Marshfield Historical Society hosts wedding dress gala and exhibit

MARSHFIELD –  Wedding gowns worn by brides as long ago as 1852 will be on display at Union Chapel in Brant Rock next month.

The Marshfield Historical Society exhibit will be open from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays  from June 4 through June 26.  Admission costs $5 for society members and $10 for nonmembers. Reservations are not required. 

 Twenty-one dresses and two men’s outfits will be on display.  Not the dresses belonged to Marshfield residents, but they all have a connection to the town.

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David Welch, president of the Marshfield Historical Society, came up with the idea for the exhibit when the dress of Marydenise (Sullivan) White, a longtime Marshfield resident and volunteer in the town who  died in 2021, was donated by her family. 

“She was really the inspiration to it,” Welch said.

White’s dress, from 1948, stands proudly in the center of the exhibit. 

Some dresses were stored in the basement of the Marcia Thomas House and others are on loan or donated for the event.

“That’s supposed to look like a wedding cake,” said historical society board member Eva Gilarde as she pointed out one of the gowns. 

Gilarde’s daughter, Trina Gilarde Camarao, has her 1990s dress featured in the exhibit.  Her wedding photos were taken at Veteran’s Memorial Park.

The oldest garments on display are from 1852, 1860 and 1880. They are presented as a trio and are not white. 

“This is her wedding jacket. You know, it was kept with a little pin on it, saying what it was,” said Dottie Melcher, curator for the Marshfield Historical Society,  about a 1852 green jacket styled with a dress from the same time period. 

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Melcher said longtime Marshfield resident Shirley O’Donnell’s dress is a “bittersweet” addition to the exhibit. O’Donnell  died in March and had donated her dress. The dress stands beside her husband Bertram O’Donnell’s tail coat. The couple were married in 1952.

Bertram O’Donnell was a relative of the Little family,  which has been active in Marshfield since the 18th and 19th centuries, Melcher said. 

There is a 1961 dress on display made by Helen Demers, who is from  a Marshfield family. It was made using a treadle sewing machine, Melcher said. Demers made her daughter’s 1985 dress, also on display, using her own sewing machine.

“It’s very ’80s … sleeves and the shoulders,” Melcher said. “You can almost picture the big puffy hair.”

Tina Gagne’s dress is set up alongside her guest book. Gagne, the historical society’s associate director, said she never imagined having her dress on display. 

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Each dress will be paired with a description and information about the person it belonged to.

“I’m looking forward to people seeing the dresses and seeing how they change and progress, and what were the trends,” Melcher said. 

The Marshfield Historical Society will host a reception for the exhibit, the society’s first big event since the pandemic began, from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 28, at Union Chapel, 327 Ocean St. There will be hors d’oeuvres, a bar,  chances to win prizes and a quartet with musicians from Marshfield High School. 

Tickets are $40 for members and $45 for nonmembers. Register online at or call Gilarde at 781-834-6967. 

 Attendees are invited to dress up for the event. 

“We want the gala to feel like a wedding reception,” Melcher said.

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