Gift of Mrs. Francis Howard and Mrs. Avery Robinson, 1953
Not on view
According to family history, Amelia Jane Carley (1844–1892) wore this dress at her marriage to William Edward Chess (1842–1926) in 1868 in West Virginia, the half-mourning colors chosen in honor of those who died during the Civil War. Both bride and groom were fortunate not to have lost any immediate family during the war, though Ms. Carley’s brother and Mr. Chess served in the Union Army. This family narrative suggests that the bride chose shades of mourning in response to the widespread losses suffered during the war rather than to memorialize an individual. A subdued palette of gray and black may have felt more respectful than a showier bridal gown while so many families still grieved. Etiquette manuals and women’s magazines frequently offered guidance for brides whose weddings intersected with a period of mourning, though the choice of dress under such circumstances often reflected a woman’s personal judgment rather than prescriptive advice.