Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rachel Hartwell's Belle Époque Evening Dress

This frothy, feminine 1890s Belle Époque evening dress was worn by Rachel Hartwell (Pfeiffer). According to a family note, included with the dress, it was purchased with money she earned from teaching school. It is in the Hartwell Clark collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). [1]

The bodice is an effusive affair of lace, silk, chiffon, and multi colored beads, while the skirt is simple but with a subtle pink stipe running through the silk (impossible to pick up with my phone camera) and a ruffled hem with pink silk peeping out. 
It was the perfect ensemble for a young, stylish unmarried woman. [2] Rachel married in 1896, and the MHS has her London-made wedding gown in their collection, the subject of a future post.
The evening dress is in need of conservation and is currently being evaluated by an experienced textile conservator.

Rachel Hartwell (1868-1905) was born in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA and attended Wellesley College. She graduated in 1891. While taking classes at Harvard in the summer of 1892, she met her future husband, George Pfeiffer. They were married 28 December 1896 and traveled Europe extensively. She died on 28 January 1905 in childbirth, leaving behind the couple’s only child, Hilda. She was 37 years of age.

Stay tuned for more to come on this, and other garments, from the Hartwell-Clark collection.

Many thanks to MHS Curator, Anne Bentley, and the MHS staff for their ongoing assistance.

1.     The Hartwell-Clark collection is currently unprocessed. For additional information, see:
2.     For more on 1890s fashion, see:

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