As someone who works in a museum, I find it so interesting to see items considered so precious that families have kept them for many years. It is often our privilege to accept these items into our collection here at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) so that we can preserve both the object and the stories that go with it.
Sometimes families keep items that remind them of where they have come from (for example, our collection of china brought over from Russia in the 1920s). Other times, families keep objects that remind them of loved ones lost. One such item which recently came to my attention is a chemise that had stayed in a family from the time it was made in 1879 until it was donated to us last year.
This chemise belonged to Maria (Toews) Krueger (1857-1889), who lived in Rosental, Chortitza Colony, South Russia (now Ukraine). She probably made and embroidered this chemise herself, likely to go into her dowry chest in preparation for her marriage. She married Jacob Krueger (1852-1921), of the clock-making Kroeger/Kruegers, on May 17, 1879. According to the donor, Maria would have first worn this chemise on her wedding night.
Tragically, Maria passed away after giving birth to her sixth child in 1889. We don't know if she gave birth in the Rosental hospital (built in 1874) or if she was attended by a midwife. If the latter, this person who had helped Maria throughout her labour would probably have been the same one who then prepared her body for burial. After these preparations were completed, but before her body was put into its shroud, it was dressed in this chemise for one last time. It is unclear whether the wearing of the same chemise for one's wedding night and after ones death was a custom, or whether this was simply the most convenient garment at hand.
Jacob married Maria Hamm (1865-1954) just over a year after Maria Krueger's death. This doesn't seem like a long time to us, but often Mennonite men and women remarried only months after the death of their spouse.
Maria’s chemise was passed down to her daughter, also named Maria (1883-1974), presumably as a memento of her deceased mother. Daughter Maria brought it with her when she and her family emigrated to Canada in 1900. Maria (later Voth) then passed it down to her own children, and it stayed within the family until her granddaughter donated it to MHV.
You can see this chemise on display in our permanent gallery.
Calendar of Events
November 6 – Vespers Service, 7:00 PM
November 11 – Closed for Remembrance Day
November 12 – Conscientious Objector (CO) monument unveiling ceremony, 11:00 AM