Introducing the Costume Collection

Miss Nola, organizing the costume collection in Pratt House in the 1980s Miss Nola, organizing the costume collection in Pratt House in the 1980s

The costume collection at the Maryland Historical Society is one of the museum's greatest treasure troves. Composed of more than 6,000 garments dating from the early eighteenth century to the 1960s, the collection includes women's and men's clothing, infant and children's clothing, uniforms and accessories of all kinds. Most of the collection has well-documented provenance linking it to Maryland families and many of the garments and accessories give us access to stories of long-forgotten events and individuals.

Almost three decades ago, the museum's retired housekeeper Enollah Williams (known affectionately as 'Miss Nola') took on the daunting task of organizing the costume collection. Patiently, she placed garments in boxes, organizing them by date and style. She created cards for the garments that recorded significant information about their history and condition. Miss Nola utilized the cabinets she could find, lining the drawers and then meticulously places everything from buttons to lace in them. Her care and love of the collection shines through more than three decades later.

This summer, three interns will move the costume collection from spaces in the museum's historic Pratt House to a newly designated textile storage area. Unfortunately, the boxes and tissue paper used by Miss Nola are no longer conservation-safe, so each garment must be carefully rehoused to ensure its preservation.

By doing this project, we are uncovering "treasures" in the collection each day! Every Friday look for blog and Facebook posts highlighting some of the "discoveries." Keep your eye out for the end of the summer lunch and lecture about the project which will mark the culmination of this great endeavor. This is the "great leap  forward" for costumes at MdHS. Follow us and be a part of it!

-Alexandra Deutsch, Chief Curator