Catalog Number: 1975.011.06
When I was shopping for a wedding dress, I remember the consultant saying that the dress I chose would be the most important dress of my life.
At that moment, I ignored her words. However, sometimes a wedding dress is the only object that remains to remember a person. This is the case of Mary Pettibone Barber.
This wedding dress, worn by Mary Pettibone in 1884, is probably the only belonging of hers that still exists.
We don’t know a lot about Mary Pettibone. She was born in La Crosse in 1861 to Albert and Cordelia Pettibone. A year after Mary’s birth, Albert was elected mayor of La Crosse for three successive one-year terms. Her father was a prominent lumberman and in 1900 donated the land for Pettibone Park.
In 1866, after her father’s terms as mayor, the family moved to Missouri. Mary went to school in Massachusetts and stayed with relatives there. In 1884, she married Capt. J.T. Barber, the manager of the Northwestern Lumbering Company in Hannibal, Missouri.
Mary’s elaborate ivory wedding dress was made in St. Louis in a department store dressmaker’s shop. The St. Louis Post described the wedding as “brilliant.” Another newspaper, the Shelbina Democrat, described it as “a very fashionable affair,” a marriage that united two prominent lumbering families.
After the marriage, the rest of the Pettibone family returned to La Crosse and moved into what is today known as the Cargill-Pettibone House at 145 8th St. S.
Unfortunately, Mary suffered from poor health, and she died in 1886 in Missouri, only two years after her marriage to Capt. Barber. Mary’s body was brought home to La Crosse, and she is buried with her family in Oak Grove Cemetery.
In 1975, the Pettibone family donated various women’s accessories used by Mary, her sister Anna, and her mother Cordelia, including fans, hats, shoes, and handkerchiefs. In addition to the accessories, Mary’s wedding ensemble was donated as well.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on June 8, 2019.