Six Degrees of Alexander Hamilton: Another Stunning Shogren Creation in “Experience Oregon”

May 4, 2021

By Helen Fedchak

This back view of a circa 1900 beaded evening bodice was made by M & A Shogren, and worn by Genevieve Schuyler Alvord. OHS Museum, 68-524.1,.3. Photograph by Robert Warren.

As proof of how fast time flies, it has now been two years since Experience Oregon opened at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS), which means it is now time for another Shogren dress! The exhibit features a display case dedicated to M & A Shogren designs, a Portland fashion house run by dressmakers May and Ann Shogren during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Shogren sisters made couture clothing for Portlanders and were sought out by customers across the United States for their stunning work. OHS has several Shogren dresses in its collection, and every year the museum collections staff changes the dress on display to prevent stress on the garments from long-term display as well as to allow visitors to see a range of their dresses.

The third dress to be highlighted in this case is one of two dresses in the OHS collection worn by Mrs. Genevieve Schuyler Alvord. The name Alvord is immediately familiar to many in Oregon. Genevieve married William C. Alvord in 1897, the son of Gen. Benjamin Alvord. The Alvord Desert, along with several other natural features in southeastern Oregon, is named for Gen. Alvord, who was commander of the U.S. Army’s District of Oregon during the Civil War. An oral history recording in the OHS research library with Anna Wheeler Hayes, niece of the Alvords, mentions that they lived on Taylor street, and that William Alvord was the manager of the Failing estate for many years. Marriage into the Alvord family would definitely have conferred the sort of status in society we usually find with the Shogren sisters’ clients, and her sisters had family connections to the Failing and Corbett families, so they were certainly Portland high society.

But what about Genevieve’s maiden name? She was also from a family with a long history in America. Like many people, I have become recently familiar with the name Schuyler thanks to the musical Hamilton, and I wondered, was Genevieve related in any way to those Schuyler sisters, Angelica, Eliza, AND Peggy? The short answer is yes. The long answer is very long indeed, as the Schuylers have been in America since the 1600s and have family members all over the place. They also intermarried repeatedly with the Van Rensselaer family, and called everyone Philip, just to confuse the issue a bit further. It was one of the Philip Schuylers who moved to Oregon and started the branch of family here. My genealogy skills are not stellar, but I believe Genevieve to be third cousins, three times removed from Eliza Schuyler, famously married to Alexander Hamilton. Tantalizingly, in the same Anna Wheeler Hayes oral history, the interviewer asks: “How did Mrs. Alexander Hamilton enter the family?” (meaning, I think, the wife of the third generation Alexander Hamilton), and then the interview cuts off!

Profile view of a circa 1900 dress with a dark blue velvet and black lace skirt, and a beaded black lace bodice. OHS Museum, 68-524.1,.3.
The blue velvet and black lace beaded evening dress, is shown here in profile. OHS Museum, 68-524.1,.3. Photograph by Robert Warren.
Front view of a circa 1900 dress with a dark blue velvet and black lace skirt, and a blue velvet bodice with black and cream lace for day wear. OHS Museum, 68-524.1.1,.2.
The blue velvet and black lace skirt with a velvet and lace bodice pictured here is for daytime wear. OHS Museum, 68-524.1.1,.2. Photograph by Robert Warren.

Even if you have no interest in Alvords or Schuylers, the dress itself is worth a visit to see up close.  Like all the Shogren creations, it is absolutely of its period (early 1900s), but with some extra flair! This dress is the deepest blue velvet, with black lace details, and black sequins. It also has two bodices, one for day wear and one for evening wear, and they are both stunning. The skirt can be worn with either bodice and is simply plain, dark blue silk velvet until the bottom, where it kicks out into a fabulous multiple-layered lace flounce. The bottom of the velvet is cut and shaped to follow the edges of the lace, rather than sewn on top of the velvet — which would have been far less work. This detail ensures that the multiple layers underneath the lace can be glimpsed. The first layer under the lace is a 14-inch-deep layer of black chiffon with a 2-inch gathered ruffle at the bottom.  Then there is a black taffeta layer, with a 1-inch ruffle at the bottom. Even the integral black silk petticoat has two layers at the bottom, and a knife-pleated ruffle for structure. All of these layers at the bottom give the skirt its shape and would have swirled around as Genevieve walked. It’s an example of dressmaking at the highest level of attention to detail.

Close-up of the velvet and lace bodice for daytime wear, focusing on the high collar made of cream-colored lace. OHS Museum, 68-524.1.2.
This detail shows the velvet and lace bodice for daytime wear. OHS Museum, 68-524.2. Photograph by Robert Warren.
Back view of the velvet and lace bodice for daytime wear, showing a deep V-shaped insert of black lace over cream chiffon. OHS Museum, 68-524.1.2.
This back view of the velvet and lace bodice for daytime wear with the deep “V” detail made of black lace over cream chiffon. OHS Museum, 68-524.1.2. Photograph by Robert Warren.

The bodices are just as detailed as the skirt. The day bodice features cut strips of blue velvet edged with black lace over pale chiffon. The neckline is high with elaborate lace, which is also used on the cuffs of the three-quarter-length sleeves. Once again, on the sleeves, the velvet is cut to mirror the edges of the lace. Both cuffs and collar have delicate metallic braid. No less attention has been given to the back of the bodice than the front, and it has a deep “V” with black lace applied over pale chiffon.

Sadly, we could only use one of these bodices in the exhibit, so we chose the evening bodice, for maximum sparkle. This bodice has the wide neckline typical of the period and elbow-length sleeves. The front has black chiffon, pleated into the teeniest, tiniest vertical pleats, is a design element that is repeated on the bottom of the sleeves. As with the day bodice, there are strips of the dark blue velvet, interspersed with lace, but with the addition of a mass of black sequins and beads. And again, the back is no less fabulous than the front, and has a beaded bow right at the center back waistline.

Front view of the beaded velvet and lace bodice for evening wear, with tiny chiffon pleats in the front, and a wide, heavily beaded neckline. OHS Museum, 68-524.1.3.
A front view of the beaded velvet and lace bodice for evening wear shows chiffon pleats and a wide, heavly beaded neckline. OHS Museum, 68-524.1.3. Photograph by Robert Warren.

Like first Shogren dress on display in Experience Oregon, the sequins are likely gelatin, and the heavy beading over lace and chiffon makes the bodice delicate — great care has to be taken moving this bodice or putting it on a dress form. One last thing to note about Mrs. Alvord is that she was apparently quite tall, certainly for the time, which made this dress a little tricky to get into the case. I’m sure visitors will agree, however, that it was worth the effort! This dress will remain on display in Experience Oregon until February 2022.

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