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Inaugural ball gowns: Pennsylvania’s wearable works of art

November 4, 2014

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life

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Mary McAllister, the wife of former Gov. James Beaver, wore this beige and yellow silk faille gown to the 1887 Inaugural ball.The gown's design includes a continuous floral design on ivory-colored brocade. The back of the dress features gold-colored braid embellishment with metal pendants.

Mary McAllister, the wife of former Gov. James Beaver, wore this beige and yellow silk faille gown to the 1887 Inaugural ball.The gown’s design includes a continuous floral design on ivory-colored brocade. The back of the dress features gold-colored braid embellishment with metal pendants.

Inaugural ball gowns worn by Pennsylvania’s former first ladies are treasured as historic works of art worthy of collection and preservation, as is the case of Mary McAllister.

The wife of former Gov. James Beaver, McAllister wore this beige and yellow silk faille gown to the 1887 inaugural ball. CAP Curator Katelyn Adam nominated this dress for this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure. The granddaughter of Gov. Beaver donated the gown to the State Museum of Pennsylvania in 1965.

The museum is home to other inaugural gowns, including those worn by Muriel Shapp, Mary Scranton and Jean Duff. These dresses are preserved inside a special refrigerated storage area.

The design of the McAllister’s preserved dress includes a continuous floral design on ivory-colored brocade. The back of the gown features gold-colored braid embellishment with metal pendants.

McAllister was born on Sept. 26, 1842 in Bellemont, Pa. to Hugh N. McAllister and Henrietta Orbison. Her father was a prominent lawyer in Centre County. On Dec. 26, 1865, Mary married her father’s business partner, James Addams Beaver. Beaver would later go on to become the 20th governor of Pennsylvania.

In an 1882 biography of Gov. Beaver, author Frank Burr described Mary as “a young lady of rare accomplishments, who had inherited much of her father’s strength of mind and force of character, and was a fitting life-partner for a positive man like General Beaver. Through their years of married life she has not only graced his household, but has done her share in making the family name respected wherever it is known.”

The couple had five children, all sons, though only two survived to adulthood. In addition to her duties as a wife and mother, Mary was involved with the Bellefonte chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a charter member.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.