Women in White

An Idaho Day Celebration

By Linden B. Bateman

During a thirty-seven-year career as a history teacher, I constantly searched for class projects that could bring the past to life—things that went beyond just reading a textbook. And so it was in the spring of 2001, a student approached my desk with a long narrow carton. I could tell from her excitement it must contain something precious—and, from its dated postage stamps, something old. My student informed me that the carton contained a mail-order gown worn by her great-grandmother at her wedding in 1932, which was the postmarked year.

We very carefully opened the container, and found, wrapped in tissue, the faded remnants of a floral bouquet that had been carried by her ancestor at the wedding. The flowers must have been returned to their carton after the ceremony, and were perhaps almost forgotten. We both trembled slightly when we realized the carton may well have not been opened for sixty-nine years. And when we saw the stunning and very expensive satin gown in mint condition, worn only once, we lost our breath completely. 

History did indeed come to life that day when the dress was modeled by the tall elegant great-granddaughter, who had long flowing hair and rosy cheeks.

That wistful experience was part of a project I sponsored every year for junior girls in American history classes at Bonneville High School in Idaho Falls. Students received extra credit for finding vintage wedding gowns, at least fifty years old, which could be modeled by the girls.  Black-and-white photographs were taken at historic locations in town, such as the G.G. Wright Mansion on Ridge Avenue, with its rich antique honey oak interiors, or along the Snake River greenbelt where cascading falls formed a backdrop.

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