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How to Start a Hope Chest for Your Children or Grandchildren

Sharon has been an online writer for over eight years. Her articles focus on everything from cooking recipes to creating family traditions.

The author's current hope chest—now mostly filled with years of writing materials, poetry, and scribbles that no one has ever seen, etc.

The author's current hope chest—now mostly filled with years of writing materials, poetry, and scribbles that no one has ever seen, etc.

What Is a Hope Chest?

Traditionally, a hope chest is a wooden chest or trunk that would store special items for a bride to use when she got married. Although, over time, the tradition has changed.

Other Names for a Hope Chest

  • Dowry chest
  • Cedar chest
  • Glory box
  • Bridal trousseau
  • Wedding chest

History of the Tradition

The tradition has evolved out of necessity. Centuries ago, when families attempted to arrange the marriages of their children, a groom’s family that was wealthy offered the bride’s family money and material possessions such as a piece of land to secure her hand in marriage. The bride’s family, in turn, would supply the new couple with material things they needed to begin their new life together.

The gift from the bride’s family was called a dowry and could be quite elaborate to include expensive and luxurious items.

Traditional Items in a Marriage Dowry

  • Silverware
  • China
  • Linens
  • Furniture
  • Appliances

Yet even if the bride’s family could not afford luxurious dowries, they still wished to offer the groom what they could to symbolize the significance of marrying and taking care of their daughter.

This chest is at least 125 years old.  It was handed down through generations on my mother's side.  It is in my father's basement and currently holds vintage Christmas decorations.

This chest is at least 125 years old. It was handed down through generations on my mother's side. It is in my father's basement and currently holds vintage Christmas decorations.

Handcrafted Hope Chests

Hope chests were often built for young girls by their fathers who would spend countless hours creating and decorating this special gift. In many cases, they would become a family heirloom as they were passed down from mother to daughter.

Daughters were taught by their mothers how to sew, knit, crochet, and embroider at an early age. In preparation for marriage, young women would accumulate a collection of their handcrafted items to store in a special chest.

This chest was a symbol of hope for the future. It would contain items such as quilts, linens, aprons, and even lingerie. The box and its contents would become part of the new bride's household.

I don't know the history of this chest.  It's been around for at least 40 years.  It is in my father's basement filled with mostly photographs now.

I don't know the history of this chest. It's been around for at least 40 years. It is in my father's basement filled with mostly photographs now.

The Lane Furniture Company

The tradition began to lose its popularity in the U.S. by the beginning of the 20th century. But during World War I which began in 1914, the government offered a contract to the Lane Furniture Company to build ammunition boxes for the military out of pine. Once the war was over, the assembly process transformed to the production and promotion of cedar boxes. And hope chests became popular again for many decades through World War II in the 1940s and beyond.

Since then, the tradition has somewhat gone astray. Although today, hope chests are seeing a resurgence and change of purpose.

This chest is about 40 years old and currently holds more photo albums at my father's house.

This chest is about 40 years old and currently holds more photo albums at my father's house.

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Read More From Feltmagnet

Does It Have to Be a Wooden Chest?

No, absolutely not! A hope chest could be any chest or storage trunk-type piece of furniture. But it could also be something like a toy box. It could be a cardboard box. It could even be a plastic under-the-bed storage container. In fact, hope chest items don’t really need a chest at all. A simple shelf in a closet will do!

Not Just for Girls Anymore

Nowadays, hope chests serve different purposes. Why not start a hope chest for your son or grandson? Although many people still believe in the old tradition that a hope chest is for young girls prior to their marriage, today, they are thought of as a collection of items to be used when children leave their parents' house.

Therefore, girls and boys accumulate items that they can take with them into adulthood.

Modern hope chest that boys would appreciate too!