Filling The Hope Chest in the 1920s

Hello, again History Lovers,

The month of June takes its name from the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter and goddess of femininity and fertility. Ancient tradition says that to marry in June is for the couple to be blessed with happiness throughout life.

One hundred years ago, in preparation for a life of wedded bliss, it was necessary for the bride-to-be, beginning in her early teen years, to prepare a hope chest filled with items necessary to establish a home–everything from aprons to lingerie. These items were usually home-sewn and embellished with intricate needlework.

Today’s post gives us a detailed description of what the ideal hope chest of the 1920s would contain.


Grandmother’s Dowry Box

Hope Chest Illustration The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women April 1922

In the days of our great-great-great grandparents, the daughters of a household began early in their teens to prepare their dowry boxes.

In those days it was considered most regrettable if any girl reached an eligible age for marriage without a dowry box well filled, if not overflowing, with all sorts of bedding and table linen as well as a more-than-generous supply of undergarments; and with the scarcity of sewing machines, it was necessary to begin work long before the immediate need.

This old custom reappears now in the “Hope Chest,” or as one young woman rather discouragingly confided to me, “The Lord Only Knows When Chest.”

Home Furnishings

First, let us consider just what is expected of the bride in the way of house furnishings. Circumstances will always alter cases and the mode of life to be followed and the probable income of the newly formed household should guide the bride-elect in her selection of materials, styles, and amounts.

The following list is suggestive of the supplies usually provided by the bride and furnishes an adequate quantity of the essentials for the new home though more may be desirable in many instances.

  • 6 sheets if only one bed. This allows for a makeshift bed in cases of emergency.
  • 4 sheets for each bed if more than one bed of different sizes.
  • 3 sheets for each bed if more than one bed but all of the same size.
  • 2 pillows for each bed.
  • 3 pillowcases for each pillow.
  • 1 mattress pad for each bed.
  • 1 pair of blankets for each bed. If only one bed, an extra pair should be provided for emergencies.
  • 1 spread for each bed.
  • 1 comforter for each bed.
  • 6 face towels per person.
  • 6 bath towels per person.
  • 2 washable bathroom rugs.
  • 3 washcloths per person.
  • 2 scarfs for each dresser or chiffonier.
  • Curtains and rugs for bedrooms.
  • 3 changes for the dining room table.
  • 3 changes of napkins per week per person.
  • 2 runners for the buffet.
  • 6 glass and silver towels, linen crash preferred.
  • 6 tea towels. Hemmed flour sacks are excellent.
  • 6 kitchen hand towels.
  • 6 dishcloths and mop rags.
  • 3 kettle holders, large and soft.
  • 1 laundry bag.
  • 1 ironing board pad and two cover sheets.

Additional items which are not absolutely essential but are very nice to have and make nice gifts for the chest are:

Hot pads, tray cloths, luncheon cloths, luncheon sets, tea napkins, centerpieces, guest towels, silverware cases, toast, muffin and hot roll covers, dust protection cases for napkins, doilies, centerpieces and tablecloths, dust protectors for suits and dresses, cushions of various shapes and sizes and table runners for living room or library.

Referring first to the house furnishing list. There is no material equal to linen for gloss, freshness, and smoothness of appearance after laundering and no material wears so well for table coverings as a good quality firmly woven double damask. A good quality damask, however, is preferable to the poor quality of the double. The price of a patterned cloth exceeds that of the same quality bought by the yard.

Vintage Embroidered Bridge Set

One should have at least one good linen cloth with napkins to match if it is possible, but there are so very many attractive methods of covering the table now that if one’s purse is limited one should make a few observations in an art needlecraft shop, use a bit of ingenuity and work out something quite original and individualistic in inexpensive luncheon cloths, center runners or doily sets.

Vintage Linens

The oblong plate doilies with a square centerpiece or central runners have superseded the round doily sets in popularity for the time being. These, made in natural colored linen with a buffet scarf to match, are very effective and can be developed in either the Italian drawnwork, cross-stitch design, and rolled hems or in the appliqued motifs. Unbleached muslin is often used for these but for table purposes, it is an unwise selection of material, for its close weave makes it extremely difficult to remove the stains so apt to appear at meals. A more loosely woven cotton material such as shrunk cotton or Indian Head should be used if linen is impossible.


More Clothes For Less Money

You can save half the cost of your own and your children’s clothes by making them of Indian Head (a superior muslin fabric with a linen texture). This attractive white material is ideal for summer dresses because of its unusual qualities. It cost one-third as much as linen, doesn’t wrinkle easily, and keeps clean for an unusually long time.

Dainty touches on your gowns are easily made, as this fabric is just right for smocking, drawn work, or any other embroidery.

The splendid quality of Indian Head has been proved through eighty years of use by its many happy purchasers. Include yourself in their number when you do your summer shopping. Have your dealer show you the trademark Indian Head stamped upon the selvage of the cloth so that you may know that you are getting the genuine Indian Head.

Linen is also best for towels if one can afford it, as it is soft and very absorbent in the looser weaves. Cheap linen is preferable to finer cotton for towels if one is looking for service rather than appearance.

The marking of the household linens is usually done by the bride before marriage and with her own initials. If she should desire to have the initials of her future husband used, the linen is left unmarked until after the wedding ceremony has been performed.

If the new home has already been selected, so that the size of the rooms and the number of windows and their sizes can be determined, it is usually considered customary for the bride to furnish the curtains for the bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchen. These usually follow the color scheme of the bedding and towels if one has put a note of color in them. The unbleached muslin with applique motifs in sateen works up nicely here and is more practical than in the dining room as the laundering is less frequent. The tiny figured percales that have just come into the market are a little newer and are very pretty for valances, side drapes, and spreads. Touches of black help wonderfully to set them off. Dotted Swiss with pique borders is extremely dainty if one wishes to emphasize daintiness. Basket cloth combines very well with the colored ginghams and percales for a spread, having a nice weight and attractive weave.

Clothing and Lingerie

The bride should be provided with a good street costume and outfit suitable for travel, church, shopping, and calling; one outfit appropriate for informal home entertaining; three house dresses; plenty of aprons; such amount of lingerie and hosiery as she is accustomed to using during a season.

Satin Teddie 1920s

For the bride’s lingerie, it is nice to have sets as well as individual pieces. Farmer’s Wife Patterns Nos. 9552 and 9588 combine prettily and would be lovely made up in a flesh color, bound with a tiny narrow binding of the soft French blue. Nainsook can be procured in delicate shades as well as silk, so any sized purse can be easily accommodated. Orchid and maize make another soft, delicate combination. Farmer’s Wife Pattern No. 8660 is a very practical one and can be modified and varied in many attractive ways. The illustration shows a teddy with a rounded dip in the front prettily worked out in pongee with drawn threads and rambler rose embroidery.

 Do not slight the house dresses and work aprons for the trousseau. These are indeed the most important feature of the chest for it is in these that probably two-thirds of your future time will be spent.

Select the lines of the dresses, and the colors and textures of the materials with the greatest care. Use all the ingenuity you are able to muster to make these as original and individualistic as you possibly can. The illustrations will perhaps give you some suggestions as to how to apply your needle to the very best advantage. The use of wool for embroidering is most effective as an artist’s finish. –Georgia Belle Elwell


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, April 1922, Page 818; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

3 thoughts on “Filling The Hope Chest in the 1920s

  1. Very interesting! I am still using some old embroidered linen pieces that were handed down. Back in the 60’s, my mother, my grandmother and I did a lot of embroidery in our “spare” time. I wonder just how much of the hope chest items were ever used or “kept for best” as we called it.

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    1. I admire hand embroidery so much. My grandmother gave me a set of hand embroidered pillowcases with a crocheted border around the edge when I got married. I thought they were so beautiful and I used them. Sadly after many washings the handiwork began to fray. I wish I had just saved them to be handed down in the family. *sigh*

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