Dresses by Decade

Dresses 1800-1850

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Abigail Prather Churchill Clark, 1834. Dress.

Abigail Prather Churchill Clark, 1834. Dress.
Abigail Prather Churchill Clark, 1834
Abigail Prather Churchill was born in Kentucky, at her family’s plantation, Spring Grove. The Churchills were considered one of the first families of Kentucky. At age 16, Abigail married Meriwether Lewis Clark, the oldest son of explorer William Clark, and moved to St. Louis.  Meriwether was a soldier, fighting in the Blackhawk and Mexican-American wars, as well as an architect and engineer. While he worked, Abigail spent her time raising their children in the growing city.

Abigail passed away in 1852 at the young age of 35. Her sudden death altered the family’s life dramatically. Meriwether sent some of his children to Louisville to be raised with family members. He continued his time in the service, fought in the Civil War, remarried, and became a professor at the Frankfurt Military Academy. Abigail and Meriwether’s son, became the founder and first president of Churchill Downs and the creator of the Kentucky Derby. Abigail Prather Churchill Clark, 1834. Dress detail.

Abigail Prather Churchill Clark, 1834. Dress detail.

Abigail Clark wore this two-piece dress for her wedding on January 9, 1834. The embroidered dress is cream silk faille with princess seams, a pointed waistline, and short, close-fitting sleeves. The bodice is detachable so the skirt can be worn again with a second-day bodice for traveling, receiving visitors, or continued wear, as women would often use their wedding dress as a “best” dress. Abigail’s second-day bodice has large puffed sleeves, more stylish for everyday wear in the 1830s.

Two-piece embroidered silk wedding gown and second-day bodice, 1834
Worn by Abigail Prather Churchill Clark
Gift of Mrs. Harry Seeley
26778
26869

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Mary Urquhart McRee, 1823. Dress.

Mary Urquhart McRee, 1823. Dress.
Mary Urquhart McRee, 1823
Mary Urquhart married Samuel McRee in 1823 when she was just 14 years old. The couple had two sons, Fergus and William, and moved from place to place while Samuel completed his time in the army. During the Mexican-American War, Mary waited in New Orleans to be able to move back to St. Louis, where they owned land. In 1849, shortly after returning to the area, Samuel died of cholera. Mary was able to hold on to their land for many years. On October 4, 1869, she donated a subdivision known as McRee City to the City of St. Louis. McRee City was located near what is presently the Botanical Garden and Tower Grove Park.

Mary Urquhart McRee, 1823. Dress detail.

Mary Urquhart McRee, 1823. Dress detail.

Mary McRee wore this handmade dress for her wedding in 1823. The dress is in the French Restoration style: simple white cotton with a high waistline and decorative embroidery. The full sleeves are indicative of the changes in fashion that took place during the 1820s. The popularity of the simple, Greek-inspired costume following the French Revolution was fading. Instead of the appearance of a narrow, white architectural column, large sleeves, broad shoulders, and tight waists were becoming the fashion. 

One-piece white cotton French Restoration–style wedding gown, 1823
Worn by Mary Urquhart McRee
Gift of Mr. Howard O’Fallon
26777

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