What are Hope Chests? A hope chest, also called dowry chest, cedar chest, trousseau chest or glory box is a piece of furniture traditionally used to collect items such as clothing and household linen, by unmarried young women in anticipation of married life. How did this tradition start? Is is still practiced today? Here, we find out:
The use of hope chests was popular in medieval Europe, when many marriages were arranged by parents in order to merge family fortunes. A wealthy groom’s family offered the bride’s family money, land, and business ownership in order to win her hand in marriage. In turn, the bride’s family provided the new couple with everything they needed to start their lives together after marriage. This gift, which was called a dowry, included linens, china, silverware, glassware, kitchen items, and even furniture.
However, not all families of the bride were wealthy. So, for these families, the mothers have been teaching their daughters, starting at an early age, how to knit, embroider, sew, and crochet in preparation for marriage. These young women then started accumulating a collection of special items, including lingerie, hand-embroidered linens, towels, aprons, quilts, and other handicrafts, and storing them in hope chests. The new bride then brought her hope chest to her new home on her wedding day, and these items became part of her new household.
The typical hope chest is of lidded blanket chest form. In some traditions, there may also be one or two side-by-side drawers beneath. As with blanket chests, a small till may also be found inside for small items. Early hope chests were handmade and often lined with cedar though but many hope chests are also covered in artwork, wooden mosaics, and other decorations too.
The tradition continued in the US, but by the beginning of the 20th century, the hope chest had begun to lose popularity. The use of these chests has then died out but in recent years, there seems to have been a quiet revival of this custom.