Brides of Yester-year
Smith-Thompson 1875
Our earliest wedding couple, Mary Smith and Samuel Thompson, were Irish immigrants who married in 1875. We started out not knowing the identity of the bride who wore this pretty, brown print wedding dress. We only knew the name of the donor, who had passed away.


Considering the age of the garment, we believed that the dress might have been worn by one of the donor's grandmothers, probably her maternal grandmother, but we needed proof. Through genealogical reseach we were able to find the name of this couple and locate one of the descendants, who confirmed that the dress was indeed worn by her great-grandmother Mary Smith at her wedding to Samuel Thompson.
Our sleuthing revealed that Mary and Samuel married and lived in Ireland before immigrating to America. Samuel was born on May 12, 1849/1850 in Belfast and Mary was born on March 14, 1856. They married in Belfast in 1875. On her wedding day Mary was outfitted in a practical, but fine, brown print day dress, that was probably worn on special occasions after the wedding. This was not unusual for weddings in the 1870s.
We believe Samuel immigrated to the U.S. in 1883. Mary immigrated to the U.S. in 1887 with her daughters Ellen and Elizabeth on the steamship Nevada. She must have carefully packed her prized wedding dress for the long journey to America.

An Iowa state census record from 1895 shows that the Thompsons settled in Keokuk, Iowa. We are guessing that the family arrived in town at the Keokuk train depot.

Samuel worked at the Du Pont powder mill on the outskirts of town. The mill produced blasting powder for mines and this work was considered quite dangerous.


In 1908 Samuel died at the age of 58 of pneumonia. We wonder if his death was accelerated by his occupation. He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Keokuk.
Downtown Keokuk, Iowa c.1900
Downtown Keokuk, Iowa c.1900 Details
The 1910 census showed that Mary and her children had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. Mary died several years later on June 3, 1914. She returned to Keokuk to be buried in Oakland Cemetery next to Samuel.


The dress was treasured by two more generations of mothers and daughters, before it was generously donated to the Libertyville Mundelein Historical Society. The dress is charmingly displayed in the kitchen of the Cook House. This dress reminds us of the wave of immigrants who came to America at the turn of the century and who endured so many hardships to create a new life here.
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