The striking gown is believed to have originally belonged to Frances Elizabeth "Fanny" Appleton Longfellow (1817–1861), wife of author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. While we don’t know its exact date and country of creation, its quality suggest it is probably French in origin. Fanny’s archive of letters also tells us that her brother Tom sent her gowns from Paris on several occasions (Park Service communication). Could this perhaps be the "Spanish dress" that Fanny mentioned in an 1839 letter?
Then myself as Spanish lady–in a yellow satin petticoat, mantilla, genuine Spanish comb & veil of Mrs B’s trying to look coquettish over a fan; much applauded as my eyes did wink a hear’s breadth...
Fanny Appleton Longfellow, 1839. (FEAL‐B2‐F9‐I14 FEAL to EAW 1839‐08‐25). Courtesy National Park Service, Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site.
Edith Hollman Bowers, Fanny Longfellow's great-great-granddaughter, appears in four photographs taken at the Sesquicentennial celebration of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's birth on February 27, 1957. Although we cannot see the tiers of the skirt, the top of the dress appears as it does today with the black lace added to the sleeves. Edith is wearing a 50s crinoline, which adds volume at the hips rather than creating a circular hoop. It is possible that the alterations found on the bodice--notably a letting out at the waist and a gathering at the bust—were made for Edith. At the time the dress was received for conservation, the bodice was also basted to the waistband of the skirt, though originally the dress was in two separate pieces. The fact that the dress survived a century of wearing by at least four different women with very little damage is a testament to the fondness the Longfellow family had for it.
Stay tuned for additional MTS Blogs about the dress's most striking feature—its bright yellow silk.