albert and Miriam’s daughter Lydia Almoney Brunett; it’s not clear if this was the only copy, or if Mr. Almoney made one for every member of the party. Perhaps every family contributed something to the celebration, whether tangible or not … or maybe the other kids thought to themselves, “Ugh, Albert! Always hogging all the son-in-law points!” (Well, he was at that time the only son-in-law, but you see what I mean.)

A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo of the Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

The Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

These fifty years of marriage saw Elijah and Lydia through house renovations, job changes, three weddings, the deaths of three grandchildren, and the everyday strife and stresses of raising a family. The Prettymans seem to have been fairly close, with strong ties to the Rockville community even if they weren’t living there at the time, but even families that see each other every day like to make an occasion out of a big wedding anniversary; likely there were other elements to the celebration, which our photo and booklet do not show us. But these two pieces give us a nice little story, all the same.

Prettyman anniversary booklet, back cover

Today’s post is in honor of A Fine Collection’s fifth anniversary, a momentous occasion to which our host, WordPress, kindly alerted me. (Also – although this is a complete coincidence – today is my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary; if you see the Mahaffies, be sure to wish them well.) Happy anniversary to anyone and everyone who’s celebrating a milestone today!

BONUS: Fun fact! DMV residents might recognize the name E. Barrett Prettyman, which adorns a Federal Courthouse near the Judiciary Square Metro stop. (I always notice the name, anyway.)  That building was named for Elijah Barrett Prettyman II (1891-1971), grandson of EB and Lydia Prettyman, son of Rev. Forrest J. and Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman.  Extra-bonus fun fact: Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman was a daughter of Dr. E.E. Stonestreet, whose medical office is one of our museums.  Local history is so much fun!

*That is, we generally know these things are there, but the researcher gets a pleasant surprise.



There are a lot of great things at our museum, but we are sadly (from this curator’s point of view) lacking in the area of diverse flatware. Our silver collection includes teaspoons aplenty, but no oyster ladles, sugar shells, pickle forks, fish slices, or other useful forms. An exception is the delicate little salt spoon owned by Julia Prout Vinson Anderson (1864-1950) of Rockville. This 3.25” sterling silver spoon combines two of my favorite artifact qualities: highly specific function, and clearly marked identification.

gs0049 Gorham salt spoon

For many centuries table salt was served from small dishes, known as salt cellars (or simply “salts”), often using spoons such as this one. In the late 19th century some additives were developed that kept salt from clumping and sticking, thus making possible the salt shaker, but refined housekeepers included salts and salt spoons on their tables into the 20th century. At informal or family meals, one or two “master salts” might be sufficient; at a formal dinner, however, individual salt cellars could be employed. The Social Mirror: A Complete Treatise on the Laws, Rules and Usages that govern our most Refined Homes and Social Circles (1888) included this rule for “ceremonious dinners”: “A salt-cellar of some pretty or fanciful design should be placed at each plate.” No matter how many salt cellars are in use, each should have its own spoon – for, as the same source noted, you should “never use your own knife, fork or spoon to put into a dish from which others must be helped,” or from which the contents might be returned to the main container after the meal. Hence, the addition of both salt cellars and their accompanying spoons to the vast array of ‘necessary’ tableware available to the discerning 19th century host or hostess.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.


As for our spoon itself, it is marked with both the maker and the owner. The back is stamped with the marks used in the late 19th century by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Rhode Island: a right-facing lion passant, an anchor, and a Gothic G (these marks subtly copy British silver hallmarks, but they’re not quite the same), plus the “STERLING” required on American-made sterling silver flatware.

Gs0049 hallmarks

The bowl of the spoon is gilded, and the handle features an attractive (if you’ll forgive a personal bias) pattern with clean lines and just a hint of frou-frou. I’ve not yet been able to identify the pattern name, as Gorham has produced a LOT of patterns over the years; if anyone can name our little fan/sunburst handle, please let me know! Without a pattern name and the year it was introduced, it’s difficult to date the spoon more specifically than “late 19th century.”

Like a lot of silver flatware, this piece was also engraved with the owner’s initial. That’s not always as helpful as it might seem; we have many pieces in our collection that are unidentified, since a set of initials, by itself, can only take you so far research-wise. Happily, in this case we know that the spoon came from the Vinson family of Rockville, and specifically (according to the donor, Mrs. Anderson’s grandson) from Julia Prout Vinson, who married George Minor Anderson in 1901. We don’t know if this was part of a wedding gift or not (remember, as Julia’s teapot shows, presents given before the marriage were marked with the bride’s maiden initials); Julia married rather later in life than was typical at the time, and perhaps she provided herself with some fine tableware for single-girl entertaining in the 1890s. Either way, it shows that she and her family were concerned with setting a good table – and could afford to do so.

Gs0049 handle detail

We have a lot of wedding-related things in our collections: not only gowns, but also accessories, photos, hymnals, presents, and even a few cake-toppers. What we, and many other museums, lack is the men’s side of the story. There are various reasons for this lamentable fact, and the first draft of this post went into some detail, but let’s sum up for now with “Americans don’t get very attached to the groom’s outfit” (remember, today it’s often a rental) and head straight to one of the few groom-related artifacts in our collections.



These silk and leather suspenders, embroidered in wool, represent a fashion which should be brought back immediately, because they are fabulous. They were worn by Washington Irvin of Baltimore upon his marriage to Mary Florence Hamilton, in either 1874 or 1880. His daughter, Florence Irvin Wright of Kensington, donated them in the 1970s, along with her mother’s wedding shoes; some years later Mrs. Wright’s own daughter added the plaster “Good Luck” horseshoe from the wedding cake. The Irvins have defeated my armchair genealogy skills, so I haven’t been able to confirm the wedding date, about which mother and daughter disagreed.

see how nicely the patterns match up?

Berlin wool work is a type of needlepoint defined more by the materials than by the technique. Berlin wool, a soft embroidery floss, was developed in Germany in the early 1800s; it was hard-wearing, brightly dyed, and suitable for functional pieces. In the mid 19th century patterns for Berlin work cushions, bags, bell-pulls, slippers, and suspenders were published in women’s magazines (such as the image below, from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1867) and sold as single sheets. The designs, often floral pictures, were worked on canvas in cross-stitch, tent-stitch, or other variations. Mr. Irvin’s suspenders are a repeating (and mirrored) floral pattern in tent-stitch, worked on silk net.


Embroidered suspenders were fashionable in the mid to late 19th century, and surviving examples are often (though not always) associated with weddings or other special occasions. The groom did not saunter down the aisle with his colorful accessories on view, however; suspenders were support garments and, technically, underwear. My favorite description of the fancy-suspender trend comes from The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and Phillis Cunningham, published in 1951:

“1857-1866. At about this period braces [British for “suspenders”] embroidered in Berlin woolwork of many colours came into notice. What is remarkable about them, apart from their colours, is the fact that they were so often worked by young ladies and given as presents to the sterner sex; this at a time when prudery forbade the mention of the garments to which they were destined to be fastened. Perhaps we should regard them as symbols of a secret attachment.”

Mrs. Wright knew only that “someone made them for [my father] to wear” – for the sake of his bride’s sensibilities, let’s hope that she herself did the needlework for her future husband.


I ask for your indulgence, dear readers, as I invent my own theme for today’s post. After all, it’s not every year that April 18th* is on a Wednesday.

Memory (at least mine) is all about associations. Unless you’re one of those people who remember everything that ever happened to you, some dates stay with you while others are lost in the fog of time. When major events are associated with the date on which they occurred, they become part of the cultural consciousness – think of July 4, December 7, or September 11. Most of the time, however, those associations are personal: birthdays, anniversaries, &c. Familiar dates tend to leap out of the text; if you’re reading about, say, 9th century France,  the thing you notice is that [something important in 9th century France**] happened on what will, some centuries later, be your parents’ anniversary. Thus, when it comes to the many people who lived in the Beall-Dawson House, I can tell you the different years each person was born and died but the only specific date I know without looking is April 18, 1901, the day Margaret Johns Beall died.  (Her side of the family obelisk, in Rockville cemetery, shown above.)

Here are some other (happier) instances of this date, from our collections!

This small (2″ diameter at base) oil lamp wick holder, acquired by a previous curator as an example of lighting technology, has several patent dates inscribed on its small surface.  One of them is April 18, 1871, leading us to this patent for an improved wick raiser – overcoming the difficulties of raising a flat wick into a cylinder, “to produce an Argand flame” – granted to L.J. Atwood. 

Here is an extremely compact table-clamp sewing machine, donated to us in the 1980s by an MCHS member.   The first of three U.S. patent dates marked on the side is another April 18, 1871 patent, this time for “certain novel combinations and arrangements of parts, [with] its object to make a cheap and effective single-thread sewing machine,” granted to William G. Beckwith.

Jumping forward 91 years, we have in the collections three small trophies awarded to (and donated by) Glenmont Elementary School.  On April 18, 1962, the Wheaton Optimist Club held a “Bike Safety Rodeo,” won by Glenmont’s fourth, fifth and sixth grades.  (Or at least, that’s as much as we can glean from the plaques on the trophies; if anyone reading this is a veteran of this or other bike rodeos, please let us know!)

And last but not least, here is Edith Stonestreet Lamar’s wedding gown, donated by her granddaughter Charlotte Garedo.  Edith Stonestreet, youngest daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Stonestreet of Rockville, married George Holt Lamar on April 18, 1894.  Her gown, though relatively simple, is nonetheless in high style, with the voluminous shoulders popular in the mid 1890s.  The two-piece dress is made of white (now darkened with age) silk faille, with silk charmeuse and lace accents.  (The photo shows it minus several petticoats, which is why the skirt is a little limp; apologies to the bride.)  According to the Washington Post, “the bride was attired in white silk trimmed with lace and carried Victoria roses;” the reporter described the event as “one of the most notable social events of the season.”  (April 19, 1894)

* April 18 is your blogger’s birthday. 

** This is a completely made up scenario, though I suppose something must have happened in 9th century France on that date.

As the contents of this blog attest, I have a lot of “favorite” artifacts in our collections. If you really push me to name my most favorite, however, I might have to go with the portrait of Foresta.

Foresta Vinson was born on April 11, 1830, probably in Rockville. She was the daughter of Thomas F. W. Vinson (ca. 1785-1843) and Mary “Polly” Hickman Vinson (ca. 1796-1875), third of their four children. The Vinsons were a prominent Rockville family; her father was the county Sheriff, served as a Judge of the Orphan’s Court, and owned both land and slaves. In 1853, Foresta was 23 years old and engaged to be married. Artist Thomas Cantwell Healy was commissioned to paint the young lady’s wedding portrait.

The large oil painting, in an elaborately carved and gilded frame, shows Foresta in a white dress, with a gold ring on her left ring finger and an open pocket watch in her right hand. She’s standing indoors in front of a nicely finished wall and an expensive chair, with a pastoral landscape visible outdoors behind her. The landscape-out-the-window setting was a common portraiture convention, implying the subject’s wealth and status. Foresta herself has a placid expression on her face, thanks to a faint smile and a slightly off-kilter gaze. The portrait is signed (on the wall above Foresta’s right shoulder) “T.C. Healy Rockville Md AD 1853.”

As the story goes, in December of 1853 Foresta Vinson died of typhoid either the night before, or the morning of, her wedding. The painting descended through the family of her niece, Julia Vinson Anderson, and was donated to us by Julia’s grandsons. The Andersons believed that it was finished after Foresta’s death, and the open pocket watch may have been used by the artist as a symbol of mortality; timepieces stopped at the time of death were sometimes included in postmortem portraits, though the subjects were portrayed as alive. There is also some speculation that her just-a-little-off expression – her eyes aren’t looking in the same direction, to be quite honest – was a deliberate choice made after her death. Any art historians better versed in the symbolism of 19th century portraiture want to weigh in?

Poor Foresta. Almost everything we know about the portrait, short of the artist and date, comes from Anderson family stories, and even that is sparse. Only a few references to her can be found in the family records, and she’s basically dismissed as one of TFW Vinson’s no-genealogy-to-follow children (“Foresta, died on her wedding day”) if not forgotten altogether. The only physical reminders we have – the portrait, and a pair of postmortem daguerreotypes – relate to her death. What was her life like? Unfortunately, she didn’t live in a time or place that exerted much effort recording the lives of young unmarried women; her family’s money is the main reason for the little we do have (portraits aren’t cheap). There are so many unanswered questions; I can’t even find the name of her fiancé. 

So why is she my favorite? The easy answer is that it’s a great portrait hanging just out of sight (the top of her frame is visible over the false walls in our exhibit gallery), and I feel sorry that she seldom gets out and about. But on a deeper level, something about the whole package – artifacts, sketchy records, pitiful story – speaks to me, just as certain events or individuals speak to other historians. There are Civil War buffs and Benjamin Franklin fans; call me a Human Interest Story afficionado, eager to share these stories with others like me.

This past Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day (and, more importantly to us here at MCHS, the 13th annual Montgomery County History Day competition) but there was another holiday that day: National Quilting Day, held the third Saturday in March.  In belated honor, here’s one of the many quilts in our collections for your enjoyment.

This cotton quilt is pieced in a Pinwheel (or Windmill) pattern, with a double border, and measures 64″ x 77″.  Most of the quilting is done in straight lines, with some herringbone patterns on the outer border.  We purchased it several years ago from a local dealer, who brought it to our attention because of its provenance; although the maker is unknown, it is thought to have belonged to Titus and Rosie Day of Clarksburg.

Why? Well, their names are quilted on the sides.  (I really cannot overstate my enthusiasm for putting your name on things.)  One side says Rosie B. Day (above), and the other Titus W. Day (below).  Titus Washington Day (1861-1946) and Rosa Belle King (1867-1941), both of Clarksburg, were issued a Montgomery County marriage licence on March 2, 1886.   Ms. Rubin, the dealer, acquired it from someone who inherited it from a grandmother, who had received the quilt from Rosie herself. 

The fabric colors and patterns are appropriate for an 1880s date, which is why we’ve chosen to think it was made to commemorate Titus and Rosie’s 1886 wedding.  Perhaps Rosie made it herself (or maybe it was Titus – we’re equal-opportunity quilters here), or perhaps it was made by a friend or relative.   It’s not the fanciest quilt in our collections, or the one made with the most technical skill (though, as a non-sewer, I am most assuredly not knocking the skill and work that went into this), but it has such a lovely direct connection to the owners that it’s one of my favorites.  We don’t have any photos of Titus and Rosie, but by stitching their names into fabric, the creator left us an evocative glimpse at their lives.

Here we have one of those once-commonplace, now-mysterious household tools: a fluting iron. This little (9” tall) machine was used to make and launder clothing, specifically fluted trimmings, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A wide variety of fluting irons, or fluters, was manufactured.  Some were ‘rocker’ style; others, like this one, operated with a crank.  All were improvements over the earlier method of pressing pleats into fabric, which involved wrapping each individual crease by hand around a goffering iron.  Ladies’ and children’s clothing of the late 19th century featured a lot of pleated (also known as fluted or plaited) trim, probably the impetus for the invention of an easier way to create and care for your ruffles and ruches.

Our model here was invented by a Mrs. Susan R. Knox, patented by her on November 20, 1866, and manufactured by H. Sauerbier & Son, Newark, NJ.  In case you forget those facts, they’re written on the base.  The machine is iron, with brass rollers and a wooden handle.  Here is a description of the device, taken from her patent (“Improvement in Fluting Machines,” No. 59,913):

“This invention relates to a machine having a pair of corrugated rollers, between which the fabric or material to be fluted is drawn by the rotation of said rollers, the fluting effect, as well as the simultaneous rotation of the rollers in opposite directions, being caused by the intermeshing of the corrugations of one roller with the corresponding grooves of the other.  These rollers are made hollow in order to heat them by the introduction of heating-irons or otherwise, and thus render the fabric more susceptible to the fluting action of the rollers.”

The machine was donated to the Historical Society in 1962 by Mrs. Josiah Waters (Margaret Elgar Sherman) Jones.  Though no specific stories were shared about this artifact, many of the pieces donated by Mrs. Jones were from her husband’s family’s home, The Briers, in Olney, and this fluting iron was likely used there.

Bonus!  Here’s another fluting machine from our collections.  This one is, sadly, missing its bottom roller, but it has a decorative paint job and a few extra ‘conveniences’ (a table clamp that swivels up and out of the way; a lever to keep the top roller from flipping up by mistake) so I thought I’d throw it in.  This one is a Crown, patented in 1875 and manufactured by the American Machine Company of Philadelphia; a similar model can be found in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalog, for $3.25 (including “four heaters and a pair of tongs”).  It was donated to us in 1962 (a good – indeed, the only – year for fluters here at MCHS) by Mrs. Henry H. Griffith.  Again, nothing specific was shared about this item, but much of Mrs. Griffith’s donation came from her husband’s family’s home, Crows Content in Laytonsville.

Above: “side plaiting” trim at the hem of Isabella Snowden Stabler’s wedding gown, worn in Sandy Spring in 1884.  For more examples, try an internet image search for 1870s or 1880s fashion plates.  This site has photos of many other fluting machines, both crank-operated and rockers.

The inspiration for today’s post: Our copier decided to try a little fluting-machine action of its own, crimping all our papers. (It’s fixed now, don’t worry.)



If I were not such a dedicated and serious professional, that title would have been “OMG weddings!!” First, a confession: the idea for this post came from the Smithsonian’s Facebook page; they posted this wedding gown to go with the build-up to the (OMG!) Royal Wedding. Other museums and collections have likewise seized upon the theme (for more on the V&A’s take, see below). I love weddings, royal or otherwise, and I’m more than happy to jump on the bandwagon.

Mary Emma Magruder (1844-1927) married Thomas Worthington Waters (1850-1929) on November 21st,1871 in what is now Olney. The two-piece silk gown consists of a lace-trimmed bodice with a high-necked Bertha collar, and a long, full skirt with a five foot pleated rectangular train. Although rather plain at first glance, its construction and materials are high quality, and the style is pretty trendy for a rural town in 1871. The gown was donated in the early 1950s by the granddaughter of the bride, Emma Waters Muncaster, who gave us lots of information to go with it. The bride’s father was a prominent local physician; the gown is made of 20 yards of silk; the groom gave Mary Emma “a very handsome set of seed pearl brooch and earrings, mounted on mother-of-pearl, shaped to give the significance of Faith, Hope and Love.” The gown was worn again, by a granddaughter, at the couple’s 50th anniversary party.

MCHS has a lot of wedding-related artifacts in our collections, from gowns to gifts. We’ve done several exhibits (and a few pieces have been on this blog already, like this 1870s gown). Whenever we do an exhibit, the subject of gown preservation arises. I’m a big proponent of doing whatever you want or need to do with your own gown – carefully save it, for sentiment or for the next generation; give it to your kids for dress-up clothes; dye it blue and wear it again; sell it on eBay. If you choose the preservation route, it’s heartbreaking when something goes wrong. Knowledge of preservation techniques has changed over time; if your gown is wrapped in blue tissue – thought to be a good idea in the mid 20th century – please take it out! One lender told me that the drycleaners returned her 1968 wedding gown in a sealed box and told her never to open it again. (We did, anyway. The gown was okay, and we were not felled by noxious preserving fumes.) Hopefully what we do today will not turn out, decades down the line, to be equally dubious.

How you treat a textile means a great deal to its survival, but many will deteriorate despite your best efforts. Some materials suffer from “inherent vice;” like newsprint, the ingredients just aren’t going to play nicely together. In the late 19th century, high-quality silks were infused with metallic salts during the manufacturing process, creating an attractive weight and sheen – but these salts, over time, destroy the fabric. The resulting damage, called “shattering,” often looks like someone has taken a knife to the garment. Sadly this, the oldest wedding gown in our collections, has fallen a victim.

The dress doesn’t look too bad in this photo, and it was apparently in fairly good condition when it was donated. However, despite being carefully and appropriately stored along with the rest of our wedding gowns, this one has not fared well. The cream-colored silk has split and shattered; in many places, large pieces have fallen off, revealing the lining underneath. We placed the gown on a padded dressform in 2009, in order to photograph it and record the visual information as best we can – but due to its fragility, it cannot be exhibited for any length of time. Some of our other 1870s and 1880s textiles have similar issues, but Mary Emma’s dress is the worst.

What should we do in a case like this? Because the donor provided us with lots of information, we know that this gown is an interesting piece of county history. But what can we do with it? Although it can’t be exhibited, it can still be studied. The style and the evidently high cost of the gown tell us about the lifestyles and incomes of the families involved, as do comparisons with other Montgomery County gowns and textiles from various eras. Researchers interested in wedding fashions in general (not specific to the County) could use it as well. Exhibition is only one aspect of our collecting rationale.

Back to the Victoria & Albert Museum – and the loudest (or highest-pitch) “OMG!” inducer – the V&A has set up a publically-accessible database of wedding fashions and clothing, to which anyone can contribute their own photos and information. The project predates Royal Wedding Fever (it goes with an upcoming exhibit), but they’ve taken the opportunity to promote their site. As a textile researcher and wedding fashion afficionado, I can vouch for how useful (not to mention totally awesome) this project is, and I encourage you to add your own or your ancestors’ stories. After all – as the history given to us by Emma Waters Muncaster shows – preservation of information is just as important as preservation of the artifacts themselves; without the stories, a wedding gown is just pretty dress.

Detail: damage to skirt.

Edited: to fix glaring error in post title. And a poorly constructed sentence.

This fabulous object is a framed hair wreath, from the Holland family of Brookeville. The shadowbox frame measures two feet wide and two and a half feet high. It was donated in 1979 by Mrs. S.E.W. Friel, Jr. (née Margery Holland). Intended to celebrate a wedding or anniversary between the 1830s and 1880s, the wreath was probably made by one or more ladies of the Holland family.

Hair work was a Victorian craft, part of that era’s interest in elaborate fancywork. Women with the patience, time and skill made rings, brooches, bracelets, pendants, and pictures out of the hair of friends and relatives both alive and deceased (or bought from a catalog, when personal supplies ran short). Small pieces might combine locks from the maker’s parents or children; large wreaths, like ours, were usually made up of hair from one’s extended network of friends and relations. These formal pictures and wreaths would have been displayed in the parlor or other public room as an expression of pride in the maker’s skill, not just a memento or memorial. It’s often thought that these pieces (large or small) were made only for mourning, but they were also made to celebrate happy events, or simply compiled over time as a record of family and friends.

Detail photo by David Guiney, 2010.

The family story passed down to Mrs. Friel was that the wreath was made for the 1834 marriage of her great-grandparents, Ellen Claggett (1808-1877) and Grafton Holland (1800-1855). In a letter to MCHS, the donor said, “As I remember it – the center part was made of family hair, and the outer horseshoe part of hair of friends of the family.” Without wishing to cast doubt upon the family’s memories, the 1834 date might be a little too early. Most examples of this size with known provenance date to the 1860s-1880s; Grafton and Ellen’s son, James Claggett Holland (1837-1915), was married in 1866, which is a better fit. Or, perhaps even more likely, the wreath was made for the senior Hollands over a period of many years, or to celebrate an anniversary of that 1834 marriage.

By all accounts, hair work is a delicate, persnickety craft that requires deft fingers and a lot of patience; not just anyone could do it. Who made ours? Mrs. Friel did not have any suggestions, but I have a theory. At the 1880 Rockville Fair, a Miss H. Holland was awarded the prize for “Best Hair Work.” I am absolutely ready to believe that this is Grafton and Ellen’s daughter, Hannah Holland (1849-1883). Mrs. Friel also donated to MCHS a collection of quilts made by Grafton’s sisters and/or his daughter Hannah. Research on the quilts suggests that the Holland sisters, Sarah, Ann and Mercy, passed their quilting knowledge (and fabric stash) on to their niece. Perhaps one or more of them also enjoyed the fashionable craft of hair work, and taught that to Hannah as well. Based on the skill shown in their quilts, and on probably-Hannah’s fair prize, I’m willing to ascribe this work of art to one or more of the Holland ladies, until other evidence arises.

The Holland wreath hangs in the Getty Bedroom in the Beall-Dawson House, if you would like to come examine it yourself. When giving a tour, I always point it out – alas, many adults react in the same way most of the fourth grade students do: “Ewwww.” (It’s just hair, people!) This is yet another one of my favorite pieces in the museum, because like Mr. Poole’s piano stool, it has such a definite and specific story. For not-so-different reasons, the Holland family treasured it as part of their history – Mrs. Friel donated it in part because, she said, it was “much valued by [her] father, W. Grafton Holland, when he was alive.”

Grafton and Ellen Holland's tombstone, St. Mark's Episcopal Cemetery, near Brookeville

Want some more hair work? There are plenty of wreaths to be found on the internet, both for sale and in museum collections. Here are various links to museum examples, as well as some proof that though hair work is a Victorian craft, it’s not a vanished one.

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection

Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

The Victorian Hair Work Society, including a page on their headquarters, Leila’s Hair Museum in Missouri.

This plain and simple gold wedding band belonged to Frances Virginia Anderson (1839-1913), who married Francis Whettenhall Rozer (1838-1928) in Rockville on September 19, 1860. The inside of the ring is inscribed, “God bless thee Jinnie.”

Wedding ring inscriptions were not uncommon in the mid 19th century.  According to the National Park Service, Mary Todd Lincoln’s ring (she married Abe in 1842) was inscribed “A.L. to Mary, Nov. 4, 1842. Love is Eternal.”  Historic New England has a nice online exhibit featuring many of the wedding rings in their collections, including a variety of inscriptions.

Coming back to our little (3/4 inch diameter) ring – Virginia was the daughter of James Wallace and Mary Minor Anderson of Rockville. The Andersons were a large local family, and various members served as lawyers, judges, doctors and military officers over the 18th-20th centuries. Thanks to donations from more recent members, we have a fairly large collection of artifacts, photos and archival documents related to the extended Anderson family (particularly those judges, doctors and officers mentioned above).

Alas, that collection contains very little information about Virginia or her husband. I have not found any photos of them, or their two children, Henrietta and Wallace; no descriptions of the ceremony have turned up in local newspapers; and the couple appears to have moved to D.C. sometime after the wedding, so we have no photos of their home. We do have photocopies of correspondence between her parents (James was living and working in Washington, while Mary stayed in Rockville), but Mr. Anderson’s handwriting was – frankly – atrocious, and the majority of the letters are not transcribed. A glance at the letters from the weeks surrounding the marriage found some references to Frank and, in late September, a passage from Mary to her husband asking him to write to the presumably just-wed Jinnie as soon as he can. . . but nothing that gave me any insight into the courtship and marriage, or even the personalities, of their daughter and son-in-law.  All we have for our – okay, my – imagination to work from is the sweet inscription in the ring.

On a slightly related note, however, the Anderson collection does contain a photocopy (also not yet transcribed) of a handwritten memoir by Richard M. Williams, who married Jinnie’s cousin Rose Anderson of Rockville in 1864. So rather than end on a “that’s all, folks” note – sorry, Jinnie and Frank – I’ll conclude today’s blog post with an excerpt from the Richard Williams’ work, referencing his first interactions with his future wife Rose:

“In short her ideas were so good, so liberal, and so well expressed, that she made upon me a most favorable impression, and I resolved if it was agreeable to her, to seek her company soon again.”