Skip to main content

Livingston Families

Inaugural Gowns of the First Ladies Special Exhibit

09/06/2012 13:56 ● By Rick McGarry


Just in time for the finale of a protracted presidential election campaign, the Plymouth Historical Museum opens its special exhibit, "Inaugural Gowns of the First Ladies." This exhibit showcases 14 reproduction inaugural ball gowns of presidential first ladies from Martha Washington (1789-1797) to Rosalyn Carter (1977-1980). The gowns were commissioned by the Republican Party in 1971 and were created by a team of designers under the direction of Don Nagel and David Zeese of Frankenmuth, Michigan. The design team was sent to Washington, D.C., to view the dresses at the Smithsonian in the of the First Ladies as they were being restored. The team was allowed to sketch each gown but not permitted to photograph them.

Each gown took approximately eight months to research and design, as no patterns existed for any of the ball gowns. Fabrics also had to be matched as closely as possible, making reproductions on this scale very difficult. The gowns chosen were selected for two reasons. One, to show the progression of fashion, and two, to give insight into the various periods. In addition to Washington and Carter, the following first ladies are featured: Dolley Madison (1809-1817), Louisa Adams (1825), Sarah Polk (1845-1849), Abigail Fillmore (1850-1853), Julia Grant (1869-1877), Helen Taft (1909-1913), Florence Harding (1921-1923), Grace Coolidge (1923-1929), Lou Hoover (1929-1933), Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-1945), Lady Bird Johnson (1963-1968), and Patricia Nixon (1969-1974).

The exhibit also highlights dolls of the first ladies, or women who acted in the place of first ladies, in inaugural gowns, as well as other representative political objects. The exhibit runs until November 7, 2012.

Hours of operation are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children (6-17). The Museum is family friendly, with activities to engage visiting children. Tours can be accommodated. Please call 734-455-8940 for more information or to make a tour reservation.