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The only surviving judicial robe of the “Great Chief Justice” was recently conserved and will be displayed at the John Marshall House.
RICHMOND, Va. (April 15, 2021) — Through a partnership between Preservation Virginia, The John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, the only surviving judicial robe of Chief Justice John Marshall has been professionally conserved and will be on display for the public.
Marshall served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835, during which time he cemented the position of the modern Supreme Court through the establishment of judicial review. When he was sworn in as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, Marshall chose to wear a plain, black robe, which helped establish the form of attire judges still use today. John Marshall’s robe is the single-most significant artifact from his 34-year tenure as Chief Justice and his defining legacy of establishing the federal judiciary as a constitutional equal of the executive and legislative branches of government.
In the collection of Preservation Virginia, Marshall’s robe was in need of conservation due to acid hydrolysis from the dye and iron mordant used to achieve its deep shade of black. Howard Sutcliffe, principal conservator and director of River Region Costume and Textile Conservation, performed the conservation. Sutcliffe’s previous projects include Tiraz fragments from Medieval Egypt, Tzar Nicholas II’s parade uniform and the original Kermit the Frog puppet.
“The judicial robe of John Marshall is evocative of the incredibly important and complicated story of Marshall’s Court, its influence to interpret the executive, legislative and judicial powers listed in the Constitution and the legacies of those decisions today” said Elizabeth S. Kostelny, Preservation Virginia CEO. “The partnership with the John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture was absolutely critical to realizing the goals of stabilizing and exhibiting the robe.”
“In John Marshall’s robe, we find a symbol that represents what our courts aspire to provide: the neutrality of justice” said Joni Albrecht, acting executive director of the John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics. “We’re thrilled to be a part of this important restoration project, grateful to our generous donors who made it possible and eager to connect the robe’s fascinating history to American lives today.”
“Chief Justice John Marshall was not only one of the most consequential Virginians in the early years of our nation, he was also the founding president of our state history museum in 1831” said Jamie Bosket, President & CEO of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture. “We are thrilled to be a part of this important preservation project and will look forward to displaying this iconic historical artifact when the VMHC’s reimagination and renovation is complete in early 2022.”
The robe will be exhibited in a state-of-the-art display case to help ensure its preservation. Beginning Friday, April 16th, the public can view the robe as part of a new exhibit, “Intended to Endure: the Legacy and Conservation of John Marshall’s Supreme Court Robe” at the John Marshall House in Richmond, one of six historic properties operated by Preservation Virginia. The robe will also be displayed at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture beginning in 2022. The John Marshall House is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through December and is also available by appointment. Tickets and timeslots for interior tours can be reserved online at www.preservationvirginia.org.
About Preservation Virginia
Preservation Virginia is a private, nonprofit organization and statewide historic preservation leader that is dedicated to preserving, promoting and serving as an advocate for Virginia’s cultural and architectural history. Learn more at preservationvirginia.org.
About the John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics
The John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics explores the nation’s constitutional history and connects it to today through civics education programs, engagement opportunities and exchanges about America’s past, present and future. Learn more at johnmarshallcenter.org.
About the Virginia Museum of History & Culture
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture is owned and operated by the Virginia Historical Society — a private, non-profit organization established in 1831. The historical society is the oldest cultural organization in Virginia, and one of the oldest and most distinguished history organizations in the nation. For use in its state history museum and its renowned research library, the historical society cares for a collection of nearly nine million items representing the ever-evolving story of Virginia. Learn more at VirginiaHistory.org.