A Gift for a New Bride

by Valerie Seiber


May 25th marks an important  anniversary in the lives of Milton and Catherine Hershey – their wedding day. The couple met in 1897 at A.D. Work’s Confectionery shop in Jamestown, New York.  Mr. Hershey was there tending to business matters for the Lancaster Caramel Company, while Catherine Sweeney was socializing and enjoying confectionery sweets with friends.

Catherine Sweeney Hershey, c.1910 (Courtesy Hershey Community Archives)

On July 6, 1871, Catherine Elizabeth Sweeney was born in Jamestown, NY to Irish-Catholic immigrant parents, Michael and Catherine (Maloney) Sweeney. The Sweeney family had a son and three daughters to support. As the oldest daughter, Kitty, as she was known, left high school during her senior year to help support her family and gained employment as a shop girl. Her wit and bubbly personality were well suited for attracting customers to the jewelry store where she worked. These same traits are probably what caught Milton Hershey’s eye.

Hair brush, Gorham Manufacturing Company, 1898

As a successful businessman, Milton Hershey had the means to woo his young sweetheart with candy and flowers. Never one for writing letters, Milton sent telegrams to Kitty between visits. Their courtship continued even after Kitty moved to New York City and found work in the ribbon department of Altman’s department store. On May 25, 1898 the couple married in the rectory of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

A 20-piece toiletry set given to Kitty Hershey as a wedding present

In the museum’s collection is a 20-piece silver toiletry set engraved with Catherine’s initials, “KSH,” the K for Kitty. The set, manufactured by the Gorham Manufacturing Company in 1898, is believed to be Milton’s wedding gift to his new bride.  The set consists of a jewelry box, hair brush, hand mirror, curling iron, nail file, nail cleaner, buffer, manicure scissors, puff box, soap case, pin tray, cosmetic container, buttonhooks for gloves and shoes, shoehorn, and five different brushes for clothes, collars, coats, and hats! Basically everything an Edwardian lady needs for personal grooming and dressing. (Think Lady Mary and her maid, Anna in Downton Abbey!)

Left: coat brush. Right: hat brush

Made in repoussé[1], the set is decorated with roses, Kitty’s favorite flower.  Founded by Jabez Gorham around 1831 in Providence, Rhode Island, the Gorham Company initially made spoons and other small wares such as combs, thimbles and jewelry. Jabez’s son John took over the company in 1847 and sought to expand manufacturing. He mechanized production and consulted with Europe’s master silver craftsmen to train his American workers. During the heyday of American silver manufacturing, the Gorham Company became quite influential, opening a store in Manhattan, New York in 1884.

Left: buttonhooks for gloves and shoes. Right: nail file and cleaner


Curling iron with alcohol burner for heating the iron
Curling iron with alcohol burner for heating the iron

A loving relationship, Milton and Kitty’s marriage was cut short when she died in 1915. Mr. Hershey never remarried and is said to have kept her photograph with him at all times. Many years later in 1941, the toiletry set was given again as a wedding gift, but this time to the daughter of Ezra Hershey, Mr. Hershey’s cousin. The set remained in the family’s possession until it was donated to the museum in 2005. Select pieces of the set are displayed in The Hershey Story’s permanent exhibits.

[1] Repoussé: shaped or ornamented with patterns in relief made by hammering or pressing on the reverse side

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