EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a new weekly series on our region’s history offered in a collaborative effort by local historical societies.
Lois Hall Morse (1819-1908) married Isaac Kirtland Mansfield (1809 / 10-1850).
In researching her wedding gown, I began to delve into where Lois lived and what her life might have been like. I learned that her hometown for much of her life was Poland and the town was once part of Trumbull County, which is indicated on her marriage license. So, although Lois would be considered a Mahoning County resident today, I still consider the dress a Trumbull County object.
The Western Reserve Historical Society collection tells stories of Northeast Ohio, and people like Lois’ grandparents were some of the early settlers moving here from Connecticut. Turhand Kirtland, her maternal grandfather, was a member of the Connecticut Land Company, which first surveyed this part of Ohio.
The family property passed down to Lois’ brother Henry, but this is where she grew up. Nineteenth-century maps help us identify where that property was, as well as where Lois lived as a married woman and later as a widow. Her home with Isaac was located west of Yellow Creek on 2nd Street and in an 1860 map is clearly labeled “Mrs. Mansfield.”
Lois and Isaac had three children: Charles (1839), Ira Franklin (1842) and Mary (1847). Charles sadly passed away at age 2, but Lois’ other children remained very close throughout her life. The family was socially well-connected. Ira (called “Frank”) was a schoolboy friend of William McKinley, and Mary even attended President Grant’s 1868 inaugural ball. Lois may have attended the inaugural ball along with her daughter, but even if she stayed home we can picture her browsing the latest fashion magazines with Mary, selecting the latest style of dress and having the gown made.
Shortly before 1880, Lois moved with her son to Beaver, Pa., close to the Ohio border. Here, they lived on the family fruit farm in which Mary was a part owner. Frank ran the farm and also worked in coal production. Lois passed away from bronchopneumonia in 1908 and is buried in Poland’s Riverside Cemetery alongside her husband and first son, Charles.
Uncovering 19th-century women’s lives can be difficult, but we know that Lois was a prominent citizen in Trumbull and Mahoning counties thanks to her well connected family. She lived in the downtown area, and one can imagine her wedding being a well-attended local event.
Lois and Isaac were married just before white became the norm for brides, which really solidified in the wake of Queen Victoria’s 1840 marriage. Victoria’s international influence led many brides to wear white, but women also continued to wear their best dress or simply something as fashionable as they could afford.
Lois’ gown is made using a figured silk satin with a stylized floral motif. Both sunlight and candlelight would have made the fabric glisten. Although we can’t know the details now, I like to imagine her feeling excited and happy in this dress.
Edmonson is the Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume and Textiles at the Western Reserve Historical Society.
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