Thursday, February 6, 2014

In Situ: An 1881 Wedding Dress, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

What is so compelling about the wedding dress of Mary Ann Morison (1844-1935) is the fact that it provides one of those rare opportunities when the display of a garment sits within its original footprint. The wedding dress is currently at the top of the stair hall of the John Paul Jones House (as it is now known.) 

The 37 year-old Mary Morison wore this fashionable parchment colored silk wedding gown when she married James Rundlet May on April 26, 1881. Can’t you imagine her descending the stair, holding her fan, with the rustle of her gown and train heard above the quiet of the family and handful of guests?

Mary was the granddaughter of Samuel Lord and had lived in this house most of her life. Reverend James DeNormandie, pastor of the South Church, presided over the ceremony. She moved only three blocks away to the Rundlett-May house with her husband following her marriage.  Mary died in 1935.

While the Lord and Rundlet May families were prosperous members of the Portsmouth community, there is no label in the garment. The assumption has been that a local seamstress created the gown of imported fabric.  In any case, the gown was certainly representative of the style of the time with its rich silk, lace trim, well-tailored, form-fitting jacket and voluminous trained skirt. The May family donated the gown many years ago, but with no further information. Incidentally, on the table next to the gown is the wedding fan.

The gown is from the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society, John Paul Jones House Museum, in Portsmouth, NH.

Thank you to Sandra Rux, Curator, Portsmouth Historical Society & Jeffrey Hopper, Manager of the Warner House, for their assistance with this post.


  1. The gown is exquisite and how lovely that the gown is on display in the home where it was originally worn!

  2. Hi
    wish I could wear my dress at least once a month! :))) I think the online thing works great when you have your kind of attitude. I'm happy you got the look you wanted. I love weddings LOL affordable wedding dresses


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