Every bride’s wedding dress is special in its own way, but the wedding dresses that were on display at Central Park Library are actual pieces of history. On Wednesday, the Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society invited the World War II War Brides Association to display WWII wedding dresses.
A war bride is a woman from another country that married an U.S. solider who was serving in the woman’s country. These young women then left their countries, sometimes with babies in tow, and traveled to America to reunite with their husbands.
The dresses on display were worn by the war brides when they married American soldiers in their own countries. Beverly Sollars, the Wedding Dress Display Chair for the Association and retired nurse, was the keynote speaker for the event. Her Australian mother is a WWII war bride and her wedding dress was on display.
All the dresses were white with only some showing signs of yellowing and aging. The dresses were given to Sollars to store and care for. She takes immaculate care of them. When she receives them, she carefully washes them with Ivory soap in her own bathtub. Once clean, she stores them in breathable, cotton-based garment bags recommended by Smithsonian Museum.
Sollars explained that one of the dresses was made from a tablecloth and she pointed out that none of the dresses had metal zippers or buttons, since materials weren’t available during the war. According to Sollars, a couple of the war brides’ children and even grandchildren wore the dresses to their own weddings.
The dresses were all accompanied by storyboards where the brides personally wrote about their love story. The boards had flags to represent the bride’s country and flags to represent the husband’s U.S. home. Many described how they met their husband, what their wedding was like, and how they moved to the U.S. Many more storyboards were on display in the room and the attendees were welcome to sit down and read them.
Sollars gave an extensive speech about her mother’s experience and also talked generally about life during wartime and what it was like to marry an American solider during those times.
Sollars said her mother saw and started paying off her dress long before she met her husband. She saw the dress in a store window on the way to work when she was 16 years old.
“[My mother] said, “I wanna buy that dress. I wanna be a princess,” said Sollars.
When her mother married her father, he helped pay off her dress. Sollars said a fabric artist and historian told her that the dress was probably from France.
Sollars was born in Australia then traveled to the U.S. with her mother when she was one year old in 1944. She and her mother were some of the early war families to immigrate to the U.S. before the War Bride Act of 1945.
Sollars invited a visiting war bride to talk a little bit about her experience as well. She was originally from Ireland then moved to England where she met her American solider. She came to the U.S. on the Queen Mary, which is currently docked in Long Beach.
Mira Brown also spoke briefly at the event. Her English mother married an American solider and traveled alone to the U.S. to reunite with him. Brown shared some pictures and stories about her mother’s experience settling into her new life.
“[My mother] arrived to New York City to a reception… There was table after table after table of food,” said Brown. “Five days earlier she had just come from England where there was no food. She said, ‘I didn’t eat any of that! I got sick just looking at it!’ She didn’t like it. There was a difference in a culture.”
Brown said her mother had a hard time settling in and coped by creating lifelong bonds with other English war brides. According to Brown and Sollars, creating a community with other war brides was essential to their mothers’ successful assimilation into American life.
The World War II War Brides Association meets regularly and holds reunions so that war brides, their husbands and descemdemts can get together. According to Sollars, many war brides bring their dresses to the reunions. Visit their website at uswarbrides.com to become a member and find more information.
The Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society also meets regularly. Find more information about them at scchgs.org.