New version of glory box may serve another generation of struggling Australians, historian says

Opening the lid of a hope chest and peering inside was an exciting time for many young women in the 1950s, but could the tradition be reinvented to help young adults start a home in the 21st century?

The glory box or hope chest was typically filled with items including towels, aprons, linens, and sheets to gift to young women when they married and left the family home.

Historian and educator Sue-Belinda Meehan said the chests were handed down through many generations in Australia and overseas.

“In the 15th century, when your son married, he brought his wife into the household, and the anticipation was they would inherit the house or manor and manage the house,” she said.

Towels inside a wooden box.
Glory boxes would be filled with linens, towels and crockery to help couples settle into home life.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

World War II was seen as the heyday of the glory box in England, Canada, America, and Australia. As men left for war, they would gift their girlfriends a hope chest.

“While they were away, it was like a contract with them saying, ‘I’m coming back, and we’re going to be married, and you can start gathering the things we need,'” Ms Meehan said.

A vintage advertisement with drawn images of a couple kissing near a wooden box.
Many advertisements for glory boxes sold love, romance and marriage.(Pinterest: ClickAmericana)

“Many girls were given a glory box for their 16th, 18th or 21st birthday. After that, generally, their beau would give them a hope chest or a bridal chest as a promise to get engaged to get married.”

A chest for a new generation

Ms Meehan believes there’s a place for a new version of the glory box that could help young adults — both men and women today.

“In all honestly, I think it will come back as homes become more and more expensive, and rentals become difficult to come by, we’re getting this generation who are staying at home longer,” she said.

A wooden box with a large brass latch on the front.
Glory boxes would come in different types of wood, sizes and crafted latches. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

After marrying her husband 40 years ago, Ms Meehan worked as a teacher, earning $8,000 a year.

Ms Meehan said if she hadn’t put things away in her glory box then, they would have been in dire straits.

“I feel young people today are in the same position in that they’re facing a huge amount of money to get into the [house] market,” she said.

Ms Meehan said she collected items for her son before he left home, such as glassware and towels — a more genderless type of glory box that she thinks could help others in the same position.

For the love of glory boxes

Many homes still hold a family glory box. ABC Radio Brisbane listeners shared stories about their beloved chests and what they use them for now.

“I was given one from my great aunt who was a seamstress and it was filled with gorgeous aprons and smocks — it still holds treasures now as we store all our family’s christening gowns and heirlooms there.” — Danielle from Brisbane

“My wife has a glory box from her grandmother, and it sits at the end of the bed with a big brass buckle where we now store our winter stuff as you don’t have any problems with moths and the jumpers are fresh for winter. ” – Geoff from Wavell Heights

“We couldn’t get much after the war and our mothers encouraged us to put things away until we met the man of our dreams. We lost our jobs when we got married so you had to be prepared for the many years that you were saving to buy the house.” – Noelle from Boondall

“I was married in 1942 and the girls who were getting married would have an afternoon where they would display the contents of their hope chest instead of a hen’s party. Everyone who came to the party would bring something to add to the chest.” – Mary from Buderim

Made for longevity

Often made in different timbers, the boxes could be carved, and many had large brass latches made to last.

“After the crusades, many men brought back cedar chests from the Middle East, and the cedar kept moths away, and it began to be the timber of choice,” Ms Meehan said.

The lid of a wooden box carved with a bird and a tree.
Some glory boxes from China were carved with scenes of nature.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

Ms Meehan said the popularity of the chests remained in Australia until the 1970s when lifestyles and society changed.

“They started to drop off because people no longer stayed at home until it was time to get married,” she said.


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