1940s wedding dress donated to Heritage Room

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published October 22, 2013

 Former Beacon teacher Priscilla Miller donated her mother’s wedding dress from 1949, right, for a display in the Heritage Room at the Harper Woods Library.

Former Beacon teacher Priscilla Miller donated her mother’s wedding dress from 1949, right, for a display in the Heritage Room at the Harper Woods Library.

Photo provided by Suzanne Kent

HARPER WOODS — Every artifact in the Heritage Room at the Harper Woods Library has a story to tell, and the latest donation of an antique wedding gown comes with a rich history of its own.

The lovingly displayed wedding gown from 1949 was donated by a woman who loves the Heritage Room. The gown belonged to her mother.

“Priscilla Miller, former teacher at Beacon Elementary School, recently donated her mother’s wedding gown to Heritage Room,” interim Library Director Suzanne Kent said in an email. “Mrs. Miller was a very popular teacher at the school for many years. She made a point of bringing her classes to Heritage Room every year.”

Recently, Miller’s mother, who is about to turn 90, needed to move. When thinking about the dress, Miller thought of the Heritage Room and asked if her mother minded if the dress were donated to the room.

Miller said her mother loved the idea and has since seen a picture of the display, which thrilled her. Miller plans to take her mother to see the display in person.

“She said, ‘I can’t believe it,’” Miller said of her mother’s reaction to the pictures.

“It’s in a good spot, and it will be preserved,” Miller said of the gown.

Miller’s mother volunteered in her daughter’s first-grade classroom for many years.

Miller remembers the years of visiting with her first-grade classes to the Heritage Room. She said the children saw history that they could not get in a textbook.

While the young boys would gravitate toward the uniforms and helmets on display, the girls were awed by another wedding dress displayed in the Heritage Room.

“All the little girls were like, ‘Oh, oh,’” Miller said of the historical gown that has been displayed in the room. “It made such an impact on them.

“They were just awestruck when they saw the gown,” she said. “I can still see their faces.”

Now, her mother’s gown is displayed on a mannequin near the first gown with a picture of her mother and father on their wedding day.

Miller said that when she recently pulled the gown out of her mother’s cedar closet, it was stunning, with a hemline that’s short in the front and longer in the back for the train.

“That’s what a lot of the brides dresses are now,” she said, adding that styles tend to come back.

Her parents, Virginia and Joseph Francis Soumis, were married in June of 1949 in a small town in northern Michigan.

“It was an all-day affair, and the whole town was invited,” Miller said of her mother’s wedding.

They were married for 56 years until her father’s death.

Miller’s mother’s life is a lesson in history, itself. She retired from Chrysler in 1978 after taking a job with the company in 1942, living through union-busting and so much more.

“She was one of the original Rosie Riveters,” Miller said.

“She’s lived a great life,” she added.

Her mother can still tell the stories of her life and experiences in rich detail, Miller said.

“It’s like listening to a recorded historical channel when you talk to my mom,” Miller said.

Miller said she was pleased when Kent agreed to have the gown and said she remembers how helpful Kent was with her students when they visited.

Miller said she used to bring the students as part of the social studies curriculum. What she loved about the room was that it provided history that the students could feel and experience.

“It always was comparing then and now,” Miller said.

“They encourage hands-on, where the students could actually touch stuff,” Miller said of the Heritage Room.

Students could try out a scrub board, old-fashioned telephone, quill and ink, a typewriter and more.

“It was fabulous,” Miller said.

Now, a piece of her own mother’s life will be on display for future generations of young girls to admire as they learn the history of a different era.