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Ethnic Retention


Anna Matras (Cova) Hevier Wearing Her Slovakian-American Folk Costume, 1965

WHS Image Lot 1994-2007

Some immigrants sought to retain a material connection to their homelands by bringing to America elaborately decorated garments reserved for rituals and festivals marking seasonal changes and life passages. In America, folk costumes assumed new meaning when they were worn for folk festivals in which members of distinct ethnic groups consciously displayed their cultural identities to the general public.

Anna Matras (Cova) Hevier wore the Slovakian-American Costume pictured here at Milwaukee folk fairs between 1940 and 1965. Most of the garments were part of an original folk costume handmade in Slovakia while other parts of the ensemble were added or modified in Wisconsin. Anna was born outside Bratislava, Slovakia and immigrated to Milwaukee in 1905. She was involved for decades in community and church ethnic celebrations.

The other folk costume featured here came to Wisconsin from Kyjov, Moravia, where folk costumes were symbols of national pride and of opposition to Germanization in the 19th century. Moravians took great pride in their embroidery. Women spent long nights throughout the year working on these elaborate pieces of art. Often created as part of dowries, embroidered dresses became family heirlooms as they were passed from generation to generation and were brought to America.

The Moravian folk costume likely was made during the golden age of Moravian folk embroidery. The apron ("za'tera") is the best clue about its date and the location of origin. Between 1900 and 1925 the fashion for aprons in Ratiskovice, Moravia called for a center strip of needle lace that joined two wide panels of embroidery on either side. The lace from Ratiskovice was specific to the area. The apron traditionally had a four-inch band of coarse, cream-colored bobbin lace with red and green inserts added to the apron edge.

The headscarf probably was imported from Austria, as many such headpieces were. Moravian women adopted them for festival purposes and they became traditional.


Slovakian-American Costume, 1903-1965

Gift of Peggy Powers.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.91.1-.14

Moravian folk costume, 1900-1925

Gift of Mrs. Olga Dana.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1957.168-.170f