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1854 Wedding Dress of Margaret A. Heminway

Dublin Core




1854 Wedding Dress of Margaret A. Heminway


One of the fascinations of this off white silk taffeta wedding dress comes from the fact that the bride's name is recorded on the inside of the dress. Handwritten in beautiful Palmer penmanship, faded to brown, on the boning inside the bodice, can be found: 'Margaret A. Heminway's wedding dress, married June 21, 1854'. She married Alfred W. Sansbury in Palmyra, New York. Their daughter, Mary Louise Sansbury, married Herbert Elmer Mills who became Vassar Professor of Economics in 1890. Although the date of this dress precedes the founding of Vassar (from 1854, it is currently the earliest documented object in this collection) this piece is in exquisite condition and therefore serves as a valuable example of the early crinoline period. The fullness of the crinoline skirt is balanced with simplicity elsewhere in the dress. While the mere size of the skirt would serve to focus attention on the bride, allowing her to take up a great deal of space on her very important day, the absence of elaborate trimmings would not draw further attention away from the bride's own beauty.

As well as displaying a slender, corseted waist, encased in cartridge pleats, this wedding gown was worn during the period when the “cage crinoline” was re-introduced into fashion to replace the gradually-added, many layers of crinoline petticoats, which had become so cumbersome and made movement difficult. Hoop petticoats were first seen in European women’s dress history during the Elizabethan period, although variations had been seen in the centuries since that time. However, many were surprised by their return to the fashion silhouette. In Dress as a Fine Art, published in America in 1854, Mrs. Merrifield exclaims: “Who could imagine an attempt to revive the hoop petticoat in the 19th century!” Author Anthony Trollope even referred to them, when describing a wedding trousseau in Framley Parsonage, as “mechanical petticoats”.

Despite its relative “simplicity” the dress would obviously still have taken many hours to sew by hand. It was not unusual for a wedding gown of this period to have short sleeves. However, because this was not a style usually worn for daytime, a long veil was generally worn with the short-sleeved dress. With long sleeves, a wedding bonnet with short veil was frequently worn instead. (Caroline Goldthorpe, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

- by Holly Hummel




Margaret A. Heminway; Wedding; 1850's-1860's - Crinoline; American; female




silk taffeta, cotton lining, metal hooks and eyes


Images in this collection may be used for teaching, classroom presentation, and research purposes only. Reuse, reproduction and publication of these images is prohibited. For more information contact

Costume Item Type Metadata

Source Identifier



Margaret A. Heminway




Vassar College Costume Collection, Drama Department, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604
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