Piece of the week

The woman behind the dress: Katherine Burgum’s legacy at NDSU

This dress was donated by Katherine Burgum and designed by Vera Maxwell.

This week, we have an exquisite piece donated by Katherine Kilbourne Burgum, an exceptional woman and leader. A newspaper article won’t even begin to describe the plethora of things Katherine did for North Dakota and our university.

Katherine Kilbourne Burgum was a professor, dean, philanthropist, mother and leader who helped NDSU expand into what we know it as today. She was born on February 26, 1915 in Minneapolis, Kansas. She was the youngest of Dr. Burton Kane Kilbourne and Daisy Conwell Kilbourne’s four children.

In 1937, she received her bachelor’s degree from North Dakota Agricultural College in Home Economics, Education, Foods and Nutrition, with a minor in Journalism. In 1939, she received her master’s degree in Home Economics Education and Related Art from Colombia University.

Until her appointment as Dean in 1972, she was active in the March of Dimes, the North Dakota Cancer Society, she conducted research on packing methods for vegetables and seafood and was the editor of NDAC college yearbook where she met Joseph Burgum. She accepted the position of Dean in 1972.

During her years as Dean (1972-1980) she set four goals, which she completed, which were; to upgrade the professional level of the faculty, for the enrollment to grow and stabilize, to build an addition on the college’s building and to get home economics research accepted as part of the NDSU Agricultural Experiment Station. She also led the College of Home Economics in gaining accreditation by the American Home Economics Association.

Her achievements as Dean largely centered on the expansion of the Home Economics building. During the 1970s, she noticed the increase in enrollment, totaling 1,048 students, and the lack of accommodation for the students.

In 1973, the State’s Legislature did not have it in its agenda to procure a new Home Economics building. With her determination and her petitioning, she secured $1,500,000 for the construction of the new home for the Home Economics Departments. The building is connected to the Memorial Union and the Human Development and Education department.

To honor the dedication Katherine had to the university, the building was renamed the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Family Life Center in 1998.

Katherine Kilbourne Burgum died on April 12, 2005 in Fargo, ND at the age of 90. Her legacy continues through her family, with their continuous support and dedication to Fargo and North Dakota State University.

Katherine was a supporter of the Home Economics department, where she donated an abundance of pieces to the Emily Reynolds Costume Collection, such as this dress designed by Vera Maxwell.

The sheath dress she donated is constructed from polyester brocade in gold, red and wine. It has a wine-colored velvet collar, which is extremely beautiful, and wrist-length sleeves that also contain three velvet-covered buttons. Vera Maxwell is another designer of the past that was much spoken about during her prime.

Vera Maxwell was an American designer born on April 22, 1901 in New York, NY. During her career, she was called “the American Chanel” due to her chic styles and her understanding of female life. Vera was one of the first designers to design the practical female war worker jumpsuit during World War II.

She is considered as one of the first designers to create women’s sportswear. Her weekend wardrobe collection was established to give women separate pieces, such as jackets, skirts and trousers to do weekend activities. The goal was for women to participate in their favorite sports, such as riding, and be comfortable while looking stunning.

The dress donated by Katherine was similar to one of Vera’s designs, the speed suit. It was a pull-on dress with a stretch top that would take seconds to slip on. This was one of Vera’s practical dresses for women; she understood that women were not spending as much time getting ready in the mornings.

During her years as a designer, she dressed Pat Nixon, Martha Graham and Lillian Gish. She was good friends with Princess Grace of Monaco, meeting her at the Neiman Marcus Awards in 1955. The two were good friends and would often visit each other.

During her career, she received the Coty American Fashion Criticism Award, the Neiman Marcus Award and was honored with an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Vera was active in the fashion industry from 1930 until 1985, when she retired. After her retirement, she moved to Long Island with her son and her daughter-in-law, where they would often travel during the winters. Vera Maxwell died of illness on January 15, 1995 in Rincon, Puerto Rico.

Vera Maxwell was a pioneer of women’s sportswear, she strived to create clothing that was comfortable and chic.

A designer or a decorated past faculty member, Both of these women’s legacy will live on in their communities.

This dress will be on display on the fourth floor of the FLC until January 10, 2020.

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