First Lady Michelle Obama formally presented the gown she wore to the 2009 inaugural balls to the Smithsonian’s First Ladies Collection, Tuesday, March 9, during a ceremony at the National Museum of American History. The one-shouldered, white-silk chiffon gown, created by designer Jason Wu, is embellished with organza flowers with Swarovski crystal centers.
The gown will be displayed in the center of a new gallery addition to the museum’s popular exhibition, “The First Ladies at the Smithsonian.” The new gallery, “A First Lady’s Debut,” opens to the public March 10.
For decades, the First Ladies Collection has been one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian Institution. The original first ladies exhibition of 1914 was the first display at the Smithsonian to prominently feature women. The exhibition itself has changed in size, location, style and story several times over the years.
Mrs. Obama continues the nearly century-long tradition of donating her inaugural gown. “When we look at the dress that Jackie Kennedy wore 50 years ago, or the one that Mary Todd Lincoln wore 100 years before that, it takes us beyond the history books and the photographs and helps us understand that history is made by talented people,” Mrs. Obama said. “The dress I donated today, made by Jason Wu, is a masterpiece. It’s simple, it’s elegant and it comes from the brilliant mind of someone who is living the American Dream.”
Beginning with Mamie Eisenhower, the new gallery focuses on each first lady’s public introduction during the inauguration or beginning of her husband’s presidency and includes contemporary accounts of initial impressions about each woman and the role she might play in the White House. “A First Lady’s Debut,” features life-size photos of the 11 women who have filled the position over the past 50 years, each one wearing her displayed gown.
Together, the two galleries that make up “The First Ladies at the Smithsonian” showcase 24 dresses and more than 100 other objects, including portraits, White House china, personal possessions and related artifacts from the Smithsonian’s unique collection of first ladies’ materials. Among the dresses displayed in the exhibition’s first gallery are Martha Washington’s silk taffeta gown, Grace Coolidge’s flapper-style evening dress and Helen Taft’s 1909 inaugural ball gown—the first to be presented to the Smithsonian by a first lady.
Watch a behind-the-scenes video about the First Ladies Collection:
Posted: 9 March 2010