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Game of Gowns: How well do you know Pennsylvania’s former first ladies?

January 19, 2015

Filed under Collections, Pennsylvania Treasures

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While many Inauguration Day events tend to focus on the new governor, the swearing-in ceremony and the gala that follows is often a time for the new first lady to shine. Historically, on that day, the first lady will mark her husband’s inauguration by donning an elegant dress. The gown is often representative of a first lady’s personal style.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania is honored to care for a number of inaugural dresses. This week’s Pennsylvania Treasure, subumitted by Carol Buck and Katie McGowan, is a representative sample of those historic gowns.

The following list describes seven former first lady inaugural gowns. Using the clues provided, try to match each dress with its rightful owner. (Answers: See the key below)

Mary Chamberlin Scranton

William W. Scranton was Pennsylvania’s 38th Governor, serving from 1963-1967. His wife, Mary, wore this gold silk damask gown with an allover flower design to the Inaugural Ball of 1963. The gown has a fitted bodice and flared skirt, with elbow length sleeves and decorative bows on the shoulders. A maker’s tag inside the dress reveals that it was purchased at Lord & Taylor Department Store.

Muriel Matzkin Shapp

Muriel Shapp wore this sleeveless cream brocade dress to the inauguration of her husband Milton Shapp, 40th Governor of Pennsylvania, in 1971. He served the commonwealth from 1971-1979. Designed by Kitti Hart of New York, the surface of the dress is decorated with silver and gold sequins, beads and rhinestones. Traffic congestion around Harrisburg on inauguration night caused the Shapp’s to miss the opening ceremonies – and the kickoff dance.

Michele Moore Ridge

Michele Ridge wore this gown – along with matching stole, shoes and earrings – to her husband’s inaugural ball in 1995, at Founder’s Hall in Hershey. Designed by Antonio Corbie, a native Venezuelan residing in the Michele Ridge’s hometown of Erie, the bodice is encrusted with pearls, Swarovski Austrian crystals and gold beads. The lower half of the skirt is cream silk peau-de-soie. Gov. Thomas Ridge, Pennsylvania’s 43rd governor, served from 1995-2001.

Huberta Potter Earle

Huberta Earle, wife of Gov. George H. Earle, Pennsylvania’s 30th governor, wore this striking white satin and pink flower gown to the Inaugural Ball in 1935. Pink satin pleats at the top create a sweetheart neckline. Pink satin extends down the back of the gown into a small train with a large pink satin bow at the back of the waist. Mrs. Earle bought the dress from the Mrs. Franklin Shops in Philadelphia. A 1935 newspaper article regarding the inauguration ceremonies did not name Mrs. Earle as the best dressed lady that evening.

Helene Fine

John S. Fine, 35th governor of the state of Pennsylvania, served from January 1951 through January 1955. His wife, Helene, wore this strapless, pale pink tulle dress to the inaugural festivities. The bodice is covered in clear, light and dark pink sequins arranged in an alternating diamond pattern. The Fines’ story is bittersweet. Just one month after the inauguration, Helene passed away from complications she suffered from a fall several months prior during the campaign. Governor Fine was only the second governor in Pennsylvania to be widowed while in office.

Jean Harris Davies

Jean Harris Davies married her Allegheny College sweetheart in 1941. When he became governor in January 1967, she wore this light blue, tea length dress and coat. Purchased from Harrisburg’s own Junior Dress Shop, it is lined with light blue satin with a glittering bodice of rhinestones, silver beads and seed pearls. Raymond Shafer was Pennsylvania’s 39th governor and served the commonwealth until January 1971.

Ginny Thornburgh

January 1979 ushered in two-term governor Richard L. Thornburgh. His wife, Ginny, wore this classic and simple red dress to her husband’s inauguration ball. The skirt and puffed sleeves are made of red taffeta with a scoop neckline and jersey knit bodice.


Answer Key: 1) Ginny Thornburgh; 2) Michele Moore Ridge; 3) Jean Harris Davies; 4) Muriel Matzkin Shapp; 5) Huberta Potter Earle; 6)Mary Chamberlin Scranton; 7) Helene Fine 


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.