A US Sanitary Commission Gown

One of our final commissions for 2019 was to create a museum interpretive piece replicating the dress and regalia of the US Sanitary Commission.

Mid 19th century photo of 3 US Sanitary Commission Volunteers in their organization’s regalia

The US Sanitary Commission was the only civilian run organization supported by the US government during the American Civil War. Founded in New York in June 1861, “US Sanitary commission volunteers advised on the physical and mental health of the military, assisted in the organization of military hospitals and camps, and aided in the transportation of the wounded.” (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

The US Sanitary Commission (made up of mostly female volunteers) also hosted fairs to raise funds for medical supplies, food, and clothing for soldiers serving in the Northern Armies. The largest fair was held in Chicago in 1863. This charitable fair lasted approximately 12 days and raised close to $100,000 (or well over $2Million today) for the war effort. Two well known names affiliated with the US Sanitary Commission are Louisa May Alcott and Dorthea Dix (who served as commission superintendent). The US Sanitary Commission ended with the war in 1865 and was officially disbanded by 1866.

Our reproduction US Sanitary Commission dress is based on the early 1860s era dress style and accessories worn by the volunteers in the extant photos above.

Our dress is made of 100% cotton chambray and has removable cuffs and collar. As the gown will be handled by museum visitors, a silk gown was not ideal. The pinner apron is 100% cotton lawn and the dress’s bow is 100% silk. The dress closes in the front with hook and eye and the natural shell buttons are decorative.

Our early 1860s era US Sanitary Commission dress with apron is shown over a quilted petticoat and one extra full petticoat.

Our replica US Sanitary Commission Bonnet is made of 100% cotton organdy.

We also made a silk sash to be worn with a replica US Sanitary Commission insignia pin we found on Ebay. We added an antique patina to add some age and contrast.

Our replica US Sanitary Commission silk ribbonette with insignia
Original US Sanitary Commission Insignia

Recreating this US Sanitary Commission dress with accessories was such a fantastic way to end our 2019 sewing season! One can only imagine the extent of the further hardships the US Army would have endured without the support of these ladies! It was tons of fun researching this often over-looked Civil War Era women’s organization and working out all the meticulous details to create this one of kind, museum- quality piece!

For more information about our reproduction US Sanitary Commission dress, apron, bonnet, or insignia, please feel free to visit our website at www.maggiemayfashions.com! Go to our CONTACT US page and drop us an email!

About Susan

My interest in historical costume began at a very early age. I knew by age 5 I wanted to be a designer. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to turn my passion into a full time business. You can find my costumes onstage in NYC, on the big screen, and in museums around the globe.