Gown Worn By Actress At DeMoulin Museum

DeMoulin Museum volunteers Gina Lewis (left) and Esther Henry prepare Ruby Dee's doctoral gown for display.

In its 124 year history, DeMoulin Bros & Co. has manufactured outfits for famous entertainers like cowboy movie star Tom Mix, lion tamer Mabel Stark, and singer CeeLo Green. The DeMoulin Museum has recently obtained a doctoral gown made for Ruby Dee, one of the most respected actresses and humanitarians in show business history.

Dee, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 2007’s American Gangster, was a Grammy, Emmy, and Obie award winner. She was also a National Medal of Arts, Kennedy Center Honors and Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award recipient. Among her other famous films were The Jackie Robinson Story, A Raisin in the Sun, and Do the Right Thing. In 1969, she was a regular on the TV show Peyton Place. She was married to Ossie Davis, with whom she often worked, until his death in 2005.

The robe was purchased at Ms. Dee’s estate sale by a woman who then sold it to the DeMoulin Museum. Prior to agreeing to the purchase, the museum did extensive homework verifying the gown’s authenticity.

The DeMoulin manufacturing label inside the gown with Ms. Dee's name embroidered below it.
The DeMoulin manufacturing label inside the gown with Ms. Dee’s name embroidered below it.

“We’ve been able to document four occasions when Ruby Dee wore this gown while receiving special honors,” explained John Goldsmith, DeMoulin Museum curator. “The first was in 1982 when she received an honorary degree from Howard University. The others were in 1991 from Spelman College, 2009 from Princeton University and 2011 from Dartmouth. Three photos have been located showing her in the gown.”

Goldsmith said he believes the gown was manufactured by DeMoulin in 1976. The actress’s name was embroidered on the inside. The remaining mystery is why the robe was originally made for her?

From the 1920s until 1982, the DeMoulin factory had a very successful cap and gown and choir robe division. The Ruby Dee doctoral gown, which will be featured in a permanent display, is a highlight from this era in the company’s history.

“There are no words to explain how excited we are to have this artifact on display. Ruby Dee was a giant in show business but more importantly a legendary figure in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. I’m thrilled that this lady’s life intersected with DeMoulin Bros. & Co.”

The DeMoulin Museum is located at 110 West Main Street in Greenville. Admission is free. Summer hours are Friday 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.; Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information call (618) 664-4115, visit www.demoulinmuseum.org, or the DeMoulin Museum Facebook page.