University of Delaware graduate students in the Museum Studies department lent a helping hand to the Cecil County, Maryland Historical Society collection last month.
They devoted over 700 hours to the all-volunteer Cecil County Historical Society, where they cleaned and documented a wide array of clothing items.
They found an 1850s maternity dress, an 1850s corset with an attached fanny pad, a chest-flattening bra worn by a flapper in the 1920s and a bright blue WWII women's Red Cross uniform.
Museum Studies Director Katherine Grier said many of the articles came attached with what’re called granny notes.
“And what that is is a note pinned to a piece of clothing, or a quilt or something that tells the story of it: tells who owned it, or who wore it or who made it," Grier said.
The students used those notes to help record additional information about the pieces, including an elaborate 9-piece 1870s Quaker wedding gown.
“It has a family history – we know where the wedding was in Cecil County, and it’s all nine pieces all the way down to the underwear," she said.
Students were even able to uncover additional genealogical information about the owner’s family.
Katherine Grier is Director of the UD program, and says the students involved are considered SWAT team members – photographing items, using low-speed vacuums or soft brushes to remove surface-level dirt and assessing them for further damage.
“You know, what SWAT means is Special Weapons and Tactics and that’s indeed what we do: we’re really good at figuring out how to solve problems on a case-by-case basis," she said.
The students also recommended additional climate control measures be put in place in the museum’s military room.
In addition to humidifiers, Grier said silica gel – found in those little packets often found in new shoe boxes – can help control humidity by absorbing moisture in the air.
Grier said she started teaming up her students with local museums eight years ago, after a report indicated most small cultural organizations didn’t have inventories of their collections.
The students’ volunteer efforts will be showcased in an exhibition on WWI the historical society plans to open in the spring.