50th Anniversary Sample Story
In the summer of 1965, Virginia Ullman, a close friend of my grandparents, came to stay with them at their summer home in Newport, R.I. Virginia was accompanied by Jean Hildreth, who was traveling around the country in hopes of collecting beautiful garmets for Phoenix Art Museum’s new costume collection. Their timing was fortuitous because my grandmother was in the process of clearing the attic of her family’s home in Bryn Mawr, PA. Trunks of beautiful clothes kept arriving that had belonged to her mother, my great-grandmother, Anita Berwind Strawbridge. My sister and I had a wonderful time trying on her wedding dress, court presentation gown, and gorgeous day and evening dresses. Sadly, because women were so tightly corseted in the late nineteenth century, nothing fit us (and these were our “ thin” days).
I well remember the day Virginia and Jean arrived. My grandmother’s bedroom and the guest rooms were an explosion of hats, dresses, evening cloaks, petticoats, gloves, silk stockings, and shoes – laid out so Jean could choose what she wanted. Among her choices were the wedding dress, a beautiful velvet opera cloak, several reception dresses, numerous petticoats, and pairs of gloves. These would form the foundation for what became our fabulous Arizona Costume Institute.
I sometimes visit my great-grandmother’s wedding dress in the vault. It was made for her in Paris for her wedding to Robert E. Strawbridge on November 6th, 1895. The exaggerated sleeves, tightly corseted waist and bell shaped skirt that formed the ideal hourglass silhouette were the height of fashion that year. The duchess lace collar is a combination of machine and hand-made laces. I think we are so fortunate that it’s being so well preserved here at Phoenix Art Museum.
While Virginia and Jean were in Newport, my grandmother had a luncheon in their honor. One of the guests was Claire Boothe Luce. The discussion at lunch was of course about the collection and shortly after Mrs. Luce went home that day, her chauffeur arrived with several beautiful dresses that also became part of the early collection. - Adrienne Schiffner