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Something Old, Something New: Maria Monroe

Something Old, Something New: Eight First Daughters’ Fashionable White House Weddings highlights the glamorous weddings of eight women who took their vows at the White House over two centuries and how their bridal fashion reflects both the taste of each era and their own personal styles. This exhibit was curated by Jillian Staricka, the 2023 Digital Exhibits Intern and MA student in Costume Studies at New York University.

Maria Monroe

Married to Samuel Gouverneur on March 9, 1820

This table details the known items of Maria Monroe’s wedding ensemble. A wedding ensemble is comprised of all the garments and accessories worn by a bride on their wedding day. The wedding ensemble is part of the trousseau, a collection of garments, accessories, and personal items that a bride will take into their new marriage.

When Maria Monroe and Samuel Gouverneur were married on March 9, 1820, the nation’s capital was still recovering from the destruction of the War of 1812. Maria’s eldest sister, Eliza Monroe Hay, planned the ceremony and invited only close friends and family. To please Washington society and balance political relationships, multiple parties where guests would be received by the new couple were planned for the following weeks. Commodore Stephen Decatur Jr. opened his home on Lafayette Square for a ball celebrating Mr. and Mrs. Gouverneur; however, Decatur’s tragic death on March 22 sent Washington into mourning and canceled further celebrations. Though today we have no verified knowledge as to Maria’s wedding ensemble, a few things can tell us what she might have worn. The Francophile Monroe girls and their mother, First Lady Elizabeth Monroe, purchased gowns made in Paris–the unrivaled fashion capital of the world.  It is possible that Maria repurposed a white satin gown she wore at a New Year’s Eve celebration that year as a wedding gown. Another account described Maria as being “gowned in a light blue stiff silk dress, with intricate embroidery of real wheat stalks.” The expense and time required to hand make any of these dresses was immense; therefore, a woman’s nicest dresses, including her wedding dress, were often repurposed for important occasions and events. Only her gold-banded engagement ring with a rose-cut diamond survives from her bridal ensemble, now held in the collection of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library.