New version of glory box could 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 build homes in the 21st century? ?

A glory box or hope chest was usually filled with items including towels, aprons, linens, and sheets to be given to young women when they married and left the family home.

Historian and educator Sue-Belinda Meehan said the chests have been passed down from generation to generation in Australia and overseas.

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

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

World War II was considered the height of the glory box in England, Canada, America and Australia. When men went to war, they gave their girlfriends a chest of hope.

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

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

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

A trunk for a new generation

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

“In all honesty, I think that will come back as homes get more and more expensive and rentals become harder to come by, we get this generation that stays 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 handcrafted 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 back in her box of glory they would have been in dire straits.

“I feel like young people today are in the same situation, in that they have to face 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 napkins – a more sexless type of glory box which she says could help others in the same position.

For the love of glory boxes

Many houses still hold a box of family glory. ABC Radio Brisbane listeners have shared stories of their beloved vaults and how they are using them at the moment.

“My great-aunt who was a seamstress gave me one and it was filled with beautiful aprons and blouses – it still holds treasures now that we store all of our family’s christening gowns and heirlooms in it.” — Danielle from Brisbane

“My wife has a glory box from her grandmother, and it sits at the end of the bed with a large brass loop where we now store our winter stuff as you have no problem with moths and sweaters are cool for winter.” – Geoff of 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, he so had to be prepared for the many years you were saving to buy the house.” – Noelle de Boondall

“I got married in 1942 and the girls who got married had an afternoon where they displayed the contents of their hope chest instead of a hen party. Everyone who came to the party brought something to add in the trunk.” – Mary of Buderim

Designed for longevity

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

“After the Crusades, many men brought cedar chests back from the Middle East, and cedar kept moths away, and it started to be the wood 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 nature scenes.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

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

“They started dropping out because people weren’t staying home until it was time to get married anymore,” she said.

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