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Laura Bush's Red Gown Is History

January 21, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — First Lady Laura Bush's inaugural gown became a historical artifact Sunday when she donated it to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Exactly one year after her husband took the oath of office, leading her to nine inaugural balls and into the White House, Bush turned the sequined red dress over to the museum. She kept up a tradition dating back to Helen Taft, whose husband, William Howard Taft, was sworn in as president in 1909, and who later donated her gown.

Over the years, the museum obtained 13 first ladies' inaugural ensembles, dating back to one worn in 1881 by Lucretia Garfield and those worn by Bush's mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I'm sure that this dress holds many memories for you. Now it will become part of the country's collective memory," Marc Pachter, acting director of the museum, said at a dedication ceremony. The dress was on display next to him.

The gown and matching coat, shoes and handbag will be displayed as part of the museum's presidential exhibit, alongside one worn to George Washington's inauguration in 1789.

"As I look at Abigail Adams' leather embroidered shoes, I realize what an awesome responsibility it is to fill the shoes of first lady," Bush said, referring to the wife of the second president, John Adams.

"I'm particularly interested in the lives of the women who wore these gowns--women who raised families, who counseled their husbands, who lived through war and peace in our beautiful White House," she said.

Bush and the new president crisscrossed Washington the snowy night of Jan. 20, 2001, appearing for brief dances and speeches at a whirlwind of black-tie balls. Her dress was made of brilliant red Chantilly lace and silk satin with crystal beading.

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