The Newmarket Historical Society,
Newmarket, NH held an exhibition of wedding dresses from New England, housed in
the collection of the Society. The exhibition was on view from June-August
2016. Most of the wedding dresses were modest, and many were sewn by family
members (well into the 1970s)—mothers, sisters, aunts.
Among what we consider the
traditional wedding finery, were two “best” dresses –most likely worn for the
respective bride’s weddings—one by the mother and the other by her daughter. Both married farmers. [
The mother was Phoebe Marie Prime,
who married Benjamin Philo Downs, January 25th 1843 in South Britain, CT.
She died at an early age, probably of
consumption. Her daughter, Emma Marie Downs, was raised by her aunt and
guardian. Anticipating disapproval from her aunt, Emma and her husband to be,
David Chester Platt, ran away to get married. They married on December 28th,
1874 in New York, and ultimately resided in her hometown, South Britain, CT. The
ending, however, is a happy one. At a later point, her guardian felt it was
prudent to save face in the town and gave the newlyweds a very large reception.
Emma’s “best” dress is extant.
Clearly well-worn, her cotton print dress dates from the last quarter 19th
The dress features a fitted,
integral bodice. Adjustable interior ties at the waist may indicate that the
dress was also designed to serve as maternity wear.
In addition to her ‘best’ dress, a
simple blue and white checked cotton gown survives from the late 19th century,
and so does one of her husband’s waistcoats. Both garments exhibit straight
forward practicality, and modest materials, with little if any additional
embellishments. They are clearly well
The dresses are in the collection of the Tarbox family, on loan to the
Newmarket Historical Society