Dresses by Decade

Dresses 1850-1900

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Martha Hannah Ramsey Moore, 1856. Dress.

Martha Hannah Ramsey Moore, 1856. Dress.
Martha Hannah Ramsey Moore, 1856
Hannah Ramsey was born and raised in Jefferson City, Missouri. She joined the Methodist Church at age 16. Hannah first met Meredith Moore in 1849, after he had returned from the Mexican-American War. Although they kept in contact, he did not propose to her, and she fielded offers from other suitors. When Meredith traveled to California in search of gold, Hannah kept up her correspondence with him. At one point, Meredith discovered a large chunk of gold, which he had turned into an engagement ring for Hannah. Trusting the mail system, Meredith finally proposed through a letter and sent the ring to his future bride.

When Meredith returned from California, the couple married. While her husband ventured into various business enterprises, Hannah helped promote the family’s interests. Hannah and Meredith were listed as co-owners of a steamboat named Eagle. While Meredith was the “pilot” of the ship, Hannah handled the everyday business. Meredith and Hannah had three children. She passed away in 1896, 15 years before her husband.

Martha Hannah Ramsey Moore, 1856. Dress detail.

Martha Hannah Ramsey Moore, 1856. Dress detail.
Hannah Moore wore this simple white cotton dress for her wedding to Meredith Moore on June 26, 1856. The dress features floral eyelet embroidery, a waistband gathered with a drawstring, and a matching cotton petticoat and cap. Hannah’s simple dress was not necessarily in vogue at the time, as the 1850s saw silhouettes growing in size and a trend toward bright colors and plaids. Her dress may have been a direct reflection of her social standing, as her parents had died before her marriage and she was left to fend for herself for several years.

One-piece eyelet-embroidered white cotton wedding gown and cap, 1856
Worn by Martha Hannah Ramsey Moore
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meredith A. Moore

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Eliza Jane Steel De Mier, 1873. Dress.

Eliza Jane Steel De Mier, 1873. Dress.
Eliza Jane Steel De Mier, 1873
Eliza Steel was born February 29, 1844, in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Despite being “well off,” the family migrated to St. Louis in 1848. Eliza’s father, Matthew Steel, continued to do well for himself as a carriage maker after the family settled in St. Louis. Eliza married John R. De Mier in 1873 at her parents’ home at 816 N. 21st Street. John’s family had lived in St. Louis for some time, and his father was a city firefighter. Immediately after the ceremony, Eliza and John boarded a riverboat for their honeymoon. They traveled down to Memphis, and on their return voyage they visited some caves in Kentucky. In 1885, some 12 years after their marriage, John and Eliza moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico. It is unclear why they migrated west, but one can assume that there was an opportunity for economic advancement that was unavailable in St. Louis. Eliza and John had at least one child, Mary. Eliza Steel De Mier died September 17, 1917.

Eliza De Mier wore this three-piece brown silk taffeta dress for her wedding on May 1, 1873. This dress was very much in vogue as the silhouette of the 1870s moved the fullness of the skirt from the sides to the back. This dress features a tight, boned bodice, puffy skirt, and bustle belt to accentuate the full back. A bustle would have been worn underneath the skirt to give it more fullness. In a decade plagued with “wretched excess,” Eliza’s dress typifies the trend for flounces, fringe, and intricate details.

Three-piece brown silk taffeta wedding gown, 1873
Worn by Eliza Jane Steel De Mier
Gift of Mrs. May D. Banner

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Emma Johnson Forbes, 1888. Dress.

Emma Johnson Forbes, 1888. Dress.
Emma Johnson Forbes, 1888
On October 17, 1888, Emma Johnson married Alexander Elias Forbes. Alexander was the heir to the John H. Forbes Tea and Coffee Company, which his father founded in 1853. The business was extremely successful, being the first coffee retailer west of the Mississippi and one of the first to preroast and pregrind coffee beans. Alexander went on to become the company’s president, then chairman of the board of directors.

Little is known about Emma’s life, except that she grew up in Iowa and that she and Alexander had only one child, Helen. Emma passed away many years before her husband. Alexander continued to work at his company until three months before his death, April 29, 1937. Emma Johnson Forbes, 1888. Dress detail.

Emma Johnson Forbes, 1888. Dress detail.

For her wedding in 1888, Emma wore a family heirloom: the dress her mother wore when she married Emma’s father on the same day 38 years earlier (October 17, 1850). Emma made some alterations to the two-piece olive green silk satin gown to bring it up to date. The bodice is fitted with small leg-o-mutton sleeves, and the skirt has an asymmetrical, draped polonaise overskirt, which adds fullness and would have been worn with a bustle.

Two-piece olive-green satin wedding gown with brown brocade, 1850–1888
Worn by Emma Johnson Forbes
Gift of Mrs. David Orwig

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