Bertha Oates Wedding Dress

Contributed by: Millthorpe Golden Memories Museum

Berth Lovda Oates Bertha and wedding party front view side view back view side view detail detail detail
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Object information

Significance statement

This wedding dress was worn by Bertha Oates for her marriage to Charles Willis, held at  Millthorpe Methodist Church on 31st March, 1909.  The dress reflects contemporary fashion with its pouched bodice, high neckline and trumpet-shaped skirt. The family considered their daughter's wedding an important occasion and would have wanted her to have a good dress to wear. The wedding dress was made in Millthorpe by the McGlynn sisters. Bertha and Charles' wedding reception was held at the Oates family property "Rosewick". A newspaper article states that "Both the Bride and Groom are universally esteemed throughout the district".

Both Bertha and husband Charles Willis's families were pioneers of the district and were involved with the Millthorpe Show Society and Methodist Church. They spent all their married life in the same house. 

The wedding dress is significant as it is well provenanced to two early pioneering families in the Millthorpe area. Along with the family history of the event and wedding photos, the dress makes up an important item in the Golden Memories Museum collection. 

The Museum also houses several other wedding dresses and this dress fits within that theme, timeframe and local provenance for that collection.

Author: Rosemarie Amos, .

Description

The wedding dress was made by two McGlynn sisters who were local dressmakers in Millthorpe. Its construction involved  delicate and time consuming embroidery and hand sewing. The dress is made of fine Georgette and lined with Jap Silk. It has a high collar and narrow gathered sleeves. The machine embroidery work is in two panels on either side of the pleated bodice, which is attached to full length of the dress. Embroidery is also situated on the back above the waist. Floral lace appears on the back head of sleeve with ruched silk that accentuates the shoulder.The lace frilled hem was padded to make it stand out with cotton wool and is 6 inches deep. Worn under the dress was an 18inch corset and many petticoats of madapollam (fine calico). The main petticoat was decorated with broderie anglaise. The dress is fastened all the way down the back with hooks and eyes as were the undergarments.

History and Provenance

Both Bertha and husband Charles Willis' families were pioneers of the district and were involved with the Millthorpe Show Society and Methodist Church. They spent all their married life in the same house.

A newspaper article states that "Both the Bride and Groom are universally esteemed throughout the district".

Bertha's role was that of a home-maker. Although her husband owned several farms during their lifetime, they were town dwellers and had access to shops for staple food supplies and other essentials.

Bertha lost her first baby after a home birth presented difficulties. Whilst in labour, she was bundled into a sulky in the middle of the night and driven fourteen miles to a doctor in Orange where the baby was born dead. The stillbirth produced so great a shock that Bertha became partially deaf and remained so for the rest of her life. Despite the subsequent safe delivery of two healthy children, the impact of the stillbirth was so extreme that Bertha became housebound and, apart from a weekly trip to the postbox in town, did not even leave the house to attend church. She did not take part in women's societies of the time such as the Temperance Society, in which her sister-in-law, Nellie, was involved.

Bertha's interests revolved around her home and family. She was described by her family as a good, plain family cook and experimented occasionally with recipes from the English "Woman's Weekly" and cooked more elaborate fare for town banquets. A chicken was fattened each year for Christmas dinner. Bertha crocheted well, but she believed her work was nowhere near as good as that of her sisters. She knitted many garments for her small grandchildren, usually in several blending colours in stripes.

She was a frugal housewife and continued to wear long-sleeved, high-necked dresses, even when the local dressmakers were superceded by factory clothing available in stores. When outdoors, she wore black felt hats to protect her fair skin from the sun and always carried a circular cane basket. Throughout her life, she favoured wearing Dr Purcell's black lace-up shoes.

Her husband, Charles Willis, was one of the first people in the town to buy a car and started a taxi service. In addition to paying the fare, his customers gave him many products from their farms. Bertha would cook with these gifts.  

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Charles Willis came from an established Millthorpe family and he was one of 16 children of Mark Willis who married twice. Charles was the 2nd son of Emma (nee Dean) and Mark Willis.

Bertha was the youngest daughter of four children of Thomas & Elizabeth Oates.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

At the time of the wedding the village of Millthorpe was one of the largest rail centres in the state, shipping flour, chaff and later peas and potatoes to Sydney and other markets. Since the establishment of the village in the 1860s and the coming of the railway in 1877, Millthorpe became a very active agricultural centre with the Great Western Milling Company establishing a flour mill. The Sands Directory for 1909 has a listing of over 80 businesses for the town including Butchers, Hairdresses, 3 Hotels, 2 Wheelrights and Blacksmiths, Dress makers, Dairymen, Auctioneers, General and Produce Stores, Chemists, Plumbers and even a bicycle repairer. There were four active churches, a Public School, Schools of Arts, Good Templars Hall, 2 Banks, a Post Office, a Police Station and a Court House.

 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Being married on a Wednesday was likely due to the normal half working day. Locals would turn out to look at the wedding procession. Receptions were normally held in a family home, shed or local hall with the ladies of the district doing all the cooking. 

Where did this information come from?

Claire Maples (Bertha's great great granddaughter)

  1. Place of origin:

    Millthorpe, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Bertha Lovda Oates was known as "Lovie" as a child. Her father had had a teacher from Cornwell of whom he was very fond,  Miss Loveday (pronounced Lovda). Bertha was named after this person. When Lovie started to be courted by Charles Willis, he called her by her proper name of Bertha. The Oates family always referred to her as "Lovie".

    Bertha's family are a well established farming family that took up the property "Rosewick" in 1861 and it is still owned by the Oates family today. Bertha and Charles were married 31 March 1909.

  3. Worn by:

    Bertha Lovda Oates.

  4. Occasion(s):

    The wedding of Bertha Oates to Charles Willis.

  5. Place:

    The wedding ceremony was held at the Methodist Church, Millthorpe and the reception was at the Oates family homestead, "Rosewick".

  6. Made by:

    Local dressmakers of Millthorpe - the Misses McGlynn.

  7. Made for:

    Bertha Lovda Oates.

Trimmings / Decoration

Ruched silk stitched to create puffs on shoulders. Smaller on vertical edges of lace.

 

Tucking

Horizontal front and back neck and stand up collar, machine lace trim on collar, van dyke edge

Embroidery

Vertical Panels of machine embroidered net

Fibre / Weave

Cream silk crepe weave. Georgette front and back neck panels.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

McGlynn Sisters Millthorpe

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Hem padded with cotton wool.

Measurements

dress
Girth
Neck 340 mm
Chest 720 mm
Waist 540 mm
Cuff 185 mm
Hem circumference 4000 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 1300 mm
Front waist to hem 970 mm
Back neck to hem 1330 mm
Back waist to hem 1060 mm
Sleeve length 425 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 115 mm
Underarm to underarm 395 mm
Convert to inches

Additional material

Other related objects

Newspaper article from the Orange paper of the time.

 

OATES – WILLIS  

A very pretty wedding took place at the Methodist Church Millthorpe on Wednesday afternoon when Mr C Willis, son of Mr and Mrs Mark Willis of “Fairfield” Millthorpe and Miss Bertha Oates, youngest daughter of the late Thomas Oates and Mrs Oates of Millthorpe were united in matrimony by the Reverend BJ Peneld. The bridesmaids were Misses Daisy James and Vida Oates. Mr Claude Willis was best man and Mr George Willis was groomsman. The bride was given away by Councillor TH Oates of Belgravia. The Church was beautifully decorated for the occasion. A large bell and the initials of the Bride and Bridegroom being especially good. Mrs Warburton presided at the organ and a large choir was present. The bridegroom having being a leading member for many years. As the bridal party entered the church, the choir sang “The Voice that Breathed all Eden” and at the close the organist played “The Wedding March”. The lunch was crowded with relatives and well-wishers of the happy couple. A large number of guests sat down to the wedding breakfast which was provided at the old family homestead “Rosewick” the residence of Mr and Mrs SJ Oates. The usual toasts were honoured and a happy time spent by all. The wedding presents were numerous and costly. The happy couple left by the first mail for the Illawarra and Shoalhaven district where the honeymoon will be spent. Both Bride and Groom are universally esteemed throughout the district.

Condition

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Crease
  2. Discolouration

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