A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2009 - December 2009
Kooi-Reynolds wedding, circa 1926 (Moeller-Edwards Collection, TESHS)
EVERY BRIDE AND groom dream of having their own home. Indeed, it was thought best for the newly married couple to live alone for at least the first year, free from in-laws, children, renters or other interlopers. As Margaret Sangster noted in her 1901 advice book, Winsome Womanhood:
The first year presents many unforeseen difficulties, and is often rather trying to both, John discovering that Edith is not altogether angelic, Edith learning that John has human imperfections the existence of which she never suspected. They are lovers, they will remain so, but the everyday level of life will become that of comradeship, of friendship, and they will best accommodate themselves to the novel conditions, and in the end will be the more closely united if no one is near to criticize, comment or interfere.
In this new home could be found a wide variety of new furnishings and accessories. Many were brought to the home by the bride, who in many cases had amassed a collection of household goods throughout her childhood years. Winsome Womanhood observed that others were gifts from well-wishers and family members, some not having the best of taste:
Wonderful fascination is in the little home for two. ... How the wedding presents add a touch of elegance here, of harmony there. What fun over the disposition of the wedding gift which is palpably a misfit, the choice of wealth, but not of taste, or the tribute of some kind relative out of touch with modern and aesthetic ideas.
Trousseau is a French word meaning “little bundle.” It was supposed to be those items which a bride took with her in order to set up her new household. A traditional trousseau – usually stored throughout childhood and adolescence in a hope chest – included jewelry, lingerie and toiletries, plus bed linens, bath towels and tablecloths. Many of the items in the trousseau were hand-sewn by female relatives (mother, aunt, grandmother, cousin) or the girl herself if she was skilled with needle and thread.
For many women, the trousseau also included brand new outfits to see her through her wedding, honeymoon and newlywed days. By the 1920s, well-to-do society brides such as Rosa-Maye Kendrick and Diana Cumming purchased their new clothing at upscale clothing stores such as Macy’s, Marshall Field and Neiman Marcus. When she married in 1927, Rosa-Maye and her mother went on a shopping spree, outfitting the bride in a variety of coats and dresses. Diana was similarly outfitted when she married Manville Kendrick in 1929. In her case, however, a great deal of the shopping was done at couture shops in Paris in the summer of 1928.
In addition to clothing, every bride had a few linens in her trousseau: towels, sheets, tablecloths, etc. Few could envision, however, the linens included in the trousseau outlined for the “daughter of the very rich” by author Emily Post. She described this “most lavish trousseau imaginable,” which would require “the services of a van to transport,” in her landmark book, Etiquette:
In addition, this extravagant trousseau was to include dozens of additional sheets, pillowcases, blankets, quilts, towels, tablecloths and napkins - for use by the servants.
Along with items for her trousseau, brides expected to receive a number of wedding gifts to help furnish their new home. Naturally, the larger and more “high class” the wedding, the more gifts the bride received. Rosa-Maye Kendrick, for example, received over 370 gifts celebrating her 1927 marriage to Hubert Harmon. Two years later, Diana Cumming was the recipient of nearly 600 gifts when she married Manville Kendrick. And, according to Emily Post, the giver of each of those gifts was due a handwritten thank you note in return. “Telephoning won’t do at all,” she directed, “and neither will a verbal thank you.”
Post felt strongly that the bride should be very careful about how she displayed her gifts (which was perfectly acceptable, by the way, even at the reception):
Usually china is put on one table, silver on another … A crudely designed piece of silverware should not be left among beautiful examples, but be put among china ornaments, or other articles that do not reveal its lack of fineness by too direct comparison. For the same reason imitation lace should not be put next to real … To group duplicates is another unfortunate arrangement. Eighteen pairs of pepper pots or fourteen sauceboats in a row might as well be labeled: “Look at this stupidity! What can she do with all of us?” They are sure to make the givers feel at least a little chagrined at their choice.
Among Diana Kendrick’s 500-plus wedding gifts were quite a few duplicate items, including seven cigarette boxes, ten assorted pitchers, twelve pairs of candlesticks, thirteen compotes (6 silver), 28 bonbon dishes (13 silver), 28 assorted bowls, 33 assorted vases (5 silver), and 36 nut dishes. Many of these duplicates, still carrying their gift registry stickers and gift cards, were packed away and never used.
While some types of gifts came in duplicates, others were one-of-a-kind. Unique gifts to Manville and Diana included an English riding crop, an antique Bohemian sweetmeat jar, a pair of grape scissors, a photograph of the Lincoln Memorial, a gallon-sized pail of Wyoming-made honey, and an antique Russian samovar. The most unusual gift given to the couple was a baby leopard skin, sent from Paris by a friend of the family.
The largest gift may also have been the most expensive. Diana Kendrick’s father, Hugh Smith Cumming, was the Surgeon General of the United States. In honor of their boss’s daughter’s wedding, over 100 doctors associated with the U.S. Public Health Service contributed towards the purchase of a very large set of Tiffany silver flatware and matching coffee service. The pattern, Faneuil, was very simple and modern, just in line with Diana’s tastes. The set contained twelve sets each of eleven different kinds of spoons, eight types of forks, and five kinds of knives. They were stored in a large wooden chest, along with a complete coffee service with coffee pot, tray, cream and sugar set - and a set of tongs.
Diana definitely had a thing for tableware. When she and Manville visited the Panama Canal on their honeymoon, Diana went on a spending spree at the duty-free store. In addition to assorted linens and glassware, she purchased three sets of china (Royal Doulton Old Leeds, Minton Princess and Minton H1935), plus a set of Minton demitasse cups and saucers rimmed in Cobalt blue and gold (pattern G6262). These delicate half-cups were used to serve espresso or other strong black coffees.
For more on wedding gifts received by Rosa-Maye and Diana, read our article A Treasure Trove of Wedding Gifts.
Snapshots of Rosa-Maye's trousseau, 1927 (SPHS Collection, TESHS)
State Historic Site