Collection Location: Historical Society of Baltimore County
Collection Overview: In the twenty-first century, an extravagant wedding and spectacular bridal gown have become the norm for American brides and grooms. Indeed, in 2016 the average American wedding cost a record-breaking $35,329, according to a survey by The Knot. But the lavish weddings of today are a relatively recent development. The bridal boutique and the wedding industry, with its flocks of professional caterers, florists, musicians, planners, etc., who specialize in weddings, only became regular features of American nuptials after World War II. Before then, catering was probably handled by the bride’s female relatives and the bride may have worn her Sunday best, or made a new dress that she intended to reuse, instead of splashing out on a once-in-a-lifetime gown. But regardless of the level of luxury the couple and their families could afford, Baltimore County weddings have been joyful affairs that brought family and community together.
The items in this collection are from Baltimore County couples’ weddings from the late nineteenth to late twentieth century and have been donated to the Historical Society of Baltimore County. These bridal gowns, shoes, accessories, photos and other items reflect the evolution of the modern wedding over decades that saw the County itself transform from overwhelmingly rural to increasingly suburbanized.
The late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century objects and photos included here make clear that our forbearers considered weddings to be very special occasions. An intricate pink lace dress from ca. 1885 was most likely tailor-made for the bride’s wedding day, rather than a “best-day dress” as many brides of the time wore. A photograph shows newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Charles Napier on a wedding trip to Niagara Falls in 1885, a destination that was popular for honeymoons from the early nineteenth century. Two marriage certificates from 1875 and 1883 are highly decorated, reflecting their importance beyond simply documenting a union. An 18K gold wedding ring given in 1883 carries the touching Latin inscription, “Semper te amaba” (roughly, “I will always love you”).
Yet the dresses, lace gloves, ring bearer pillow and invitations from weddings in 1966 and 1997 show the distinctly modern wedding in full bloom many years later. By then, the bride’s dress had become a singularly defining feature – a gown that could not be mistaken for anything but a wedding gown, made only for that unique occasion, and almost always in white or off-white and made of luxurious fabrics like lace, silk, satin and taffeta. A Ring Bearer’s silk pillow, designed to deliver the wedding bands with an elegant flourish, suggests the importance of ritualized traditions to many modern couples. Invitations with handpicked fonts and decorations, much like the bridal gowns and accessories from 1966 and 1997, express the modern impulse to blend individual taste and trends with tradition.
The other wedding dresses included here bear witness to the changing times in between. In 1929, Mrs. Robert Pearce wore a navy blue velvet, tea-length gown to her wedding in St. James Church in Monkton, a distinctly flapper-influenced choice. Rosina Schisler’s gown for her wedding to Charles Elmer Greensfelder on May 3, 1942, stands out in the context of World War II. With millions of men heading off to war and silk rationed, wartime weddings were often hasty and most brides opted to wear simple wedding suits. Greensfelder did not enlist until 1944, so the couple were able to plan their wedding more carefully than many others and Schisler was able to purchase a lovely ivory gown adorned with lace. But the gown is noticeably less voluminous than many before and after, as befitted its wartime context.
While weddings are first and foremost about the couple getting married, they are also a time to bring family together and cement familial ties. Many of the artifacts here were donated to HSBC by Carol Greensfelder Baublitz, who generously gave the Society dresses and other items from the weddings of four generations of women in her family: Caroline Kahler’s marriage to Henry George Greensfelder in 1907; Rosina Schisler’s marriage to Charles Elmer Greensfelder in 1942; Carol Ann Greensfelder’s marriage to Benjamin Karl Baublitz, Jr., in 1966; and Lisa Ann Baublitz’s marriage to Brant Lee Geiman in 1997. The Greensfelder-Baublitz donation to HSBC is a moving tribute to the power of family and a charming encapsulation of wedding history.
Howard, Vicki. Brides, Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
Otnes, Cele, and Elizabeth H. Pleck. Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Wallace, Carol McD. All Dressed in White: The Irresistible Rise of the American Wedding. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.
Collection overview prepared by Kathleen Barry, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Baltimore County