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Clara Barton’s Dress: A Piece of Red Cross History Restored

Watch how Conservator Newbold ‘Newbie’ Richardson dresses the mannequin and learn more about Clara Barton’s dress.

Historical garments are artifacts that can tell us a great deal about the person who wore them. In Fall 2021, Clara Barton’s great, great, great niece, Sue Stafford, donated a dress worn by our founder to the American Red Cross. After examining the dress, we learned it was made of an expensive, imported silk brocade woven in the 1850s. With its 120” round hoop crinoline petticoat, Clara was considered fashionable for her time. She most likely wore this dress while she was meeting with members of the U.S. Congress, military generals or giving speeches.

For several months, Conservator Newbold ‘Newbie’ Richardson worked meticulously to restore Clara’s dress, using tools like hair silk, fine needles, etymology pins, wax paper and more to stitch the torn fabric, repair the frayed hem and stabilize the bodice.

“I had to customize the form to Clara Barton’s narrower stature and add batting to create the bust, waist and hips,” shared Newbie.

According to family history, Clara wore this dress on a trip to Europe with her niece, Mary “Mamie” Stafford, in the 1870s. The women often shared clothes due to their similar small stature. May Olney White, Mamie’s granddaughter (and Sue’s first cousin once removed) was born and died in her grandmother’s house, and that is where the dress resided after Mamie’s grandmother died. May wore the dress for parades and celebrations in Oxford, MA. Eventually, she offered the dress to Sue who also rode in some parade floats and made appearances at town events when called upon.

 

We’re grateful to Clara’s great, great, great niece, Sue Stafford, for graciously donating the dress to the Red Cross and long-time Red Crosser and Tiffany Circle member, Barbara Bovender, who made the display and restoration of the dress possible.

See the dress in person the next time you’re in Washington D.C. by visiting our National Headquarters. Make sure to make a tour reservation in advance!

You can also learn more about Clara Barton’s legacy through the following resources: