The gown Rosalynn Carter wore to her husband's inauguration took up residence yesterday in the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology in a quiet outdoor ceremony vastly different in tone than the last time it was on public display.
"I feel a sense of history," Mrs. Carter said when making the presentation to the Smithsonian's collection of first ladies' gowns. She previously worn the gown, a blue chiffon with matching embroidered coat, to Jimmy Carter's inauguration as governor of Georgia, and the dress became controversial last year when dress designers were incensed that the first lady would not be wearing a new gown to Carter's presidential inauguration.
That controversy was resurrected briefly yesterday when S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian, asked the 400 spectators at the public ceremony the question President Carter had asked inaugural guests - "How do you like Rosalynn's old dress?" The response was overwhelmingly positive.
Then the party moved inside for cookies, coffee and punch. The guests included Caron Carter, the first lady's daughter-in-law, and Jack Moses, owner of Jasons, the Americus, Ga., dress shop where Mrs. Carter bought the dress seven years ago. The first lady's other daughter-in-law, Annette, snapped pictures of the affair.
Remembering the controversy, the first lady told one woman she wouldn't want to wear it again, in the interests of good relations with the design industry.
But when another woman asked if Mrs. Carter could borrow the dress for some occasion in the future, she said, "I think coming to the Smithsonian is the highest honor the dress could have now."