Texas First Ladies Gown Collection
This stunning collection of gowns worn by the First Ladies of Texas are original to their owner, or authentically replicated. The collection consists of forty-seven gowns, twenty-one of which are displayed at each time on rotation. The collection also includes items such as gloves, hair accessories, needlework, china, and other antique objects of interest. Each gown on display is accompanied with a biography of the woman that it belonged to. Looking beyond the biographical and historical significance of this collection, students and scholars of the fashion industry will find an opportunity to see two centuries of pattern making, textiles, and garment construction in one location.
Backstory and Context
On March 26th, 1940, State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Dr. Marion Day Mullins presented the collection to Texas Woman’s University on behalf of the Texas Society of DAR. According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, TWU President Louis H. Hubbard accepted the Collection, and Mullins said, “…this exhibit embodies three goals of our Society: the education of youth, the improvement of the American home, and the encouragement of useful and beautiful arts. The standards of your campus match the ideals of citizenship for which the Daughters of the American Revolution stands.” A small booklet was published and distributed in celebration of the opening of the Collection (Velda Wilbern. Newcomer, Texas First Ladies Historic Costume Collection) (Denton, TX: University Press, 1978.)
Texas Woman’s University was chosen to be the permanent residence of the gown collection because it was the largest school for women in the southwest, its central location, and at the time, had the largest Home Economics and Art departments of all of the schools in Texas, so would be able to provide a rich and valuable resource for students pursuing these areas of education. The Collection provides an invaluable resource for students studying textiles, art, fashion design, and pattern making, as well as history. Although most gowns are original, some are reproductions, and were painstakingly recreated to reflect textile and pattern accuracy. Not all of the garments are inaugural gowns. For instance, Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson’s Presidential Inaugural gown is in the Smithsonian museum; however, she donated another dress that was worn at a formal White House event to the Collection. Two Texas Governors were women, but you will not find their garments, or their husbands' tuxedos included in the collection.
The University owns all but one of the forty-seven gowns, with twenty-one of them on display at a time. The curation, storage, upkeep, and restorations are made possible by donations from various community organizations including the Texas Society of DAR and the Denton Benefit League. Since the opening of this collection, the Texas First Ladies have generously donated their inaugural gowns as well as a personal account of their lives.
Deeper than the threads woven into the fabric of these gowns is the significance of the thread of history that runs through the stories of the women who wore them. The importance of the roles that they played as a strategic political partner to the men that governed cannot be overstated. These women spearheaded the domestic, moral, and religious aspects of the political campaign, and oversaw the initiatives to implement them. They were considered mavens of culture and sophisticated society— a woman in which all Texas citizens could aspire to be like.