Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fashion and Philanthropy

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

One of the highlights of our Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace: A Century of New York Fashion exhibition here at the Fenimore Art Museum is the pale green damask Worth gown owned by Miss Angelica Livingston Gerry. Mr. Worth, of Paris, was the “designer to the stars” of his day, with his dresses expertly pieced and fitted in sumptuous fabrics. His clothing was a “must have” for the rich and famous of the 1890s.

Angelica's Worth gown, photo by Richard Walker

Miss Angelica certainly was part of that crowd. Descended from New York’s and New England’s finest, the Gerry line went back to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, whose name is now infamously linked to the term gerrymandering. Her mother’s Livingston family was one of the best known and affluent in New York.

Angelica’s father, Elbridge T. Gerry, was a successful New York lawyer and active philanthropist. The president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Mr. Gerry expanded his legal attention from protecting animals to protecting children. In 1877 he intervened in the landmark case of abused child “Mary Ellen.” The incident inspired the creation of the United States’ first child welfare group - The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of which he was president.

Elbridge T. Gerry, photo courtesy of New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Her father’s good works must have inspired Angelica. Much of the family’s time was spent on their large estate on Lake Delaware near Delhi, New York. Angelica did not marry, but instead mentored and encouraged the youth of the area. In 1963, SUNY Delhi honored Miss Gerry by naming a dormitory in her honor for her help “to many young men and women in attending the agricultural and home economics studies in the early years of Delhi.”

Gerry Hall at SUNY Delhi

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