11 June 2014

Anna Alcott Pratt's 1860 Wedding Dress on Display

Once a year, during the months of May and June, visitors on tour at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House have an opportunity to see Anna Alcott Pratt’s original 1860 gray silk wedding gown.

Anna Alcott was 29 years old on May 23, 1860, when she married John Bridge Pratt, a young Concord man who had once played her leading man in an amateur theatrical production called “The Loan of a Lover.”  It was typical (and practical) for a bride of that period to choose a gown of a neutral color (brown, navy, gray) that she could wear again.  “Hoping to be married in the evening,” she wrote in her journal three months after the event, “I had proposed a very simple white dress meaning to look like a bride, but on deciding it should be in the morning & knowing myself to be neither young nor pretty I laid it aside as unsuitable & wore my riding dress of silvery grey, & Louy [sister Louisa] placed in my hair & upon my bosom, sprays of lilies of the valley.”

The wedding party was small, comprised of “Mr. & Mrs. Emerson, Mr. Thoreau, (Franklin) Sanborn, & the two families,” and took place in the front parlor of Orchard House, with the bride and groom standing “together beneath an arch of lilies, hand in hand.”  Mrs. Alcott’s brother (the bride’s uncle), Unitarian minister Samuel May, presided over the couple, bringing tears to the eyes of the onlookers with his heartfelt words, according to Anna:

I was in a dream, the lovely day, the bright May sunshine stealing in upon the sweet flowers & wreaths, & loving faces, the influence of the kind hearts around me, Uncles gentle voice, and the touch of the hand that held mind so firmly yet so fondly, all seemed so beautiful, that altho’ my heart beat fast and the tears came to my eyes, I did not feel like Annie.”  After the ceremony, “we danced on the lawn under the Elm…we ate the wedding dinner, and then the carriage came and I began to wake up, & think ‘I am going away.’  Tearful faces kissed me goodbye, loving hands held mine as if they could not let them go and amid such plentiful affection as even the most beautiful bride in the world could (experience), I drove away from my dear home… a happier wedding day a woman could not ask.

Recording Anna’s wedding day in her journal, Louisa May Alcott wrote that she and her sister May were dressed “in thin grey stuff and roses,--sackcloth, I called it, and ashes of roses, for I mourn the loss of my Nan, and am not comforted.”  She added:  “Then, with tears and kisses, our dear girl, in her little white bonnet, went happily away with her good John; and we ended our first wedding.  Mr. Emerson kissed her; and I thought that honor would make even matrimony endurable, for he is the god of my idolatry, and has been for years.”

One month after the wedding, Louisa called on Anna and John in their home in Chelsea.  She wrote:  “Saw Nan in her nest, where she and her mate live like a pair of turtle doves.  Very sweet and pretty, but I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.”

Louisa May Alcott herself never married, claiming that “liberty is a better husband than love.”  She and Anna remained close friends throughout their lives.

It is presumed that Anna did wear her dress again for special occasions, since silk would not have been suitable (or practical) for everyday use.  The full costume would have included “undersleeves” that went to the elbow beneath the fashionable bell sleeves on the dress.

Orchard House also owns a replica costume that has been worn in living history wedding reenactments, performed as public events every few years.  Brides portraying Anna Alcott, as well as the grooms portraying John Pratt, most often have been descendants of Anna herself.  One memorable reenactment featured a family descendant from Germany: the great-great-granddaughter of May Alcott, Anna’s youngest sister.

Alcott descendants participate in wedding reenactment (with replica wedding gown).
To visit Orchard House and experience the dress for yourself, guided tours are available daily at 399 Lexington Road, Concord, MA, Mondays through Saturdays, 10 – 4:30 p.m., and Sundays 1 – 4:30 p.m.  Groups of 10 or more may make advance reservations by calling 978-369-4118 x106.

1 comment:

  1. We so very much enjoyed our visit to the Alcott house and did have the luxury of see this sweet wedding dress.