This dress was worn by the donor, Mary Eno Pinchot. Born in New York City in 1838 to wealthy parents, she married James W. Pinchot, who made a fortune in first importing and then manufacturing wallpapers. The couple lived with relatives until the 1880s when they purchased their own house in New York City. Besides his wallpaper business, Mr. Pinchot was involved in the arts, and was very interested in the conservation of natural resources. Mrs. Pinchot doted on her children, especially Gifford. Gifford Pinchot became the chief forester of the U.S. Forest Service in the Theodore Roosevelt administration. To better watch over his career, the elder Pinchots sold their New York City house in 1900 and bought one in Washington, D.C. After moving to Washington, she became involved in the Smithsonian Institution. She loaned many of the laces and fans in her personal collection for a lace exhibition and later donated several dresses, including this one, to the Institution. Grey Towers, the Pinchot's country house, in Milford, Pennsylvania, is open to the public.
This Worth dress, with two separate bodices could have been worn for many occasions. It fit in perfectly with Mary Pinchot's lifestyle. During the 1870s she and her children lived in France, with her husband commuting back and forth to New York. It is probably at that time that she became acquainted with Charles Frederick Worth, the most famous dressmaker of his day. Born in Lincolnshire, England, in 1825, Worth worked for a number of London drapers, starting at the age of eleven. He left for Paris in 1845 and in 1858 opened his own dressmaking salon. Besides royalty, he dressed the wealthy women of Europe and America. In fact, affluent American women would not have considered their European tour complete without a visit to Maison Worth. He used fabrics lavishly; many of his designs harked back to earlier periods in history. After his death, his sons continued the business. The name existed until the 1970s. Today only the perfumes first marketed in the early 20th century by the firm carry the name. Mrs. Pinchot was probably a regular client, as the Smithsonian owns three of her Worth-designed dresses.