What to Put in a Hope Chest (Dowry Chest): Lists and Modern Considerations
Future in a Box, 2006
My tiny daughter, Tyra Marie, watched my lips with wondrous grey-blue eyes. She filed the words I spoke to her in her newborn brain, remarking on them with vivid changes of expression and politely waving fists. Though full-term, she was only 5 1/2 pounds. She was graceful and strong, and I praised the Lord of Heaven and Earth for her—that she had not become but one more in a string of miscarriages—and I envisioned her wedding day. “You are so much a girl,” I said to her, and she agreed, pawing at the dress which she knew set her apart from her older brother. “I’m going to make you a dowry chest. Now, what shall we put in it?"
This question had been twirling in my brain for several months. I had already done research on the subject. My wanderings had led me through books, over the internet, and into novels, from which I took excerpts describing what mothers before me had put into their daughters' hope chests. I learned the history behind various dowry traditions—cows in one country, land in another, gold or linen in yet another. And I thought, Well, lace-trimmed napkins are all very nice, but what is Tyra likely to need? My grandmother had received as a newlywed a milk cow and spirea and lilac bushes, which still bloom.
A Starting List
What about your daughter? Have you considered helping her in this way? There are many questions to consider, some of which cannot be answered until she is nearly grown. In the meanwhile, hazard some guesses. For instance, I chose to start with what I lacked going into marriage . . . and still lacked three years, then six years down the road. I made a master list, highlighting the most likely items, and plan to discuss others with Tyra as she grows old enough. No doubt the world will change, and modify our ideas of necessities, but a computer file is easy to update.
I have tried to check all items against factors such as family backgrounds and heritages, our children’s likely starting finances, probable occupations, developing dreams, personalities, and also the form in which I hope their characters harden. I say children, plural, because the concept of a hope chest can also be applied to boys--with some modifications. I’ll speak more about this lower down in this article.
The categories I considered are these:
- Books and Documents
- Other Media
- Kitchen and Bath
- Linens and Bedroom
- Hobbies and Business
- Home Maintenance
- Journaling and Memories
At the bottom of this article, you will find tables providing specific lists and suggestions, plus a short explanation of the traditional dowry chest, and a typical list of items which might have filled it.
What Kind of Box?
A cedar chest is a traditional and somewhat practical choice as a hope chest. But a big tote box can be moved and stored almost anywhere, and is usually easy to pest proof.
Books and Documents
Practical and Relationships
What books have you found most helpful? Were there any that saved a relationship, or from which you drew strength in a dark time? Begin with these.
Next, add any academic or scientific titles that you don’t want your child living without.
Family History, Personal Documents
Family histories, photo albums, scrapbooks, genealogies, and baby books can be priceless.
Include any personal documents which will be needed, such as proofs of existence, transcripts, and resumes.
Think of possible grandchildren. Are there stories that made bedtime special for your child? Consider including those.
Don’t forget schoolwork or artwork that remains meaningful to your child. And especially, don’t forget any cards or letters that you may have written to her.
Next, think specifically about what you wished you would have known in high school, and select accordingly. Something to make the job of parenting easier. Something to point the way away from debt. Something to give a leg-up on a chosen career, or illuminate the advantages of faith.
Electronic vs. Hardcopy
Actual books are preferable, as the internet is not always readily available, and electronic information is not always the handiest form from which to extract help. However, links to specific sites or accounts may be helpful, as may app suggestions on time management/tasks, health, or business practices.
Apply the same principals to music and movies. Maybe there was a beloved movie you never took time to watch with your daughter. Maybe you want your children to know more about Grandpa’s time in the military. Add to the treasure chest whatever is most appropriate, with notes of explanation as needed.
Queen in Her Kitchen
Your daughter may receive everything she lists in her wedding gift registry, or may receive a good start for her own life and household at graduation. But if not, prepare to cover the widest bases.
I know from experience that intriguing a man with good food is not hard. Arm your daughter with a few good cookbooks or a favorite recipe collection, and make sure she has the wherewithal to use them.
Consider kitchen appliances and gadgets, including specialty categories like cake decorating or cheese making, according to her experience and inclinations.
Select some beautiful serving pieces such as she is unlikely to get for herself.
Consider culinary traditions in your home, or that of her husband’s family, and go beyond the obvious. For example, I know of a family that hands down the same sourdough starter from one generation to the next. And please don’t leave your daughter without excellent spices and herbs from a retailer who specializes in this field. Alternatively, provide her with healthy, attractively potted herbs, ready for her windowsill.
Linens and Bedroom
Traditionally, items for the linen closet are a must. But your daughter is likely to receive more bath towels by the time she reaches college age than she will need in a lifetime. Ditto kitchen towels at her bridal shower--supposing she has a hubby in mind. Therefore, a crazy quilt from a great-grandmother may be a better choice than a dozen tea towels. Or, a quality set of bed sheets or a comforter may trump the quilt, if all she can afford are garage-sale specials.
Alternatively, consider an area rug, window dressings, or closet organization helps.
Baby items ought also to come under this scrutiny. My first baby wore many ugly clothes because someone had been kind enough to pass them on when we had nothing. My daughter had more choice, as I got lucky at a garage sale and carried off boxfuls for pennies. But give thought to the new family’s plans, and tuck some outfits of various sizes in inoffensive colors into the chest, just in case the stork comes earlier than anticipated, or jobs are lost. Alternatively, invest cash for this purpose.
Consider adding a particularly sweet set of baby dishes and flatware.
A book on the maternity process can be comforting, as could a basic set of baby care items, such as tiny nail clippers and a suction bulb. Crib sheets and a car seat are two often overlooked items.
Patterns or fabric for clothes and accessories may come in handy, supposing your daughter has a knack for sewing or crafts.
Keep tabs on what your daughter collects for furniture throughout the years. A good work desk may be an appreciated investment. Consider her tastes and habits, though—I knew a family who chose to sleep on air mattresses on the floor and used camp chairs in their living room. They seemed happy and comfortable with each other.
Apps for Inspiration and Organization
Consider starting a Pinterest account with your child, in which to arrange hopes, dreams, and plans. That way, when you see a perfect item but don't plan to purchase it immediately, you have a logical way to file it, and can easily add or subtract items and ideas as appropriate.
Evernote may be another extremely appropriate life planning app, which will continue to have uses indefinitely.
Hobbies and Business
Notice to which interests your daughter keeps returning. Help her acquire the correct tools for her hobbies.
Sewing has many variables, gardening not quite such a throng. But if sewing is her thing, provide her with more than a child’s sewing machine. If gardening is her passion, consider providing her with an appropriate collection of seeds or seedlings, as well as quality tools.
Wood chisels, tools for vehicle maintenance, painting canvases and quality brushes, fishing flies, a superior laptop, and even animals can all have their place. Try to determine how likely she is to turn her hobby into a long-term business, and help her accordingly.
Consider giving your older child a gift subscription to an online learning course or app for business purposes, whether that be for investing, entrepreneurship, or other avenues to business development and financial stewardship.
Other Practical Considerations
Decent tools and home repair equipment ought to be considered, as should health supplies, such as herbal remedies that you have found useful repeatedly, and basic first aid supplies and skills.
Don’t overlook firearms or other defense measures, and make sure your daughter knows about any property or investments that are likely to come to her. Heirlooms and such may be included, be they coin collections, precious metals, jewels, or something else.
Include tags or notes with photographs of any items which have a high dollar value, or are important for sentimental reasons. Include the value in money, to whom the item belonged, and any other details which should not be lost.
The Trousseau (Wedding Clothes)
Help your daughter figure out what she wants for her wedding, even if it seems far away. Does she want to imitate a particular era or style? Help her choose clothes and accessories wisely, and don’t hesitate to purchase something ideal just because no beau is in sight.
Don't forget some basic lingerie.
If you happen onto a just-perfect picture frame or other house accent, don’t pass it up. Listen for things that shout her name.
Discuss rituals or wedding traditions which she may want to carry on, and make sure she understands the financial responsibilities for the bride's family.
For the hope chest itself, a sweet scent from an essential oil, sachet, or cedar balls can be blissful. Choose something that evokes delicious memories, and also protects the contents from marauding moths and other pests. Consider a dried bouquet or something lovely to lay on top, where it will promote peace when she sees it.
Journaling and Memories
Lastly, give your daughter incentive to record her inspirations and amazing moments for herself and perhaps posterity.
Several years ago, a camera would have been a necessary investment. Now that phones are so capable, you will have to think about the best way to go about providing an easy way to collect information and photos. Check out new apps and gadgets.
Or, consider a traditional alternative. In a collection by itself, consider providing a journal, daybook, a packet of inspiring stationary and postage stamps, an empty (non-magnetic) photo album, and a quality camera.
Now for the Boys!
Your sons, too, may benefit from a hope chest, provided you take pains to make it manly and appropriate.
Of course, for anything that requires color selection, pick what you know he will prefer, or go with dark or classic colors.
Choose items according to his known bent and talents. . . not according to what you think he should be doing with his life.
But for traditional items which still have their places, first consider kitchen equipment and cookbooks. Not only do many men enjoy the kitchen, but he may be a prolonged bachelor, or the main cook of the family.
Next, provide a few sewing and mending items. Knowing how to patch a pair of jeans can be a good thing for a boy, and having the denim scraps to do the repair could save both his money and reputation. A small jar of shirt buttons isn’t out of line, either.
Household items may include kitchen towels, bath towels, a set of saucepans and a cast iron skillet.
Books and Other Media
Boys are not as inclined as girls to read relationship-based books. But at the least, a child-training book or video, or a non-mushy book on loving a wife ought to be included.
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus remains a helpful selection for gaining perspective on mental differences between men and women.
As for the girls, include an inspiring selection or two, geared toward an honorable man's mindset.
Tools and Furniture
A comfortably stocked toolbox is next in order, provided he can manage the tools. Due to working with my husband in construction, my son began a collection of tools as a toddler--real tools, not plastic toys. A towrope, jumper cables, and extension cord are appropriate, as well.
As for furniture, ask him what he most foresees using. In my son’s case, a well-outfitted bullet-reloading bench is probably going to be a better investment than, say, a kitchen table. But for a future wife’s sake, do consider nice furniture. Your son may not mind eating off T.V. trays, but a woman will most assuredly tire of it.
This is an area in which most boys and men continue to need advice. For my son, I plan to include some good work overalls, and a formal-dinner suit or at least a pair of good black jeans. He is likely to wear out the overalls, and may never need actual dress pants, but will have a nice outfit in case he does something unexpected with his life.
An alternative would be to put away an amount of money in a growing investment, and let your son choose articles as he requires them.
Practical Considerations for You
Clearly, a well-stocked hope chest is a long-term commitment. Involve your children in the decisions. If you provide them an allowance, encourage them to spend a portion of it on things of lasting value. Personal funds are frequently more plentiful before marriage than after. Make sure your children understand this, and perhaps use the hope chest as on object lesson in money management.
Also, let friends know what you are doing, and invite them to be involved. When relatives ask what your children can use for Christmas, tell them something from your Hope Chest List. Or let them look over the list and choose what appeals to them. They may want to make a tradition of helping you fill it, and your son or daughter can go into the world knowing they are cherished, and prepared to brave the unknown.
Amazing Dowries in European History
A Traditional Dowry Chest
Mnay different types of dowries and dowry systems have been employed over the centuries by many cultures.
A dowry chest was a tradition in Victorian society, particular for the middle and lower classes. It was a way to ensure that a girl entered marriage with the necessary household goods to make her home liveable, and that she had the means to do her duty by her family in sewing clothing, curtains, and other household necessities.
Her mother or female relatives and sometimes the community would help her by sewing quilts, dresses, kitchen items, and baby goods. These were then stored in a cedar chest (which deterred moths) until the young woman acquired a home of her own.
Below are items which were usually considered crucial for a young woman entering marriage in Victorian and Edwardian society.
Kitchen towels, especially embroidered tea towels
Aprons—half everyday, full everyday, fancy half, fancy full
Bedspreads or coverlets
Baby clothes and items
Sewing patterns for dresses, blouses, aprons, children's clothes; fabrics for both fancy and everyday dresses
“Rag bag” or “scrap bag” of fabric pieces suitable for small household items, quilt pieces, patches, baby or doll clothes, etc.
Family Bible (Holy Scriptures)
Dish cloths and scrubbies (may be hand made)
Kitchen towels (waffle weave style are practical)
Appliances: good blender or smoothie maker; hand-held mixer; stand mixer with attachments; quality grain grinder;
Suggestions for best food shopping sources
Family recipes collection, and recipe cards for personal additions
Herbal or home remedy guide, with a few basic items with which to begin
Suggestions for best Youtube or video channels for cooking, life skills, life hacks, relationship growth, sewing skills, decorating ideas, etc.
Upscale or clean-living make-up, hair care, or skin care products or suggestions.
Financial education books (Rich Dad, Poor Dad; The Four Laws Of Financial Freedom)
Bed sheets in a favorite color, or dark blue, which is versatile
Tools: Craftsman brand or better, basic sets for household use and car maintenance
Ownership info for investments made on child's behalf, with training on how to proceed and grow funds
Books (General, Personal Suggestions)
Essentials of English: A Practical Handbook…, Vincent F. Hopper, Cedric Gale, Ronald C. Foote
Writer's Inc (English usage and style guide)
Dangerous Book For Boys
A Little Princess
Ann of Green Gables and continuing series
Dangerous Book For Girls
A Tale Of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards (understanding and living within an appropriate chain of authority; trusting the Creator to make things right)
Dream Seeds: What Would You Attempt To Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail? by Mike Murdoch (In our hearts God plants dreams which correspond to our life's work)
The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill (Nazi Holland/Germany)
Work and Social
Work clothes suited to occupation(s)
Property and Investments
Home protection dog or companion animal
Plants, seedlings, seeds from a reputable company
Vehicle and repair manual
Other work equipment
Homeschooling best books/resources suggestions
Child's favorite picture books and childhood movies
All Schoolwork to date--artwork, notebooks and scrapbooks, writing projects, personal journals (thoughts, prayers, travels), other studies
King James Version Bible
Strongs Concordance (a Bible study help)
Nourishing Traditions cookbook; King Arthur cookbook(s)
Family history info, photo albums, scrapbooks, genealogies, baby book—
Copies of grandparents' memoirs
To Train Up a Child parenting book
Hope Chests and You
Poll--Did/Do You Have A Hope or Dowry Chest?
A Girl and Her Grandpa Build a Cedar Chest
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Joilene Rasmussen