Passing down the gown: Generations share baptism dress
A wedding and a honeymoon trip to Ireland produced a thread of tradition passed down from daughter to daughter, generation to generation.
After Jody Duggan and her ex-husband, both of Irish ancestry, were married in 1969, they decided to go to Ireland for their honeymoon a few months later.
“By the time we got there, I already knew I was pregnant,” Duggan said. “We wanted to go to this convent in Limerick, famous for making lace. We went there and got a private tour with the nuns who took us through the convent and then into this room with big tables. Sitting on top of these tables were huge pieces of netting or tool with nuns sitting around doing lace by hand.”
Duggan had to get a piece of lace. But, the nuns typically only made tablecloths and bridal veils. Duggan knew she would not need a veil and definitely did not need anymore tablecloths. When one of the nuns said they also made baptismal gowns, a light bulb went on.
“The nun turned to me and then said, 'I do have to warn you; it's quite pricey,'” Duggan said. “I asked her what is 'quite pricey' and she said, 'Fifty American dollars.' I looked at my ex-husband and said, 'I think we can manage.' About two months later while we were living in New York, the dress arrived and it was so incredibly beautiful and one of the prettiest things I had ever seen.”
The gown is about three and a half feet long with a long skirt, adorned with a silk ribbon near the top. Many families have later turned such gowns into parts of bridal veils, but Duggan said the gown was in too good of condition and she hoped it would go on to the next generation.
“My first, Melissa, was born and we had her baptized back in Washington, D.C., at the National Presbyterian Church.” Duggan said. “She was the first to wear the dress, and then two years later, Amy came along and we took her back to Washington where she was baptized as well.”
The dress was put away until Amy had Caitlin who was baptized in McLean, Va., as well as on Reformation Sunday, a big day in the Presbyterian church.
“There were bagpipes and a wonderful Celtic service,” Duggan said. “We put the dress away, waited and waited for Melissa. Finally she got married and Lindsey was born last year on Dec. 4 and baptized at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove, Fla. ...”
The importance of passing down traditions from one generation to the next is something held close to Duggan's heart.
“The history of this dress is so special because we didn't just go to a department store,” Duggan said. “All the little girls have worn it, and we have passed down other items such as the family Bible. I have my mother's autograph book from high school. It's definitely a family thing that we pass down traditions,” Duggan said.
Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.