Exotic gowns in red, purple and gold as well as the traditional white are on display at the Jewish History Museum’s sixth annual ketubah (Jewish wedding contract) and wedding dress exhibit, which continues through March 30. The exhibit features gowns from the 1500s to 2010, with origins from New York to Budapest to pre-state Israel.
Among the gowns with notable stories, says Eileen Warshaw, outgoing JHM executive director, is a gold two-piece satin gown from 1868, worn by Cordelia Perrine, bride of Jacob Kaestner. “It’s interesting because she was a mail-order bride out of Russia. She and her sister came to the United States, to Idaho. She and her sister weren’t Jewish; they converted to Judaism to marry, and her brother-in-law, Moses Alexander, became the first Jewish governor of Idaho.”
Along with the dress from Budapest is a pre-Holocaust ketubah. Warshaw explains that the dress and document were brought to the United States by the bride’s daughter, who wore the same gown, and immigrated with her husband in 1944. “The mother and father were supposed to follow,” she says, “and of course they never got out.”
One of Warshaw’s favorite dresses is the flapper-style red gown.
The bride, Emily Sampliner-Kahn, “was a suffragette, married on Coronado in California. He wanted to get married two years before, but she was so busy with the suffragette movement that she couldn’t be bothered. Once the right to vote was assured, then they got married,” says Warshaw, noting that Sampliner-Kahn later had three daughters, “all of them, as they say, free thinkers” involved with women’s rights, including one who became an attorney.
Dresses contributed by Tucsonans include a short gold dress with a lace overlay worn by Janet Seltzer’s mother and a floor-length gown with gold accents worn by Cyd Marcus’ mother, as well as gowns worn by Rosie Eilat-Kahn and Marianne Langer.
The show includes a wedding gown with a dramatic 18-foot train and a beaded mother-of-the-bride dress from the early 1930s on loan from JHM board member Helen Schneider. Schneider’s grandmother, Annie Rosinsky, wore the hand-beaded gold gown, which weighs 42 pounds, to all four of her children’s weddings. “It’s absolutely exquisite. It should be framed,” says Warshaw.
A 1950s short gold gown and a 1930s purple gown are also interlinked. “The purple gown was worn by the mother of the girl in the 1950s gown. They had an elaborate wedding scheduled for New York, and two weeks before the wedding, her father died of a heart attack,” explains Warshaw. A big wedding was out of the question. The couple was married quietly in the bride’s mother’s living room, with the bride in purple.
When it came time for her daughter to marry, she also had a big wedding planned. “Her husband-to-be comes to Shabbat dinner one night,” says Warshaw, and talks about a business trip to Florida his boss needs him to take before the wedding, which is in two weeks. “The bride’s father looks at her across the table and says, ‘Boy, that’s a long way for him to drive by himself’” and convinces the couple to get married early and use the trip as an all-expenses paid honeymoon. “In those days you had to have a license with a waiting period, and a blood test with a waiting period for the results,” Warshaw notes. But the bride’s father was a doctor, and the groom’s father was a judge, so between them they managed to get everything done in record time. The couple was married in the bride’s parents’ living room and had their honeymoon in Florida.
Admission to the museum is $5 (free for members and students, and on Saturdays). Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and noon to 3 p.m. on Fridays. For more information, call 670-9073.