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Wedding gown show to open Jewish History Museum exhibit

One of the oldest gowns in the Jewish History Museum exhibit was worn in 1702. The gown was shown in the museum’s first ketubah exhibit and was so fragile it was kept behind glass. It has since been restored at the Costume and Textile Study Center in Norfolk, England, and has been donated to the JHM permanent collection.

Three dark-colored wedding gowns will be spotlighted in the Jewish History Museum’s Fifth Annual Ketubah exhibit, which opens Jan. 1, including a Virginia widow’s gown of black satin with a collar trim of white lace.

The bride who wore it, Elizabeth Rachel Richardson, was a wealthy confederate widow, says Eileen Warshaw, JHM executive director, adding that “her pre-nuptial agreement ketubah indicates that she owned a Virginia plantation and among other items, six silver spoons.” Richardson and James Brooks were married in February 1870. “We know from research that Mr. Richardson, the bride’s first husband, died in 1865 at the end of the war and from the ketubah it could be speculated that Elizabeth was marrying one of the plantation farm managers,” says Warshaw.

The exhibit, which runs through Feb. 28, features dresses from as early as the 1700s, plus a gold bullion thread “latch hood bonnet” from the late 1600s on loan from the Jewish Museum of Amsterdam.

“One of our signature gowns this year is the 1952 gown worn by Bette Capin Cooper (Mrs. Leonard Cooper) and of course one of the highlights of the exhibit is the gown worn by Gabrielle Giffords as she wed her astronaut groom, Mark Kelly,” says Warshaw.

Among the more than 25 pieces in the exhibit are a suit worn the day after Pearl Harbor just moments before the groom went off to fight for four years in World War II and a 1925 gown from Tel Aviv, Palestine.

An opening reception with a live style show featuring 10 of the gowns worn by live models, catalog, chocolates and champagne will be held Jan. 1 from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is $20; RSVP at (520) 670-9073 or

The exhibit will be open regular museum hours, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m., and Fridays, noon to 3 p.m. General admission is $5 and the exhibit catalog is $10.