Sharon has been an online writer for over eight years. Her articles focus on everything from cooking recipes to creating family traditions.
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 the 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
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.
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.
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 into 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.
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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.
What to Include in a Hope Chest
There are no right or wrong items to include. The idea is to accumulate and store special things that will be used by the girl or boy recipient in their adulthood.
Keep in mind that tastes for specific décor will change over time, so try to avoid specific schemes. In addition, they should include mementos and family keepsakes.
Ideas for Items to Include in a Hope Chest
|Practical Items||Sentimental Items|
Blankets and quilts
Old diaries, cards and love letters
Heirloom wedding dress
Table clothes, napkins & runners
Firsts: stuffed animal, X-mas ornament, etc.
Favorites: blankie, toy, etc.
Silverware and dishware
Childhood books and school projects
Family bible and religious items
Tools and tool box
Photos and videos
New (future) baby items
Silver and Gold
Crocheted and knitted items
Safety items such as smoke alarms
Handwritten notes about the significance of the specific hope chest items
Preserving Memories and Creating New Ones Through a Hope Chest
Anyone can start a hope chest. You can even create one for yourself!
It is a place to store keepsakes, preserve memories and make new ones for future generations. Have fun creating your special treasure.
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on July 03, 2020:
I love that you are going to start one for yourself. Why not!!! Then you can also add gifts given to you that have a sentimental value and you would like to have in your family for generations to come. I wish you the best!!!
Violet W on July 03, 2020:
I am definitely am planning on starting a hope chest for myself in anticipation of getting married someday. I am planning on making some of the items myself, i.e. crocheting dishcloths, maybe cross-stitching a wall hanging. Can't wait!
I voted as well!
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on May 26, 2020:
Hi Grandma! That is awesome and something they will cherish their entire lives. I love it. And hopefully they will continue to pass the tradition on for many generations. Thank you so much for stopping by!
Grandma on May 26, 2020:
We have three grandchildren, two girls and a boy. We started a "hope chest" for each (they do not know) when they were born. Each year for their birthday and Christmas, we add an item. The girls are getting nice kitchen items and our grandson is getting craftsman tools. At some point, we may give the girls a "starter tool set" and give the grandson a few basic kitchen items. It is fun picking things out for them. I try to shop for a few items on Black Friday, as an example I purchased a $150 set of Chicago Cutlery knives for $39.99.
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on December 29, 2017:
I'm not sure that I have the right answers for you but I can give you my thoughts from my own experience. First, I don't think the actual cedar chest needs to have a specific person named to receive it. What might be more important is what you leave in it. And for whom. For example, if you have an item that you know means something to a specific grand child, why not attach a personal note directly written to the grand child you want to receive it. For example, you have a grand child that you always played cards with. Write a personal note attached to the deck (or a deck) of cards. Maybe you have something you want to go to the first born grand child, let's say a flag that was from their grandfather who was in the service. Maybe one of your grand sons would enjoy something like cuff links that grandpa used to wear. Or a silverware set that has been passed down through the family. It doesn't have to be something bought or brand new although it could be. But in your case, I'm thinking it might be fun and meaningful to leave momentos for family to enjoy when you are no longer with them. I am the oldest of 6 grandchildren. When my one grandma passed away, it was revealed to me that she wanted me to have her set of Depression Era glassware. I had no idea that it was important for her to leave that specifically for me. And I was honored and very touched. Because you have already raised your children and you have quite a few grand children, this is where my thoughts went for you. To use your cedar chest as a place to store momentos for your grand children to remember you by. Gosh I hope this makes sense. Best wishes and happy New Year!
Deborah shedd on December 29, 2017:
I have and cedar hope chest .and I have 12 grandkids how do I choose witch one to pass it down too .although my oldest is a girl at ag.i want to pass my family airlooms.befire I pass ..hard decision as I have 2 other girl grandaughter ...does it go to one that gets married first .. Thanks.deborah shedd colquitt ga USA ..
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on December 20, 2015:
Wow, that's horrible. Let's hope that never happens again. The newer chests that I have do not have any type of open/close hardware on them, they just lift up. Thanks for your feedback. Happy Holidays!
moonlake from America on December 19, 2015:
We had a hope chest for our daughter. It was something I had always wanted. Be very careful if you buy an antique hope chest. Years ago two little girls in Wisconsin climbed into a hope chest and couldn't get out they suffocated. Lane's chest were one of the chests with a button that had to be pushed to get out they are air tight and you couldn't get out from the inside.
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on December 19, 2015:
Your hope chest sounds beautiful!!! Thank you so much for pinning this article. Happy Holidays!
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on December 18, 2015:
Wonderful idea and tradition that has evolved to include the sons as well. I have the hope chest from my 95 year old auntie and its a Lane cedar chest with a waterfall top. Love storing my treasured vintage items inside. Pinned your Antique Trunk photo!
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on October 21, 2014:
That is really awesome Doris. I love to hear that you are creating hope chests for your grand daughters and also your grandson. That is very special and something they will remember forever. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. Best wishes!
Doris Clipston on October 06, 2014:
I have three granddaughters, ages16,13 n 5. Gave my eldest my old hope chest. My husband lined it with cedar as it was an old seafaring trunk my gramma gave me at 16. Vix asked me about the tradition last fall, so kids are are talking about it. I have started picking up treasures for her. My aim is to get her kitchen set up. The kitchen is the heart of a family in my French and Irish family. So excited to be part of this. Planning on doing it for all three girls. Grandson also but papa will be concentration on tools etc.
Howie Watts on March 31, 2014:
That is a great idea :-)
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on March 29, 2014:
Sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment. I'm so glad you found this article. I hope you and your wife have started a hope chest for your 14 year old daughter. But, just a thought, why not start a sort of hope chest for your older girls as well. Begin to fill it with family treasures you want to make sure are passed down through the generations.
Thanks so much for stopping by and for your great comment!
Howie Watts on March 06, 2014:
Ironic that I stumbled upon your article. I was just asking my wife a few days ago if girls still had hope chest's these days. I have two older sisters and I do recall that they did indeed have hope chests. That was the 70's and well...the world is much different. I have two older daughters, 30 and 28, that I do not recall having a hope chest. For some reason though, while out shopping with my wife, I saw a trunk and thought... that would make a nice hope chest for my daughter who is now 14. When I asked my wife, well, she was not sure if girls still did that these days either. After landing here and reading your hub, I guess I can report back to her that the tradition is indeed still alive and well :-)
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 21, 2013:
Hi ChristinS ~ You are very lucky to still have the chest from your grandmother. I'm sure you cherish it dearly. Thank you so much for your comments!
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 21, 2013:
Hi WiccanSage ~ thank you! I appreciate you stopping by!
Christin Sander from Midwest on September 19, 2013:
I love this. My grandmother made one for me and I still have it. It had some odds and ends in it, I can't really remember all of it, but the chest itself and the symbolism is what I held dear to my heart. :)
Mackenzie Sage Wright on September 19, 2013:
That's beautiful. Awesome.
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on April 17, 2013:
Hi Annie ~ I love your story about finding recipes in your mom's hope chest. I know what it is like to come across those treasures. I do hope that others continue this fun and meaningful tradition. Thanks so much for your feedback!
wabash annie from Colorado Front Range on April 15, 2013:
What a wonderful hub!!!! I loved your family's hope chest ... the picture was beautiful. My mother had a hope chest ... I wrote some 'yummy' recipe hubs. These recipes were taken from her notes found in that chest. I acquired vintage chests for my three children when they were just babies and they love them too. Thanks for writing about these chests and I hope your ideas give your readers incentives to find them for their own keepsakes.
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on March 19, 2013:
Hi Vicki ~ It's fun to hear that you had a hope chest growing up. That's exactly what I did - use what I had "saved" in my first apartment. Thanks so much for your feedback and votes.
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on March 19, 2013:
Hi Mary ~ When you say your generation was the last to have a hope chest, I'm not sure how old you are but my sisters and I had a hope chest. But it's becoming more popular again today. I hope you decide to start one for your grand daughters. What a wonderful gift that would be. Thank you so much for your great feedback.
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on March 17, 2013:
This is neat. I had an old chest when I was a kid that I called my hope chest. I had various dishes and things I was saving. I used the stuff in my first apartment away from home! Many votes on this one!
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on March 16, 2013:
Hi Torrilynn ~ Hope Chests are a great idea and still common today. I'm glad you liked this hub. Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Craig from New York on March 15, 2013:
What a great idea! I think Mine was the last generation to have a hope chest. My husband actually bought it for me for my birthday and my Mom and I filled it up. Of course I still have it, but I never thought of doing it again...with two granddaughters this is a great idea.
Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.
torrilynn on March 15, 2013:
I've never heard of a hope chest before Sharyn
I'm happy I came across your hub and how it can
be beneficial for kids
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on February 16, 2013:
Hi Grandmommy ~ great to meet you. So glad you enjoyed this hub. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Gail from Small Town Tennessee on February 14, 2013:
Very nice hub. Very good idea! Thumbs up!
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on December 29, 2012:
Hi Thelma ~ So happy to hear this brought back good memories for you. Your grand niece is lucky that you are starting one for her. No doubt she will cherish the contents and your thoughtfulness. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Thelma Raker Coffone from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on December 29, 2012:
Sharyn I enjoyed this hub very much. It brought back memories of my own hope chest before I got married 43 years ago. I am starting one now for my grand niece who is graduating from high school in a few months. I plan to collect a set of Blue Ridge Pottery dishes for her. That will be a great starting point for her hope chest.
Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on December 28, 2012: