Past Treasure of the Month – May 2014

Rosenberg Library Displays Vintage Bathing Suit
Early 20th century bathing suit

As spring gives way to summer and water temperatures rise, beachgoers are shedding their windbreakers and wetsuits for bikinis and board shorts. In honor of this annual ritual, the Rosenberg Library displayed an early 20th century bathing suit as its May Treasure of the Month. Donated by Ms. Rebecca Trueheart (the original owner’s sister), this piece of fashion history is a sharp contrast from modern beach attire.

Starting around the 1880s many beach goers went to bath houses to rent bathing costumes and use the showers. Some would purchase tickets from vendors to have a horse-drawn buggy drag them into the Gulf to enjoy the waters safely and with the utmost modesty. The following decades saw an explosion in ‘surf bathing’ and other beach activities popularity. Mass transit allowed people to flock to seaside destinations like Galveston, while locals spent more of their leisure time along the shoreline. One such islander was Marjorie Williams McCullough (1896 – 1999).

John and Marjorie McCulloughThis portrait of John and Marjorie McCullough by
Jean Wetta currently hangs in the McCullough Room
which was named in honor of the couple’s
dedicated service and generous donations to the
Rosenberg Library. Mrs. McCullough’s vintage
bathing suit will be on display for May.

Born into a prominent Galveston family, Ms. McCullough had a fascinating childhood. She frequently traveled around the country and the world. In 1910, she and her parents went to London to attend a woman’s suffrage meeting. She left Galveston in 1918 after her acceptance into Bryn Mawr College. The following year she married a young solider named John W. McCullough (1892 – 1986), who in addition to serving in the Army during WWI with distinction, went on to become the President of Sealy-Hutchings Bank in Galveston. Mr. McCullough served on the Rosenberg Library Board of Directors from 1930 – 1952 and as a Library Trustee from 1930 – 1986. In 1990, Marjorie Williams McCullough donated a gift to the library for the construction of a public meeting room. Located in the library’s historic 1904 wing, the McCullough Room is a beautiful meeting space on the second floor of the building.

In addition to caring for her three children, Mrs. McCullough was very active in the Galveston social scene. She was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Galveston, a charter member and president of the Beta Study Club, president and member of the Sidney Sherman Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, board member and vice president of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Huguenot Society.

The bathing suit on display at the Library is a two-piece garment. It is made of navy blue wool trimmed in white with wood buttons. The main bodice features a ruffled neckline, short puffed sleeves, and bloomers beneath. It also includes a detachable outer skirt that would have been worn over the bloomers to cover the knees. While this wool bathing suit would be uncomfortable (imagine how heavy it would be once it was wet), it was in line with the fashion of the time which placed an especially strong emphasis on modesty for young women.

Vintage postcardThe Galveston and Texas History Center on the 4th floor of the Rosenberg
Library has many collections that feature vintage postcards like this one (G-9256.2 FF5 #4).
Although it is a bit more risqué than the one on display, this bathing
suit is a good example of early 20th Century beach fashion.

In recent years, Galvestonians have embraced vintage bathing suits most notably in the Galveston Island Beach Revue. The annual event draws inspiration from an early beauty contest called the Pageant of Pulchritude which was first held in 1920 (although by that time bathing suits with bloomers and high necklines like the one on display were out of fashion). The Beach Revue features live music, film viewings, family games and of course a vintage themed beauty contest.