First Ladies Dresses

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. and its newly reopened National Museum of American History. While there, I had the opportunity to see several exhibits, which I’ll be sharing with you over the next few weeks. First up – the exhibition of first ladies dresses.

This exhibit not only showed and discussed the first ladies dresses in the museums collection, but also went into the history of the collection and of the exhibit itself. It has been a part of the Smithsonian’s exhibition program for decades, and is one of the most popular. The collection itself actually has over 1000 objects related to the first ladies and their activities during their years in the white house. I highly recommend a visit to the exhibit on your next trip to D.C. Here are a few of the highlights from when I was there (they frequently rotate gowns out of this exhibition, so you might see something different when you go):

Helen Taft’s 1909 inauguration gown (my personal favorite):

An evening gown from Mamie Eisenhower:

Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1945 Inauguration reception gown:

Martha Washington’s silk gown dating to the 1780s (with reproduction collar and cuffs):

Mary Lincoln’s silk dress from 1861:

Sarah Polk’s silk dress from 1840 (remade into an evening gown in the 1880s):

Florence Harding’s dress by Harry Collins:

For a behind the scenes video of the exhibition with curator Lisa-Kathleen Graddy, click here. Next week, another exhibit from D.C.!

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  • Judith Meeks August 05, 2009 11.59 am

    Thank you for the fine photos of Helen Taft’s dress. I went to the website for The National Museum of American History and was unable to find photos of any First Ladies’ dresses.

  • Heather Vaughan August 05, 2009 12.08 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it Judith – the first ladies dresses can be found on the Smithsonian website at the website referenced above (


  • Sofia Haden July 27, 2010 10.22 pm

    Hey there I just wanted to comment on your site and say that I really enjoyed reading your blog post here. It was very informative and I also like the way you write! Keep it up and I’ll be back to read more soon mate. Well purposed, unique take on this subject.

  • Charlotte Mehmke November 09, 2012 07.55 am

    We are a nonprofit museum is Montana….for education projects we are making copies of each first lady gowns….display them in schools, libraries and museums.
    Also, we plan to have them avaible for style shows….
    thanks much for your pictures.


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