Wedding gowns are the epitome of utilizing clothing for celebration and two on display at Delaware County Historical Society showcase an extravaganza of creativity and skill through exquisite beadwork, embroidery and lace draped over silk and ribbons.
The two gowns are on display at DCHS in the Museum Gallery as part of the newest exhibit “Another Glimpse of Delaware County History.” In addition to their beauty and obvious attention to detail, one also illustrates significant Delaware County historic importance as it was the very dress worn by Emmaline Roach when she wed William C. Sproul on Jan. 23, 1892.
In the early days of the United States, marriage was basically required.
According to a 1974 American Life article, marriage was every man’s duty and every woman’s reason for existence. In fact, Maryland passed a tax on single men and Connecticut made it illegal in 1636 for a young man to live alone, unless he had issued valid authority.
Women fared even worse. Considered a “stale maid” if not wed by 20-years-old, unwed women were often ridiculed and described as cranky, disagreeable, never-to-be-pleased and other insults – until Benjamin Franklin had his say.
Again according to American Life, the founding father actually advised a friend to choose an older woman as “she’d be more knowledgeable; when they cease to be handsome, they study to be good; there were no “Hazard of Children”; and, she’d prevent the ruin of his health and fortune among prostitutes.”
Franklin also advised, “the pleasure of corporal enjoyment with an old woman is at least equal, and frequently superior.” Besides he added, she’d be “so grateful.”
As time progressed, weddings in the New World became filled with tradition.
For instance, once a bride was completely dressed, she was forbidden from looking in a mirror.
Prior to the marriage ceremony being connected to religious rituals, they usually were held in the bride’s home; it was considered bad luck to have it in the couple’s future home.
Wednesday was considered the best day to have a wedding with “wed” in the day’s name and Sundays were popular for quiet ceremonies.
Groom and bride festivities seem to have been a tradition dating far back. One was called “running for the bottle.” Friends of the groom would meet friends of the bride at a halfway point between the two houses. Then, the groom and his groomsmen would race to the bride’s house, where they’d shoot off their muskets and the victor would win a bottle of whisky.
By the mid-1700’s, milliners began placing more attention to the accoutrements of wedding gowns, adding ribbons, laces, gauzes, flowers and fringes while also introducing ruffles, caps and headdresses.
One of the dresses on display at DCHS is a beautiful shade of ivory and is adorned with elaborate ruffles on its long sleeves with intricate lace spread up the neck across the chest.
The Roach gown, more amber in color, is fabulously accentuated with detail from the drop beadwork gracing the décolletage to the sumptuous lacework on the chest over the shoulders and down the sleeves. Along its fine silk border is meticulous embroidery, and tying it all together is an enormous beaded bow behind the waist.
Both can be seen currently on display at the home of DCHS at 408 Avenue of the States, please call 610-359-0832 or 610-872-0502. It is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month. It is closed on Tuesdays.
Appointments are also available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot. Memberships are encouraged and donations are graciously accepted.
Wedding dresses are part of the clothing display in Delaware County Historical Society's "Another Glimpse of Delaware County History" exhibit.
Included in the display is the gown Emmaline Roach wore when she wed William C. Sproul in January 1892.