These two dramatically different gowns were worn by NSDAR Presidents General only 35 years apart. Caroline Scott Harrison, the National Society's first President General, wore her ribbed silk faille afternoon dress with ostrich feathers and jet bead trim about 1890. The garment exemplifies the highly structured and decorative bustle style of the 1870s and 1880s, which Mrs. Harrison favored even after it went out of fashion in 1888.
While it is elaborately detailed and elegant, the simple, boxy construction of President General Lora H. Cook’s flapper-style evening dress, worn about 1925, represents a seismic shift toward modern fashion. Appliqué imitation pearls and rhinestones add weight to the ethereal gown's floating train and gauzy fabrics, including silk moiré and metallic lace.
The Harrison and Cook dresses provide perfect bookends for the upcoming DAR Museum exhibition “Fashioning the New Woman,” which opens October 5, 2012, and runs through August 31, 2013.
In the years just after the founding of the NSDAR in 1890, many American women were venturing out of the domestic arena to pursue higher education, work in office jobs, play active sports and advocate for social reform. The exhibition examines these changes and the resulting shift to more practical fashions while also highlighting the achievements of Progressive-era Daughters in higher education, politics and reform, including the suffrage movement and volunteerism during World War I.