Conserving the Remarkable Costume Collection at the Maryland Historical Society

Conserving the Remarkable Costume Collection
at the Maryland Historical Society

Society seeks public donations to aid rehousing efforts 


Contact: Laura Rodini [email protected] 410-685-3750 Ext. 322

Wallis Simpson
Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, in Givenchy's 'Monkey Dress,' 1954, collection of the Maryland Historical Society


BALTIMORE, July 24 2015 - The costume collection at the Maryland Historical Society is one of the museum's greatest treasure troves. Composed of more than 6,000 garments dating from the early eighteenth century to the 1960s, the collection includes women's and men's clothing, infant and children's clothing, uniforms and accessories of all kinds. Most of the collection has well-documented provenance linking it to early Maryland families, Revolutionary War heroes, George Washington and more. Many of the garments and accessories relate to events and fashions of the 20th Century, as well.


Now, the Maryland Historical Society is embarking upon a new initiative to move and rehouse its impressive costume collection. It seeks public support through an innovative Adopt-a-Box program.


About the Costume Collection


"Almost three decades ago, the museum's retired housekeeper Enoliah Williams (known affectionately as 'Miss Nola') took on the daunting task of organizing the costume collection," says Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch. "Patiently, she placed garments in boxes, organizing them by date and style. She created cards for the garments that recorded significant information about their history and condition. Williams utilized the cabinets she could find, lining the drawers and then meticulously placed everything from buttons to lace in them."


Unfortunately, the boxes and tissue paper used by Williams are no longer conservation-safe, so each garment must be carefully rehoused to ensure its preservation. That, combined with the increasingly limited storage space in the Enoch Pratt House, has led to increased fragility and splitting of some costumes.


The costume bloggers, from left to right: Anna-Maria Hand, Lidia Plaza, and Emily Bach

Interns Lidia Plaza, Anna-Maria Hand and Emily Bach are moving the costume collection from spaces in the museum's historic Pratt House to a newly designated textile storage area. They have also started a blog detailing their discoveries. In addition, they will be presenting their findings on Wednesday, August 12 at 11 am at the Maryland Historical Society. This presentation will be open to the public.


"Through this project, we are uncovering treasures in the collection each day," says Deutsch. The blog highlights some of them, from a look at the MdHS Wedding Collection to the court dress of Mary Sterling, which she wore when presented at the court of Napoleon III in Paris in 1853 or 1854, to a discussion of techniques being employed to clean and conserve the fragile textiles in the collection.


"This is the 'great leap forward' for costumes at the Maryland Historical Society!" Deutsch adds.




The Maryland Historical Society has introduced a new program to help offset the cost of much-needed rehousing supplies, including archival boxes and acid-free tissue to safely store the fragile objects in its Costume Collection.

Depending upon the level of donation, you will receive:


*Emailed images of the costume(s) rehoused and basic information about the costume(s) that you have adopted

*Complimentary admission to a lecture about the costume collection given by Alexandra Deutsch, Chief Curator
*Complimentary admission to the November 5, 2015 lecture by Dr. Karin Bohleke, "The Mourning After."
*Private behind-the-scenes, curator-led tour for four people of highlights of the costume collection.
*Lunch with the director and chief curator.


For complete details, visit the Maryland Historical Society website.


About The Maryland Historical Society


Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." Visit


For more details, contact Marketing Director Laura Rodini at [email protected] or by phone: 410-685-3750 ext. 322.