In July of 2018, the Montpelier Collections Team wrapped up a three-year-long project of accessioning 689 objects into the National Trust for Historic Preservation collection. These previously uncatalogued objects were found during an inventory of the Montpelier collection. Because the objects were of duPont history, it was decided that they be accessioned into the NTHP collection.
Some of the last items to be located for this project were a set of women’s equestrian riding clothes. Marion duPont Scott was a distinguished horse rider, breeder, and equestrian enthusiast, regarded by many as America’s First Lady of Racing.
Preserving Equine History
Marion built her lifelong passion for horses at Montpelier when her first pony arrived on the train at Montpelier Station:
“Soon after we came to Montpelier we were clamoring to have ponies. Father was for it…I remember going down to the station to see them when they got in – Shetlands, in calf crates from Indiana.” -Marion duPont Scott, Montpelier; The Recollections of Marion duPont Scott.
Horses and equestrian culture would continue to be a part of the Montpelier story as the estate became Marion’s lifelong home.
The significance of horsemanship in the story of Montpelier cannot be overlooked. Although the house has been preserved and interpreted to the retirement period of James and Dolley Madison, upon entry to Montpelier, guests are welcomed by a 20th-century steeplechase course and flat training track built by Marion. The Montpelier Hunt Race draws thousands to the estate every year and horses of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation can regularly be seen grazing in Montpelier fields.
Because of the duPont history at Montpelier, Marion’s set of riding clothes were accessioned into the National Trust Collection. As stewards of Montpelier, it is an important part of the Collections Team’s work to catalog, report, and store the Montpelier Collection, including objects accessioned to the NTHP.
Marion DuPont Scott’s riding pants (L) and garment (R). NT2015.8.674, NT2015.8.673, images courtesy of Montpelier, a National Trust Historic Site.
This set of riding clothes was first identified as a pair of jodhpurs and riding skirt made by Nardi, Inc., a prestigious New York tailor. The textiles were located in storage and brought to the Collections office where they were thoroughly examined. Our team looked for any damage or pest activity and created condition reports for both pieces that would be included in the objects’ files.
Both pieces are early 20th century and were in excellent, stable condition. During our assessment, it was the riding skirt that first caught our attention. We quickly visualized that when worn, the skirt would not fully cover the wearer, leaving the back opened, much like a hospital gown. The buttons were another mystery. As seen in the above photo, there is a row of five buttons and one outside of the row. The lone button had been used so much that the fabric was reinforced.
Marion duPont Scott’s riding garment opened. NT2015.8.673, image courtesy of Montpelier, a National Trust Historic Site.
Other interesting features of the clothing item were the squared seam and elastic loop attached to the inside of the skirt. The elastic was stretched, so we could tell it had been frequently used.
Many of our projects include collaboration between different departments and this one was no exception. Former Archaeology Crew Chief, and equestrian enthusiast, Elizabeth McCague stopped by the Collections office to help us discover more about this piece. While Elizabeth was just as baffled about the riding garment as we were, she did notice something we had overlooked on the riding pants.
Marion’s riding pants, front (L) and back (R). NT2015.8.674, images courtesy of Montpelier, a National Trust Historic Site.
For example, jodhpurs are full-length riding pants that can include a “stirrup” that goes under the foot to hold the pant in place. Breeches fit tightly at the calf, sometimes with additional fastenings. Elizabeth’s insight lead us to research and confirm that our riding pants were in fact breeches, not jodhpurs!
Senior Collections Technician, Jenniffer Powers, began research on the riding skirt. Her investigation led to an online diagram of a side saddle riding apron-we had our answer!
Researching Equine History
The side saddle apron was designed as a safer alternative to a riding skirt. The apron was worn over breeches but covered the rider’s legs, keeping with the then-popular expectation of modesty for female riders. The apron was opened in the back so that the rider was not sitting on excess cloth but could be buttoned closed while off the horse and walking. This explained why one of the buttons on our garment needed to be reinforced. It was used more often than the others as the rider buttoned the apron after every dismount and unbuttoned before every mount. The elastic loop on the inside of the apron was where the equestrian placed her foot to hold the garment down while riding. This was why the elastic on our apron was so stretched out.
With the items properly identified and reported, Collection Technicians Jenniffer and Leanna safely stored the riding garments in an archival box with acid-free tissue paper. The box was then labeled with the objects’ accession numbers and placed into the Montpelier storage facility to be preserved for future research and study.
More on the duPonts
Blog: The Dogs of Montpelier
Blog: From Family Memories to Historical Record
 “History of Montpelier Races.”
 Strine, Gerald. Montpelier; The Recollections of Marion duPont Scott. 390/500 ed., 1976. Pg. 54.
 Horton, Kim. “What’s the difference between jodhpurs and breeches?” Equus England. August 27, 2014.
Leanna Schafer, BA
Leanna joined the Curatorial & Collections Department at Montpelier in 2018 as a Museum Technician where she provides preventative care for the Montpelier Collection. She values the histories and stories told by objects and works to preserve those objects for generations to come.