The beautiful wedding gown pictured here was worn by Miss Alice Myrtle Abbott for her ceremony to Rev. Frances McCarty in Mason City on 30 November 1904. Myrtle’s three daughters, (born in McLean County) Mary Helen, Alice, and Martha Louise, wore the same dress for their weddings in 1933, 1938, and 1941 in Bloomington and Galesburg, IL. Subsequently, their daughters Martha Ann and Mary Alice (Myrtle’s granddaughters) wore the dress to their weddings in 1961 and 1969 in McLean County. Myrtle’s five great-granddaughters, Ann, Beth, Karen, Juliana, and Elise wore the dress to their weddings in 1980, 1986, 1993, 2007, and 2008.
The family donated the gown to the museum to ensure its preservation. The family’s care of the dress is remarkable considering it has been worn in 11 wedding ceremonies spanning over 100 years.
The museum is currently only accepting wedding gowns from dates prior to the 1860s or post 1980. We have placed a moratorium on wedding gowns from the early 1900s; however, we had to make an exception for this wonderful story! The wedding dress will be on temporary display in the new to collections cases on the first floor beginning in June.
Click through the slideshow below to see pictures of all 11 brides!
The Abbott Wedding Dress
By: Martha Schlenker Maurer Graner - Bride #5
The real heroine of the preservation of this wedding dress is my mother, Alice Abbott McCarty Schlenker - bride #3. The dress had not been worn for 20 years when I planned my wedding in 1961. It had yellowed considerably. Mother painstakingly took the dress apart by hand small piece by piece. She hand washed and bleached each piece and backed it with netting. Then she pieced the dress back together as one would a quilt - sewing it together by hand. Of course each subsequent bride used a dressmaker (usually with experience with historic clothing) to take little tucks or easements - but no one came close to the work that Mother did. She developed chronic bursitis in her wrist and shoulder as a result. At one point Ron and I (being young and impetuous) thought of eloping. Then I remembered all of Mother's work, and I realized that I too had an obligation to the dress. How fortunate. Wearing the dress was magical. I think every bride felt its magic - felt beautiful - and felt the good wishes of the spirits from all the previous brides.
The Abbott Wedding Dress
By: Karen Harrington - Bride #9
This dress is very special to the many generations of the Abbott women. I remember being a little girl looking at the pictures of my mom and Aunt Alice in the dress, knowing one day, I too would wear the dress. We have pictures of my Aunt in the dress and me as a toddler sitting on her lap.
I collected pictures of all the brides for my wedding. Having many of the brides and other women of the family together telling stories and sharing pictures was one of the most special times at my wedding. We put together a poster board display that was hung up at my wedding sharing the history. That was one of the last times my Grandma Alice participated in a family event. I'll never forget her smile and joy at the history, her passion.
My 14 year old daughter is named in honor of the dress and the women who have worn the dress. Her name is Eleanor Abbott Harrington.
She was baptized in Bloomington at Wesley Methodist Church where the Rev McCarty was a minister. He married the original bride, Alice Abbott. I am Karen Alice. There is a plaque on the wall with his name at the church. Having the dress back in Bloomington, where it all started is very special.