Wedding gown, 1910-1911


One of the priciest clothing purchases a woman can make, a wedding gown is worn only once. After the wedding, the gown is carefully tucked away, becoming an heirloom for future generations. In some families, a wedding gown is later altered and worn by a daughter or close relative of the bride. Other wedding gowns make their way into museum collections after generations of careful storage by descendants of the original wearer. Because of their sentimental value, wedding gowns are often in excellent condition when they enter museum collections. This ivory silk gown was worn by bride Mary Wells née Peterson at her wedding. According to records accompanying the donation, Mary's wedding took place in November of 1910 or 1911 in Manila, Philippines.

20037991ag-3Wedding gown worn by Mary Peterson Wells
1910 or 1911
Gift of Kathy Kobayashi


Wedding dresses usually follow the lines of contemporary fashionable dress. This wedding gown, with its high waist and slim silhouette, highlights the popularity of silhouettes inspired by ancient Greek and Roman dress. As described in a post featuring a c. 1912 tunic dress, this style emerged about 1908 and was a dramatic departure from the S-bend silhouette. Mary wore this wedding dress with a headpiece of wax orange blossoms and buds. Sweet-smelling orange blossoms have long been worn by brides, but their popularity was cemented in 1840, when Queen Victoria wore a crown of orange blossoms for her wedding. For those without access to fresh orange blossoms, wax blossoms were a popular alternative. In this photograph, Mary is pictured wearing her wedding gown, the orange blossom headpiece, an extended veil and long gloves.

20037991agMary Peterson Wells in her wedding gown. The writing was already on the photo when it was donated to the FIDM Museum.

Though we know that this gown was worn for a wedding in the Philippines, we don't know where it was made. If made in the Philippines, its up-to-date style is testament to the rapid spread of fashion information to regions far from Paris, the center of high fashion. Alternately, the bride might have commissioned the gown in the United States before setting sail for Manila. Answering this question will take more time, as we haven't completed our research on Mary Peterson Wells. We know that she was born in 1887, but not the location of her birth. Based on what we've discovered so far, she was probably related to James Jackson Peterson. Born in West Virginia in 1853, Peterson was appointed United States consul for Honduras in 1890. By the early 20th century, Peterson had moved to Manila where he received an appointment as official translator and sheriff for the City of Manila. The relationship between James Jackson Peterson and Mary Peterson Wells is still unclear.


The lace panels decorating the gown might have been a family heirloom, given to Mary for use on her wedding dress.


This photograph adds a truly personal touch to the story of Mary Peterson Wells' wedding day. Labelled, "Announcement Table," this image showcases a festive table that must have had special significance for Mary. Decorated with flowers and paper hearts, it probably held a guest book. Did Mary decorate the table herself, cutting out the paper hearts in anticipation of her wedding?

20037991ag-2"Announcement Table" at Mary Peterson Wells' wedding.


7 responses to “Wedding gown, 1910-1911

  1. Becky D says:

    I’ll bet I know what motivated a wedding gown post this week!!

  2. Jim Wells says:

    Wow, what a surprise to find a photo of my Grandmother on the FIDM website! I’ve a similar photo of her in the dress. The handwriting on the FIDM photo was written, I’m pretty sure, by her daughter Elizabeth Wells Jones Andreson (recently deceased). Mary Peterson was James Jackson’s youngest daughter. He was from Huntington, West Virginia where he married Isa Lorentz. I have a lot of the dates, etc., if you’re interested. I’ll ask my Mom (age 94) what she knows about the wedding dress.


    Jim Wells

  3. I like the style of that wedding gown. I will steal some designs of it. Thanks for posting!

  4. Rachel says:

    Wow! This is why I LOVE posting our collection online! It is wonderful to hear from you. I suspected that Mary Peterson was James Jackson’s daughter, but hadn’t been able to confirm that info. We would love to learn more about the wearer of this dress and her family! Thanks for taking the time to post our comment on our blog.

  5. Connie Jones Pillsbury says:

    Mary Peterson was the daughter of James Jackson Peterson, Sheriff of the Philippines, and Isa Lorentz Peterson. Mary Peterson was born January 25, 1887 and was raised in Huntington, WV, with her two sisters. She graduated from Mills Seminary in Oakland, California in 1906. She was not betrothed when she boarded the ship to go to Manila to be with her parents. However, a young man, Walter T. Wells, an engineer, was on the same ship. As the story goes, when he saw Mary Peterson arrive on the ship, he told his friend, “See that girl? She will be my wife some day!” And Walter T. Wells and Mary Peterson did marry, in Manila, on Nov. 20, 1912. Walter Wells went on the establish the lucrative oilfield tool company, Lane-Wells company in Los Angeles. Lane-Wells eventually merged with Dresser Industries. Walter and Mary had a lovely estate in La Canada, a horse ranch in San Fernando Valley, and a large mountain home in Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park known as ‘Kaweah Han.’ Mary and Walter was gracious hosts, sharing their collections of fine English china at their elegant dinner table. Mary was always a lady. She passed away in Claremont October 15, 1966. Submitted by Connie Jones Pillsbury, former wife of Mary’s grandson, Dale G. Jones. Family Historian, Jones Family

  6. Connie Jones Pillsbury says:

    Correction: Upon further research, I found that Mary Peterson and Walter T. Wells were married on November 20, 1911, in Iloilo, Philippine Islands.

  7. chris says:

    Classic and timeless, as a wedding photographer I get to see a lot of different wedding dresses, but I have never seen a dress with such attention to detail.

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