At first glance, it’s a nice arrangement of dried flowers, or maybe a clever craft made with thread. Look again—this wreath is made of human hair!
Hair wreaths were popular in the Victorian Era, around the mid to late 1800’s. They were usually crafted by women using hair from friends and family members. They could be a way to mourn the dead by turning a remnant of someone into a lasting memorial. Or, they could symbolize friendships and personal connections during a time when exchanging locks of hair was like friends sharing yearbook photos today.
This wreath was made by Maria Bailey Wright of Woolwich, Maine, around the year 1875. She would have been about 38 years old, a mother of three married to a goldsmith in Wiscasset. Maria collected locks of hair from family members and good friends, twisted and tied them into flower shapes, and used wire to connect the oval wreath.
At least two members of the family had died before the wreath was completed. Maria’s brothers Harlan and Addison Bailey each donated a lock of hair to their sister before they left for service in the Civil War. Neither brother survived the war.
Addison had only been enlisted four months before he got sick. He wrote to Maria from the camp hospital in Augusta, Maine in December 1862. ”… I am now in the hospt sick with the measels but I am doing well and have got so that I can walk round in the hospt. but don’t go owt. there has several died with the measels by getting cold. one died on the next bed to me.”
During the Civil War Maria worked as a telegraph operator. She sent loving, worried letters to her brothers, along with a box of cough pills that she hoped would help Addison recover.
Addison was well enough to follow his company to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but disease ultimately killed him on March 25, 1863. He died less than three weeks after Maria wrote “… I think you left the Hospital too soon, after you got over the measles… I shall be so glad when you get home again. be shure [to] not enlist over again. …I hope when you get this you will be well.”
Maria’s other brother, Harlan, was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. A decade later, she preserved the memory of both brothers with this wreath and a box of saved letters.
Addison’s letter: MSM 2011.6.10.40
Maria’s letter: MSM 2011.6.10.50
Hair wreath: MSM 2011.6.1