Baubles and Bling: Holiday Trees Sparkle at Bartow-Pell

Maxine DiCarlo of La Gravinese Jewelers decorated this year’s tree in the front hall with shimmering metallic ribbons, white baubles, tinsel, and strings of luminous crystals. La Gravinese Jewelers has been a family-run business since 1917 when it was founded in Manhattan. In 1964, they opened their first retail store just outside New York City in the village of Pelham.

Sparkling baubles gleam like diamonds and rubies. Treasures from the woods, fields, and shore bring nature’s beauty inside. Handmade ornaments recall a charming childhood Christmas in the Victorian era. Lace adds a touch of delicate luxury. And festive decorations celebrate the many wonders of the Bronx.

Eleven joyful trees brighten the mansion’s period rooms and carriage house this holiday season. The décor’s theme—Baubles and Bling—is a tribute to Bartow-Pell’s monikers #bronxjewel and #hiddentreasure. We are also proud to showcase the exciting talents of our local creative community, whose diverse imaginations—and hard work—have given us not only many visual delights to explore, but also an abundance of holiday spirit.

“Chandelier,” North Parlor, Susan Chesloff and Alison McKay, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Bartow-Pell’s Museum Administrator, Susan Chesloff, and Executive Director, Alison McKay, have designed “Chandelier,” a dazzling evergreen-and-crystal confection in the north parlor that complements the mansion’s magnificent 19th-century chandeliers. The dynamic duo’s inspiration was not just visual. They also looked at the etymology of the word “chandelier” and its origins in French and Latin, ranging from chandelle (candle) to candere (be white, glisten).

“Bronx Gems,” Dining Room, Nicole Perrino, bronxmama.com

The dining-room tree—”Bronx Gems”—was designed by Nicole Perrino, founder of Bronxmamas, a website “that highlights all of the great things for families to enjoy in the Bronx.” This busy mother is the author of “The Unmuted,” a newsletter about happenings in New York City public schools, and she is also involved in the Bronx non-profit Windows of Hip Hop. Nicole’s tree depicts “true Bronx gems—the places, people, and history of the Bronx.” She has a great story to tell about one of the decorations and how it came to be. “One of my ornaments was originally a thermos, but I turned it into a can of spray paint to represent hip hop, since the Bronx is where it all began. Artist Andre Trenier spray-painted the thermos for me, and he and artist Kay Love tagged it up for me. It’s my favorite ornament.” Nicole wrapped gifts with Bronx maps and logos to go under the tree, and she added photographs of some of the borough’s residents to the mantelpiece as a finishing touch.

“Sparkle and Shine,” Downstairs Sitting Room, Athena Kerin, Pelham, New York

Athena Kerin is dedicated to “making the world a brighter place for the next generation” and is the tree decorator of “Sparkle and Shine” in the downstairs sitting room. “Inspired by this year’s theme, Baubles and Bling truly resonated with me,” she reveals. “The appreciation for sparkles and shine allowed me to translate illumination into a Christmas-tree design that guests can enjoy.” And what is the significance of four special figures on Athena’s tree? “The tree-decorating activity also created a unique experience and memories for my family of four, reflected by the only four snowman ornaments.” “May the ‘Sparkle and Shine’ Christmas tree shed light during the Christmas season,” she says radiantly.

Vilma Wiesenmaier of VP Designs, Pelham, New York, created the tree in the Orangerie using handmade lace ornaments, cascading white ribbons, and bunches of red berries.

Handcrafted lace ornaments—made by Vilma Wiesenmaier of Pelham, located just over the New York City line in Westchester County—adorn this year’s tree in the Orangerie. Vilma is the owner and designer of VP Designs, a manufacturer that uses couture laces and trims to create lace products for the home. The company has been in business for forty-two years and supplies Neiman Marcus and high-end linen stores across the country. “I have a love for creating lace masterpieces,” she says. About five years ago, VP Designs started to produce lace ornaments in their “Graced with Lace by Vilmuska” line. “I believe everyone needs beauty in their lives, and every home should be graced with a touch of lace,” which brings “traditional elegance and charm to your home and family gatherings. . . .These cherished luxuries make for memorable moments.”  

Vivette Davis-Scale and Akilia (“Keely”) Scale filled their stunning tree in the Lannuier bedchamber with a dazzling array of white and rose-tinted baubles, ribbons, and lights. A pair of glimmering reindeer add to the magic.

Mother-daughter duo Vivette Davis-Scale and Akilia (“Keely”) Scale (find her on Instagram @allbronxeverything) have teamed up to add some Bronx bling to the Lannuier bedchamber. When asked to decorate one of the mansion’s trees, they were excited and delighted. The result is “Bling,” which honors “the beauty of the borough they love so much.”

“Vintage Treasure, Upstairs Sitting Room, Melissa Mullahey

“Vintage Treasure” in the upstairs sitting room was created by Bronx-born-and-bred artist Melissa Mullahey, a tattoo artist who loves to paint and has worked in Throggs Neck for twenty-six years. Melissa, her family, and her dogs live near Pelham Bay Park, where they “have spent many, many days exploring and enjoying its incredible beauty! It is such a beautiful and big part of my life, that I wanted to incorporate my feelings for the park, as well as the mansion, into my tree,” she says. “The mansion is a hidden treasure that many people still don’t know exists, and when I step through the doors I am taken back in time. It is truly magical. I hand decorated each ornament with materials such as faux pearls, lace, feathers, and chandelier crystals to represent that rich vintage beauty.” She added birds, pine cones, and pink floral bunches “to accent the beautiful pink antique sofa and curtains in the room, while bringing in some nature from the park.” Handmade garlands made of pine cones and pink floral vines adorn the fireplace mantel and desk. And “hints of gold are scattered throughout on mini pinecones and faux grapes to keep the mansion’s glamour intertwined with the nature that surrounds it.”

George Bartow’s Bedchamber, Dr. Maryann Pfeiffer, Pelham, New York,

George was the Bartows’ eldest son, and his bedchamber is decorated with handcrafted ornaments made from recycled and natural materials by Dr. Maryann Pfeiffer, a former board member of the Bartow-Pell Conservancy (and returning tree decorator). “I love creating, and the idea of bling and baubles was interesting, but I wanted to turn it on its head and look at it from another era, specifically the Victorian age,” she explains. Her goal is “to capture the magic of the season through the eyes of a young boy, George.”  Maryanne also wanted her ornaments to “be something a young boy of the era would be able to make,” so she “decorated the tree with branches, pinecones, and ribbons. I created some bling using marbles, wire, and baubles that are handmade. The angels were made from scrap wood and tin cans and are decorated using pyrography (wood burning).” Her hope is that George would be proud of this tree and happy to call it his own.

Theresa Zongrone was inspired by rubies, rubies, rubies when she created this magnificent tree in Clarina Bartow’s bedchamber.

Just like her work, the tree that Bronx artist Lovie Pignata decorated in Bartow-Pell’s carriage house, “#pelhambayparkrocks,” is inspired by the natural beauty of our borough. “Like the many cultures of the Bronx, the shoreline of Pelham Bay Park is full of multifaceted treasures,” she says when describing the idea behind her decorations. “Glacier erratics, quartz, gneiss, mica, marble, and schist are just a few of the natural bling that can be found in Pelham Bay Park.” Lovie’s tree is a collection of images taken in the park over the last several years. She made mirror ornaments using decoupage and acrylic ornaments printed with her photographs. “Shortly before Covid, there was a geology walk scheduled in Pelham Bay Park where I was going to be serving hot chocolate,” she recalls. Although the walk had to be canceled because of the pandemic, she hopes to learn more about the rocks of the park whenever the event is rescheduled.

What baubles and bling can you discover amidst the holiday greenery this year at Bartow-Pell? We hope that you will visit us soon to view these enchanting trees and explore the magic of our #bronxjewel. Many, many thanks to our very talented tree decorators, and happy holidays!

Margaret Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

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Mourning Marietta: A Family Story in Portraiture

Theodore E. Pine (1827–1905). Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan, 1858. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis D. Gregg, 1950. www.metmuseum.org. This portrait is on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell and hangs in the downstairs sitting room.

Mary Jane and Daniel T. MacFarlan sat for this large double portrait about three years after the death of their young daughter Marietta. What is the story behind this handsome couple? And what can the portrait tell us about mourning in the 1850s?

Daniel T. MacFarlan (1828–1897) and Mary Jane Merritt (1829–1905) were married on November 20, 1850, at her parents’ home in Middle Hope, New York, a hamlet on the Hudson River that is part of the town of Newburgh. The young newlyweds set up housekeeping in New York City, where MacFarlan worked as an agent in his father’s real estate office at 180 Tenth Street. Daniel must have had a knack for selling things, because he was also for a time an auctioneer of household goods, with some “auction sales at the residences of families breaking up housekeeping” (New York Herald, May 5, 1855), a role that was probably linked to his work as a real estate agent. While still in his twenties, MacFarlan narrowly lost a hotly contested race for councilman in the 50th district of the 17th ward in 1855. (At that time, New York City’s Common Council consisted of one alderman for each of twenty-two wards, and one councilman for each of sixty districts within the wards.)

Map of part of the village of Yonkers: Showing 72 desirable lots to be sold at auction on Thursday June 9th, 1859, at 12 o’clock at the Getty house, Yonkers, 1859. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library

In 1860, after a decade of city life, Daniel and Mary Jane moved to Yonkers, where MacFarlan joined other new suburbanites on the daily trek into Manhattan, thanks to the expansion of the railroad. The Art Journal of 1861 described this Hudson River commuter town as “a large and rapidly-growing village about four miles below Hastings and seventeen from New York. Its recent growth and prosperity are almost wholly due to the Hudson River Railway, which furnishes such travelling facilities and accommodations, that hundreds of business men in the city of New York have chosen it for their summer residences, and many of them for their permanent dwelling-places.”

Daniel continued to work with his father for a while, but about 1863, he got into the maple syrup and sugar syrup business, working from an office on East Thirteenth Street. This venture, however, seems to have been short-lived, and at some point in the mid-1860s, he embarked on a more prosaic career as a life insurance agent. By 1872, he was a vice president for Asbury Life Insurance Company at 805 Broadway, which was affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church and named after Bishop Francis Asbury, a founder of American Methodism. The MacFarlans were leading members of the First Methodist Church in Yonkers, where the couple and their surviving daughter, Helen, were active in the Sunday school and missionary societies. Daniel was also a “local preacher” (i.e., lay minister) and served as an officer in the National Association.

As a preacher, auctioneer, and candidate for public office, Daniel MacFarlan clearly had a talent for public speaking. He also enjoyed singing and seems to have had a mellifluous voice. “The children were led in singing on this occasion by the Rev. Daniel T. Macfarlan, who for a number of years had charge of the singing of this [Sunday] school and always took a special delight and pains in training the children. He will always be remembered as the sweet singer of the school.” (Church and Sunday-School Work in Yonkers, 1889) Daniel must have enjoyed being around young people, too.

The Daughters of Daniel T. MacFarlan (detail). On July 5, 1856, MacFarlan wrote in his diary, “’Went to Newburgh after breakfast for Mr. Pine the Artist, where I met him and brought him up home to sketch the house (probably the home of his in-laws, the Merritts, in Middle Hope, New York) for the purpose of placing it upon the Children’s portrait.’” (American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Daniel’s wife, Mary Jane, grew up on the Merritt family’s ancestral homestead in Middle Hope, New York, “the place being handsomely fitted up, and being one of the most picturesque and attractive in the town of Newburgh” (History of Orange County, New York, 1881). Her father, Daniel Merritt, was a farmer, who was “closely identified with the progressive and evangelical enterprises of the day.” He was also one of the founding trustees of the Middle Hope Methodist Episcopal Church. According to American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985), the landscape in the background of the Macfarlan portrait is believed to depict this small village on the Hudson River where Mrs. MacFarlan’s family had lived for several generations.

Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan (detail). The Hudson River and the village of Middle Hope
The Middlehope M. E. Church. Illustration from History of the Town of Newburgh by E. M. Ruttenber, 1859. Mrs. MacFarlan’s father, Daniel Merritt, was one of the founders of the Middle Hope Methodist Episcopal Church. The building was dedicated as Asbury Chapel in 1822 and was the only house of worship in the village before 1859. In the MacFarlan portrait, either the artist has embellished the church by adding a steeple or it has been cropped off in this engraving.

Daniel and Mary Jane had two daughters—Helen (1851–1940) and Marietta (1854–1855). The eldest, Helen, continued to live with her parents as an adult and never married. She became a music teacher and lived to the ripe old age of eighty-eight. Marietta died a few days after Christmas on December 29, 1855, of an unknown cause. She is likely the daughter recorded in New York City archives as being born to the MacFarlans on October 5, 1854, which means that she would have been almost 15 months old at the time of her death.

Theodore E. Pine. The Daughters of Daniel T. MacFarlan, 1857. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis D. Gregg, 1950. www.metmuseum.org The elder MacFarlan daughter, Helen, sat for this portrait in June 1856, a few months before her fifth birthday. Sadly, the likeness of her younger sister, Marietta—who had died about six months previously—is posthumous. The children hold roses and forget-me-nots, which are representations of love, innocence, and remembrance. Marietta’s posy includes an unopened rosebud (a well-known symbol of the death of a child), and the trampled rose lying on the ground reminds us of how quickly a young life can end. The dog affectionately places a paw in the toddler’s hand, a sign of faithfulness—even after her death—but his playful posture suggests happier family times. Whether intentional or not, the evergreen trees in the distance recall eternal life.

Daniel and Mary Jane must have been doting parents, since they commissioned a double portrait of their girls from the Manhattan-based artist Theodore Pine (1827–1905) before they asked him to paint their own portrait. Perhaps a sense of urgency after the death of Marietta prompted them to capture their children on canvas as quickly as possible. In any case, affluent nineteenth-century American households were often child-centered, and many families of means hired professional portraitists to immortalize their young offspring. These portraits adorned parlor walls and allowed family members and visitors alike to admire (and—in the sad cases of childhood mortality—remember) the young sitters. (In the same spirit, today’s proud moms and dads snap photos with their cell-phone cameras and post them on social media.)

Daniel MacFarlan wrote in his diary that Helen sat for her portrait in June 1856, according to the Met’s American paintings catalogue, which also surmises that Marietta’s likeness in the double portrait of the girls was based on a bust-length portrait of her painted by Pine from a death mask.

Mourning ensemble, 1857–60. American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Miss Janet K. Smith, 1941. www.metmuseum.org

So, let’s turn back to the portrait of Mr. and Mrs. MacFarlan to learn something about how they mourned the death of their toddler. Despite the smiles on their pleasant faces, several clues tell us that they are still grieving.

Even though it had been three years since the loss of Marietta, Mrs. MacFarlan is still wearing a black dress. Her white lace collar and undersleeves were permitted after the initial stage of deep mourning but before the period when gray, purple, lavender, and white dresses were allowed. Although there were definite rules about what to wear during the different phases of mourning, the length of time one spent in these garments was up to the individual. “There is such a variety of opinion upon the subject of mourning, that it is extremely difficult to lay down any general rules upon the subject. Some wear very close black for a long period for a distant relative; whilst others will wear dressy mourning for a short time in a case of death in the immediate family. There is no rule either for the depth of mourning or the time when it may be laid aside.” (Florence Hartley, Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, 1860) A closer look at the picture reveals that Mrs. MacFarlan has pinned a popular style of mourning brooch—made of plaited hair (probably taken from Marietta) and surrounded by a border of black enamel—to the center of her collar. However, mourning wear for men was much less restrictive, and black coats—like the one seen here on Mr. MacFarlan—were commonly worn, not just for mourning.

Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan (detail). Mrs. MacFarlan’s mourning brooch is made of plaited hair that probably belonged to her daughter Marietta.
Brooch, ca. 1830–40. English or American. Braided hair, glass, pearls, gold, and enamel. Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Georgina and Louisa L. Schuyler. This piece is typical of mid-19th century mourning brooches and is similar to the one worn by Mrs. MacFarlan in her portrait.

Finally, the portrait is sending another message of grief through flowers. Mrs. MacFarlan tenderly holds a white rose, a red rose, and a red rosebud in her left hand. Roses are a longstanding symbol of love and death. Red roses signify love, while white roses represent innocence and purity. In funerary imagery, the unopened rosebud refers to the life of a child before it has had time to blossom, a young life unfulfilled. These references would have been recognized and understood by nineteenth-century viewers. And what is the bereaved mother holding in her right hand? It’s hard to tell, but her fingers rest lightly over her heart.

Memorial to Nicholas M. S. Catlin, ca. 1852. American. Oil on canvas. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. Roses, forget-me-nots, and a plucked flower are among the symbols of love, remembrance, and early death in this memorial to a beloved child, which also includes a weeping willow tree and a funerary plinth. The subject, Nicholas Catlin, died at the age of one year, one month, and fifteen days.

Unhappily, the MacFarlans were joined by many other grief-stricken parents in the days before vaccines and antibiotics. Robert and Maria Bartow also endured the all-too-common heartache of the death of a child when their three-year-old daughter Clarina died on December 18, 1835. More tragedy ensued when their son Robert followed his sister to the grave three days later, one day shy of his first birthday. They were two of the Bartows’ eventual nine children.

Margaret Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan has been on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum from the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1989.

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Behind the Closed Door: Privacy by Design in 19th-Century Houses

Arnold Moses, photographer. Bartow-Pell Mansion, November 17, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. Many of the original doors in Bartow-Pell’s first-floor rooms are made of rosewood and other expensive woods and fitted with fine silver hardware. However, not everyone could afford such an elegant display of wealth and taste. To save money, homeowners often mimicked this fashionable look with faux-grained woods and door knobs made of silvered glass. The niche in Bartow-Pell’s entrance hall once housed a cast-iron stove.

She knocked at the parlor door, “and was answered by a low ‘come in.’ She opened it, entered, and closed it.” (Eliza Meteyard, Mainstone’s Housekeeper, 1864)

Yes, that’s right. Doors—like the one in this novel from the 1860s—were generally kept closed in 19th-century interiors. But that was only part of a broader plan to ensure household privacy through architecture.

Robert Peckham (American, 1785–1877). The Raymond Children, ca. 1838. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1966. In this portrait from about 1838, two children stand in front of a closed parlor door at their home in Royalston, Massachusetts.

As in any era, designs for 19th-century houses responded to the lifestyles of the period. This was a time when middle- and upper-class households included not only family members, but also the servants who cooked their food, emptied their chamber pots, cared for their children, and groomed their horses. Employers and servants, adults and children, and women and men often moved in separate spheres, and it was important to preserve authority, domestic hierarchy, and the integrity of the family circle. Privacy, comfort, convenience, and efficient traffic flow needed to be taken into account. Physical dividers and other design elements—such as doors, corridors, staircases, and floor plans—were used to control and separate various spaces within the house and dictate how they were used, when, and by whom.

Let’s start with doors. Most rooms had multiple entries, which allowed for good flexibility and control over the space. Some doors opened into corridors; others connected to adjacent rooms. Closed doors signified exclusion. Open doors were useful for social events in formal spaces (especially the popular pocket—or sliding doors—of the period) or between family bedchambers when privacy was not required. Closed doors increased heat retention from fireplaces and stoves in cold months. Open doors created cross breezes in the summer.

Corridors and staircases were like public roads within the house. The idea of corridors as pedestrian streets is brought to life by a former student at the Pelham Priory school for girls, which operated from the late 1830s to 1882. Emily Earle Lindsley reminisced in 1933: “The long hall on the second story was named ‘Broadway’ and that on the third floor, ‘Fifth Avenue.’ Quaint, meticulous Miss Allen, the housekeeper, occupied a room, the short entrance to which was known as ‘Maiden Lane.’” (Christ Church at Pelham: 1843–1943)

Robert S. Burton. First Floor Plan, Bartow-Pell Mansion, 1986. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. The main floor of the Bartow mansion is arranged in two parallel enfilades. Multiple doors offer both flexibility and control in these spaces.

The Bartow mansion (built 1836–42) is a good example of how doors, corridors, and floor plans were designed to safeguard the family’s private life while allowing open access to public spaces within the house, if desired.

On the first floor, the main block has both public and semi-public rooms: the entrance hall, double parlors, dining room, and sitting room. Two Palladian-style wings housed kitchen and work areas on the north side, and what we believe was Robert Bartow’s library and office—and an adjoining conservatory—on the south side.

Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1757–1827). Disappointed Epicures, 1809. Hand-colored etching. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959. Servants often had to move in and out of closed doors while waiting at table. The hungry gourmands in this humorous scene are infuriated when two footmen in the half-open door are tripped by a dog, which causes the tureen and a platter full of food to crash to the floor, ruining their much-anticipated dinner.
Arnold Moses, photographer. Entry hall, Bartow-Pell Mansion, November 17, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

The entrance hall provides access to the rest of the house through a series of doors and a couple of staircases. All of these doors would have regularly been kept closed in order to define the boundaries of this very public area; however, they could also be opened up for receptions and evening parties or to enhance air flow. Just inside the front door, a discreet set of stairs—with a handsome newel post—is located under the principal staircase, giving the servants a direct route from the basement to greet visitors. The more elaborate main staircase gives access to bedchambers and to other private spaces on the upper floors.

Bartow-Pell’s double parlors are part of an enfilade on the mansion’s first floor. Photo by Richard Warren

A sense of spacious grandeur is achieved through the use of enfilades. This architectural device—which derives from European palaces—employs a series of interconnecting rooms aligned on a straight axis to create superb views through rooms when doors are left open. The aim was not only to impress but also to create flexible spaces. One of the Bartow enfilades even extends to the conservatory. The great English landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752–1818) describes a similar design in Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816). “These rooms have been opened into each other, en suite, by large folding doors; and the effect of this enfilade, or vista, through a modern house, is occasionally increased by a conservatory at one end.”

Wilhelm Bendz (Danish, 1804–1832). The Waagepetersen Family, 1830. Oil on canvas. Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark), Copenhagen. This domestic scene depicts a well-to-do Danish businessman at home as he takes a break from his deskwork to greet his wife and children. Robert Bartow’s house had a similar business room with a connecting door to what was presumably Mrs. Bartow’s downstairs sitting room or morning room.
Bartow mansion, 1905. New York Public Library (left). Bartow mansion, ca. 1870. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum (right). The exterior door to what was likely Robert Bartow’s business room and library no longer exists, but it is visible just to the right of the main block of the house in this view from 1905. The fireplace in this room was probably removed in 1915 during renovations by Delano & Aldrich, but the chimney—which had already been taken down—is clearly present in earlier photographs, such as this one taken in 1870.

Robert Bartow probably managed the family’s 233-acre estate and took care of his business affairs in the south wing of the house. In 1864, the British architect Robert Kerr (1823–1904)—who had briefly practiced architecture in New York City in the 1840s—published The Gentleman’s House, or How to Plan English Residences. This comprehensive tome includes the author’s views on a “gentleman’s-room or business-room.” He writes that “in a good house there will be a special entrance made. The purpose is to admit the tenants, tradesmen, and other persons on business as directly as possible to the room in question and to no other part of the house. . . . The most eligible position will consequently be at what may be called the separating point between the main house and the offices.” An exterior door was originally in this exact position in Robert Bartow’s presumed “business-room.” In addition, as a gentleman and a former publisher of high-quality editions of British poetry and other works, Bartow may have used the south wing as his library.

Auguste Edouart (French, 1789–1861). The Magic Lantern, ca. 1835. Cut paper and wash. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Mary Martin, 1938. A servant peeks through the drawing-room door as he joins other members of the household—a couple and their children, a nursemaid with the baby, a grandmother, and even the family dog—for a magic-lantern show.

The unknown architect or builder of the Bartow mansion probably designed the house—which took six years to complete—with a great deal of input from his clients. Both architect and patron apparently had convenience and practicality in mind when planning the mansion’s work areas. The unrestored semi-basement retains most of its original layout. Windows provide ventilation and doors lead to the outside. Rooms were clearly defined for various purposes—such as cooking, baking, laundry, storage, and a servants’ dining hall—and a central corridor accommodated servant traffic. There are two staircases from the basement. One leads to the first-floor service wing (where there were additional food prep areas, pantries, and perhaps a scullery) and continues to the second floor; another staircase connects to the entrance hall and nearby dining room. It is clear that these service spaces allowed people to do their work efficiently, albeit within highly controlled areas. Robert Kerr reminds readers “that the servants’ department shall be separated from the main house, so that what passes on either side of the boundary shall be both invisible and inaudible on the other.” In the rest of the house, doors and corridors limited servants’ movements.

An upstairs room at Bartow-Pell is currently interpreted as a sitting room, although perhaps it was once a bedchamber. (Note the room’s similarity to the depiction of the Trimble family’s parlor in Edouart’s silhouette from 1842, the same year that the Bartow mansion was completed.) There are five doors in this room—two are off the central corridor; one connects to the backstairs corridor and the children’s suite; one leads to a dressing room and another bedchamber; and the last one currently opens to a closet.
Auguste Edouart. The Trimble Family, New York, 1842. Cut paper and ink. Winterthur Museum, Gift of Henry Francis du Pont

On the second floor, a central corridor is lined with doors to the four principal bedchambers (one of which might have been a sitting room). The corridor doors would have been kept closed. Let’s also remember that, like most houses built during the first half of the 19th century, the Bartow mansion did not have indoor plumbing, so bedchambers doubled as bathrooms. The three chambers facing Long Island Sound have interconnecting interior doors so that the family did not have to enter the public corridor to go between rooms. (One would not want to suddenly cross paths with a maid and vice versa!) Robert Kerr sums it up like this: “In short, whether in a small house or a large one, let the family have free passage without encountering the servants unexpectedly, and let the servants have access to all their duties without coming unexpectedly upon the family or visitors. On both sides this privacy is highly valued.” A fourth chamber on the other side of the hall is completely independent. Today it is interpreted as the bedchamber of the Bartows’ adult son George, but was it a guest room at one time?

James E. Cook. Testimony in the Great Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case, ca. 1875. Lithograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton’s affair shocked Americans and resulted in a lurid trial in 1875. Beecher was the famously flamboyant Brooklyn minister whose sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Locks on the doors of bedchambers, parlors, and other rooms—although not always used—offered privacy, security, and sometimes, secrecy. In the late 1860s, Henry Ward Beecher, the charismatic pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, began a scandalous extramarital affair with Elizabeth Tilton, a parishioner and the wife of his good friend Theodore Tilton. A famous trial ensued in which Beecher was charged with adultery, and the press breathlessly followed every detail. On July 22, 1874, the New York Herald reported that “Mr. Tilton, after leaving his house in the early morning, returned to it in the forenoon, and on going to his bedchamber, found the door locked, and when, on knocking, the door was opened by Mrs. Tilton, Mr. Beecher was seen within, apparently much confused and exhibiting a flushed face.”

Dominic W. Boudet (d. 1845). The Bowie Children, 1812–15. Oil on canvas. Winterthur Museum, Gift of Katharine Gahagan, Michael H. du Pont, and Christopher T. du Pont in memory of A. Felix du Pont Jr. This scene helps us to imagine the Bartows’ school-age children—four boys and three girls—who were taught at home by a tutor and a governess for at least some of their childhood.

The children’s suite—which is on the second floor above the kitchens—is separated from the principal bedchambers by a small corridor at the back staircase. (This staircase was probably used by the children as well as the servants.) And, indeed, Robert Kerr tells us that “The most usual position for nurseries in an average house is at that point where the family sleeping-rooms and the servants’ rooms meet at the back staircase.” In the Bartow mansion, two sets of doors between the main block and the children’s quarters gave Mrs. Bartow quick access to her small children, even though a servant probably slept in the nursery. The suite has four small rooms that flow one into the other around what was once the schoolroom (with its marble fireplace). The supervision of children meant that privacy was less important in this area, which probably explains why there are no corridors.

Robert Peckham. The Hobby Horse, ca. 1840. Oil on canvas. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. Several clues in this portrait suggest that the children have just returned home from an outing. The door to the hall has been left ajar, a cap has been carelessly tossed atop the base of the hobby horse, and the little girl is still holding her bonnet.
Arnold Moses, photographer. Bartow-Pell Mansion, second-floor landing and stairs to the third-floor attic, November 17, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. This flight of stairs is the only way to reach to the third-floor servants’ quarters.

What did privacy mean for servants? Robert Kerr says, “The family constitute one community; the servants another. Whatever may be their mutual regard and confidence as dwellers under the same roof, each class is entitled to shut its door upon the other, and be alone.” Some of the Bartows’ female (and mostly Irish) servants slept in the third-floor attic. In Rural Homes, or Sketches of Houses Suited to American Country Life (1851), the architect Gervase Wheeler writes: “In the roof over the main part of the house, an additional sleeping-room, or even two or three, might be contrived for servants.” Although the women had this floor to themselves, there was very little (if any) privacy in the large dormitory-like space.

Strangely, there are no back stairs to the third-floor servants’ quarters, and the only way to get there is to take the main staircase from the second-floor landing. Was this simply because the back stairs are located in the north wing, which is only two stories high? Then again, why would Mr. and Mrs. Bartow want the chambermaid and laundress making their way to bed through the family corridor? Was this was the Bartows’ way of keeping a suspicious eye (and ear) on their employees to make sure that they were not sneaking upstairs during work hours? High turnover among the Irish meant that employers often viewed servants with distrust. In June 1864, the author of “Your Humble Servant” (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine) grumbled, “She gives short or often no notice at all. . . . The household is the scene of a perpetual revolution. Today, there is a change of dynasty in the kitchen, tomorrow in the chamber or nursery. Domestic anarchy and confusion are the inevitable consequences.”

Yesterday it was closed doors. Today it is open plan. And tomorrow?

Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian

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Zelia Hoffman Does It Again: Untold Stories of the 1916 Flower Show at Bartow

Why is a long-forgotten flower show still relevant over one hundred years later? And why was a woman named Zelia Hoffman once a galvanizing force in the gardening world? A little digging into the past reveals some answers.

Sydney Percy Kendrick (British, 1874–1955). Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman (detail), ca. 1930. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Aymar Johnson, 1978.02. Zelia Hoffman founded the International Garden Club (IGC) in 1914. The organization accomplished an astonishing amount of work in the few short years of her leadership, including the restoration of the old Bartow mansion and the creation of a formal garden by the firm of Delano & Aldrich (1915); a June flower show (1916); plans for an extensive rose garden designed by Delano & Aldrich (1917); publication of a horticultural journal (1917–19); and setting up a dairy to provide fresh farm milk to children living in poverty during the First World War (1918). Following her husband’s death in 1919, Zelia—an ardent anglophile—moved permanently to England.

On a wintry day in February 1916, Zelia Hoffman (1867–1929), President of the International Garden Club, hosted a meeting to discuss plans for a summer flower show to be held on the grounds of the garden club’s headquarters at the historic Bartow mansion in Pelham Bay Park. The group gathered at 620 Fifth Avenue in New York City, the elegant townhouse between 49th and 50th Streets that was designed by Carrère & Hastings in 1903 for Zelia and her husband, Charles Frederick Hoffman, on the site of today’s Rockefeller Center. As committee members arrived, Mrs. Hoffman’s butler would have taken their coats (probably highly fashionable furs, for the ladies) and then ushered them into either the reception room or the library. Both rooms had a view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the corner and faced the stately Buckingham Hotel across the street, a luxury residence for wealthy families that was demolished in the 1920s to make way for the new Saks department store. The month had gotten off to a snowy start, and the mere thought of roses, irises, and peonies must have been a welcome antidote to the winter doldrums for these well-heeled garden lovers.

Carrère & Hastings, house of Zelia and Charles F. Hoffman, 620 Fifth Avenue, New York City, 1903. Illustrated in House and Garden, November 1903. The Cole-Haan store at Rockefeller Center now stands on or near the former site of the Hoffman house. The 1910 census enumerates ten servants in the household—from Scandinavia, Ireland, and francophone Switzerland—including three butlers, two laundresses, several maids, and a French-speaking governess. By 1922, the neighborhood, with “its aristocratic home-like atmosphere,” was changing rapidly, according to an article about the demolition of the Buckingham Hotel, which was across the street from the Hoffman house. “With the advent a few years ago of the big department stores north of Thirty-fourth Street and the small store invasion above Forty-second Street, it became apparent that the avenue south of Fifty-seventh Street was destined for commercial uses.” (New York Times, July 30, 1922)
Mrs. E. H. Harriman, March 7, 1927. Bain News Service, Library of Congress. Mary Williamson Averell Harriman (1851–1932) was the widow of the railroad tycoon Edward Henry Harriman (1848–1909). “The inauguration of this Summer show is due primarily to the president, Mrs. Chas. F. Hoffman, actively supported by Mrs. E. H. Harriman, Mrs. H. de Berkeley Parsons, Dr. Geo. Norton Miller, and others who take a leading part in the club’s affairs.” (Excerpt from the Florist’s Exchange, June 10, 1916, in the IGC Journal, August 1917)
Charles H. Totty, Wallace R. Pierson, and F. R. Pierson were among the well-known figures in horticultural circles who served as members of the IGC flower show’s scheduling committee. Photos from The American Florist, December 30, 1922

When the flower-show organizers met at Mrs. Hoffman’s house on that cold February day, “a schedule committee was appointed which got to work at once” (IGC Journal, 1917). Eighteen horticultural experts and professionals sat on the committee, and their schedule was “afterward adopted by the members of the International Garden Club at a meeting held at the Biltmore Hotel during the time of the New York Spring flower show [i.e., the International Flower Show].”

Grand Central Palace, ca. 1916. Postcard. Avery Classics, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. The Grand Central Palace—an imposing exhibition hall on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central Terminal that was demolished in the 1960s—was the site of the International Flower Show, which “attracts all classes of people, from the woman whose garden is a small window box to the wealthy country gentleman who collects rare orchids for his conservatory.” “More than 25,000 different varieties of flowers will be shown, and the exhibits will cover 80,000 square feet of floor space.” (New York Times, April 2, 1916)
Exhibition hall, Grand Central Palace. Architecture and Building, July 1911. This was the main exhibition hall of the International Flower Show. In 1914, the New York Times described that year’s event, which was attended by nearly 100,000 people. “The marble walls and columns of the hall are green with creepers and all around are banked masses of foliage and blossoms. Clipped yews and box for the formal garden, great banks of roses, azaleas with a thousand blossoms in a single clump, fields of tall lilies, masses of ferns, palm trees towering to the parapet of the mezzanine, trees full of orchids—all these and more have been brought to the Grand Central Palace.”
Marie Louise Rodewald, “waitress” at the International Flower Show, Grand Central Palace, April 1916. Bain News Service, Library of Congress. Proceeds from the tea garden benefited the Red Cross and other war relief organizations. About 150 members of the Junior League served as waitresses.
Publicity poster for the International Flower Show, 1915. The New York Public Library

The International Flower Show was a huge weeklong exhibition at the now-demolished Grand Central Palace on Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets. By 1916, this fairly new event, with elaborate exhibits in a grandiose space, had become an annual highlight not only for commercial and private gardeners but also for the public, and it would have been a must-see for IGC members. On February 21, 1916, a New York Times writer proclaimed in “Plan Flower Show to Beat the World” that it “will be the greatest show that this country or probably the world has ever known.” The prize money that year was more than $16,000 (in contrast, the IGC only offered about $2,500 in prizes for its fledgling show a couple of months later).

The Horticultural Society of New York and the New York Florists’ Club ran the International Flower Show, which was managed for many years by the English-born horticulturalist Arthur Herrington (1866–1950). In 1916, Zelia Hoffman and the IGC also hired Herrington—who had previously overseen the planting of the IGC’s formal garden at Bartow—as the secretary-manager of their upcoming show. (He was later put in charge of implementing Delano & Aldrich’s designs for the club’s rose garden, which was never realized because of America’s entry into the First World War.)

Frances Benjamin Johnston and Mattie Edwards Hewitt. Terrace Fountain, Bartow Mansion, International Garden Club, fall 1915. Hand-colored glass-lantern slide. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Arthur Herrington supervised the planting of Bartow-Pell’s formal garden in 1915.

The Biltmore Hotel—where the IGC met to finalize plans for their June flower show—had opened its doors on New Year’s Eve in 1913 at a cost of $10 million dollars. Spanning the entire block between Vanderbilt and Madison Avenues and 43rd and 44th Streets, the hotel was designed by Warren & Wetmore, who were also the architects of Grand Central Terminal and the Grand Central Palace. It had one thousand bedrooms, a number of dining areas, a grand ballroom, and a variety of other high-end amenities. (The famous clock that hung at the entrance to the Palm Court was a legendary meeting spot.) The Biltmore was also a popular place for large gatherings, and its location near the spring flower show made it the ideal site for the IGC to conduct their business in April 1916.

Biltmore Hotel, New York City. The New York Public Library. The now-demolished Biltmore—which was designed by Warren & Wetmore as part of the Grand Central Terminal complex—opened its doors in 1913. This was where Dr. George Norton Miller presided over a meeting of the International Garden Club in April 1916.

Although Zelia Hoffman and the IGC were inspired by the International Flower Show, they could not compete with the enormous scale of that event in size, prize money, and showmanship. So how could the club create a smaller show that was special enough to attract a large number of visitors? A fresh angle was needed, and the pastoral grounds of the new waterfront headquarters in the Bronx provided the perfect setting for what the IGC claimed would be “the first out-door flower show held in the vicinity of New York.” In addition, the location of the Bartow mansion—which was near the Westchester County line—made the show easily accessible to amateur gardeners in the ever-expanding suburbs north of New York City. Finally, the IGC Journal discloses that the idea for a show en plein air had been influenced by English precedents. “The inauguration of open air flower shows in New York is an enterprise well worthwhile, and . . . ultimately they may be made as delightful an outdoor recreation as they have been for years in England.”

June flower show at Bartow, June 1–4, 1916. Journal of the International Garden Club, August 1917

The weather was glorious for the garden club’s show, which was held in tents on the front lawn during the weekend of June 1–4, 1916. “The grounds around the mansion were most delightful in the first green flush of the early summer, all so fresh and beautiful,” enthused the Florist’s Exchange. Judge Alton B. Parker (1852–1926)—a former Democratic nominee for president who had lost the 1904 election to Theodore Roosevelt—declared the show open and announced that Mrs. Frank Sullivan Smith (née Clara A. H. Higgins) had donated $5,000 for evergreens to be planted on the Bartow estate as a memorial to her late brother, Francis W. Higgins, the former governor of New York. (Mrs. Smith, a suffragist who lived at the Plaza Hotel, had recently been a delegate at a large women’s conference, where she spoke passionately against bias toward recent immigrants.)

Rhododendrons, flowering trees and shrubs, hydrangeas, ferns, water plants, conifers, orchids, roses, cut flowers, rock gardens, and more were among the thirty-eight categories that were eligible for cash prizes donated by IGC members. The club also awarded Certificates of Merit for exhibits of flowers, photographs, and educational materials to a number of garden clubs—including those from Greenwich, Rye, New Rochelle, Bedford, Flushing, and Somerset Hills (New Jersey)—and to organizations such as the International Children’s School Farm League, the Women’s National Agricultural and Horticultural Association, and to the Boy Scouts for taking tickets. The four-day event featured lectures and demonstrations, as well as Morris dancing presented by the folk-dance scholar, educator, and author Caroline Crawford.

Was the IGC’s flower show a success? The New Country Life reported that the “somewhat remote location failed to attract the attention of the public that its merits deserved,” and Zelia Hoffman noted that “the show was not well advertised (IGC Journal, 1917). Even though the inaugural event was somewhat disappointing, the organizers still felt encouraged and discussed ways to improve timing, publicity, and other logistics. However, they ultimately decided not to repeat the show, probably because of the First World War, competition from other flower shows and garden clubs, and Zelia’s move to England in 1919.

Although the IGC flower show of 1916 may be lost in time and the International Garden Club no longer exists, Zelia Hoffman’s legacy lives on in Bartow-Pell’s beautiful gardens, grounds, and historic buildings. Today, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the Bartow-Pell Conservancy maintain this special place for everyone to enjoy.

Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian

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Miss Lorillard’s Wedding in 1827: Did the Bride Wear White?

Wedding Dress. Fashion plate from The Repository of Arts (London), January 1, 1827. Published by Rudolph Ackermann (1764–1834). “Frock of Urling’s [a British lace manufacturer] sprigged lace, of a very elegant Brussels pattern . . . Broad white satin sash with bows on the right side; white satin slip with a wadded hem at the bottom. The hair is parted in front, and has three very large curls on the left side; above are bows of white satin and crêpe-lisse [very thin, smooth silk]; sprigs of myrtle and two full-blown white roses adorn the right side. The necklace consists of three rows of pearl, clasped in front by a brilliant gem; long pearl ear-rings. . . .White kid gloves; white satin shoes.”

Maria Rosina Lorillard (1800–1880) was a wealthy twenty-six-year-old when she married Robert Bartow (1792–1868) in New York City on March 20, 1827. Did the bride wear white? This might seem like a silly question today, but as fashion historians know, wedding dresses have not always been made in shades of snow, alabaster, pearls, or lilies.

White did not become a popular choice for bridal fashions until the 19th century, and even then, the trend took a while to develop. It is often said that Queen Victoria started the tradition in 1840 when she married Prince Albert in a dress made of creamy white satin and Honiton lace. (Honiton is a small town in Devon and a well-known English lacemaking center.) This is something of a myth, however, as the young monarch was not the first to don a milky shade for her nuptials. In fact, some affluent brides had chosen to dress in white since the beginning of the 19th century in Britain, France, and the United States. These pallid bridal styles—worn by young women who had the means to buy expensive garments made in a color that required a great deal of care—appeared in influential fashion magazines of the period. Surviving examples of white wedding dresses from the first few decades of the 19th century can also be seen today in museum collections. On the other hand, many wives-to-be—especially those on smaller budgets—simply donned their best dress (preferably new), whatever the color. But from about the mid-19th century—when clothing became less expensive, thanks to the widespread availability of sewing machines and other new technologies—middle-class brides could better afford to follow Queen Victoria’s example and wed in a white gown.

Wedding dress, ca. 1827. American (Pennsylvania). Silk satin. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Gift of the Lamont, Rosenthal, Sullivan, and Walker Families. www.mfa.org. Nineteenth-century brides did not always wear white; garments like this light-brown silk satin dress could easily be worn for other occasions after the wedding.
Wedding dress worn by Sarah Tyng Smith (1740–1827) on February 23, 1763, at her marriage to Richard Codman (1729–1793) in Portland, Maine. American, made from English fabric. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Gift of Miss Florence Codman and Dr. Charles Austin Eager Codman. www.mfa.org

Although it was not the norm, white was worn even earlier by some aristocratic and royal brides. Occasional references to such ensembles (sometimes combining white with silver or gold) can be found as early as the late Middle Ages, when Princess Philippa of England wore white satin trimmed with velvet, miniver (squirrel fur), and ermine for her wedding to the Scandinavian ruler Eric of Pomerania in 1406. Mary, Queen of Scots, also dressed in white when she wed the Dauphin of France in 1558 at the cathedral of Notre-Dame. By the mid- to late 18th century, however, the custom appears to have expanded beyond the nobility, according to Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy The Good-Natur’d Man (1768): “I wish you could take the white and silver to be married in. It’s the worst luck in the world in any thing but white. I knew one Bett Stubbs, of our town, that was married in red, and, as sure as eggs is eggs, the bridegroom and she had a miff before morning,” frets one character superstitiously. Marie Antoinette, Josephine Bonaparte, and others helped to popularize a general trend for white dresses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and it is not surprising that this fashion for snowy colors extended to bridal wear. In addition, it is well known that white is a symbol of purity.

Cephas Thompson (American, 1775–1856). Mrs. Cephas Thompson (Olivia Leonard), ca. 1810–20. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Madeleine T. Edmonds, 1985. www.metmuseum.org. Simple high-waisted neoclassical dresses, like the one worn here by the artist’s wife in the early 19th century, were replaced by flamboyant Romantic fashions in the 1820s.

Neoclassicism was popular in the Western world across the decorative arts during the early 19th century, and women wore columnar Grecian-style gowns that were inspired by classical antiquity. But society was ready for a change. Romanticism—which, like Neoclassicism, had 18th-century roots—embraced emotion, imagination, nature, and fantasies of the historical past and reacted against classicism’s precepts of order, harmony, and rationality. As the movement gained momentum, women’s clothing responded with exuberant Romantic styles. During the 1820s, women’s fashions steadily evolved as waistlines dropped, sleeves became larger, sleeve plumpers exaggerated shoulders, and skirts grew wider. Tightly laced corsets cinched waists. Elaborate rows of trim or flounces bordered full hems, which rose to the ankle at the end of the 1820s. Flamboyant hairstyles—as well as extravagant bonnets and other headgear—complemented the fashionable woman’s dramatic silhouette.

Wedding dress, 1824. American. Silk. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the Jason and Peggy Westerfield Collection, 1969. www.metmuseum.org. This fashionable wedding dress from the mid-1820s was worn by a bride who followed the latest trends from Paris, including long sleeves with a short puff at the top and elaborate, fanciful trim on the hem, sleeves, and bodice.
Robe de satin ornée de rouleaux et d’un bouillon de tulle (Satin dress adorned with rolled trim and a puff of tulle). Fashion plate from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, March 10, 1824. Bibliothèque National de France. The dress depicted in this French engraving from 1824 is similar to the American example pictured above from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. The deep fabric trim on these garments creates a striking sculptural effect.
Pair of Woman’s Sleeve Plumpers, 1830–35. England. Linen plain weave with down fill. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by Suzanne A. Saperstein and Michael and Ellen Michelson, with additional funding from the Costume Council, the Edgerton Foundation, Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer, Maureen H. Shapiro, Grace Tsao, and Lenore and Richard Wayne

The Lorillards—like the Bartows—descended from French Huguenots. As the granddaughter of Pierre Lorillard (1742–1776), Maria (pronounced “Mariah”) was one of the heirs to his descendants’ formidable tobacco fortune and a member of one of New York City’s elite families. Her father, Blasius (or Blaze) Lorillard (1769–1802) died when Maria was a toddler; her upbringing is a mystery, and the fate of her mother, Maria Leinau, is unknown. Research has not yet revealed the financial provisions made for Maria by her parents; however, in the 1830s, she inherited a large sum of money from her bachelor uncle George Lorillard.

Coeffure [coiffure] de mariée (Hairstyle for a bride). Fashion plate from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, July 10, 1826. Bibliothèque National de France. This bride wears a lace wedding veil and orange blossoms, and her hair is styled in large loops on top of her head. The hem of her high-style tulle dress is decorated with tuberoses and deeply puffed scrolls.

We do not know what Maria wore for her wedding to Robert Bartow in 1827, but she would have had access to a dazzling array of fine bridal fabrics in city shops, and as a well-heeled New Yorker, she would have been able to employ the services of a highly skilled dressmaker. In addition, the bride-to-be probably consulted the latest magazines before deciding what to wear on the big day. French periodicals—such as Pierre de la Mésangère’s Le Journal des Dames et des Modes—dictated the newest styles. Paris fashions were closely followed and copied by British magazines, such as Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts and La Belle Assemblée. The narrator of “The Last Day of the Last Year,” which appeared in the Repository on May 1, 1827, describes the influence of London fashions in the provinces. “The arrival of a belle from London, duly announced, was an event of some importance; we were on the look-out for a fresh supply of fashion and new patterns of every thing wearable (for, notwithstanding the laudable efforts of the Repository and La Belle Assemblée to simplify the mysteries of the newest modes by coloured engravings and notes explanatory, there is nothing like a real well-dressed belle to assist the dull apprehensions of us country women).” Here, we could just as well substitute “American” for “country.” And indeed, American women were familiar with publications such as these, which were available in the United States. In 1827, for example, Ackermann’s Repository offered free postage to New York, and in that same year, the Boston Atheneum had thirty-two volumes of it in their library. Le Journal des Dames charged 50 centimes extra for each three-month period of foreign subscriptions, and Anne-Marie Kleinert writes in Le Journal des Dames et des Modes: ou la conquête de l’Europe feminine (1797–1839) that the magazine was read in Boston and Philadelphia. In addition, American women traveling or living abroad would have enjoyed poring over hot-off-the-press fashion plates and writing home about them, as well as buying stylish new clothes in Paris and London.

Wedding dress, 1826. American. Cotton. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. Henry S. Hendricks, 1953. www.metmuseum.org. Wealthy brides often wore white satin, tulle, and lace in the 1820s, but surviving wedding dresses made of cotton muslin suggest that middle-class women of the period sometimes wore white for their nuptials, too.

White bridal dresses in the 1820s were often made of sumptuous fabrics, especially satin, tulle, silk, and lace such as Brussels, Honiton, and blonde (a fine silk lace). However, some cotton muslin dresses can be found in museum collections, indicating that the nuptial fashion for white was not strictly limited to the wealthy. Lace veils, orange-blossom wreaths, and other flowers adorned bridal heads, which were coiffed in curls and high chignons. Jewelry made of pearls and gems, white satin shoes, and white kid gloves completed costly wedding ensembles.

Many women, of course, did not marry in white but in a range of colors, which enabled them to continue wearing their wedding dress for other occasions (and making alterations if needed). White, however, could also be worn again. For instance, on March 20, 1827 (which just happened to be the day of Maria Lorillard’s wedding), a fashion plate depicting a “costume de mariée au bal” (bridal ensemble for a ball) appeared in Le Journal des Dames et des Modes. The month before, in February 1827, La Belle Assemblée had some advice for women who had recently married. “The most elegant dress for a bride to wear on her first appearance in public is a gown of white gros de Naples [a sturdy ribbed silk fabric], ornamented at the border with three rows of embroidery in white floize silk.” And in anticipation of a dinner party invitation, a newlywed in Catherine Gore’s novel The Sketchbook of Fashion (1833) was “determined to make her début on the occasion in her wedding dress of Urling’s lace with her new set of pearls.”

Costume de mariée au bal (Bridal ensemble for a ball). Fashion plate from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, March 20, 1827. Bibliothèque National de France. This engraving was published in Paris on the day of Maria Lorillard’s wedding to Robert Bartow. It depicts a bridal dress made of tulle and satin, and the title indicates that this frock could also be worn to a ball. The bride’s hairstyle is adorned with ribbons and traditional orange blossoms. Wide shoulders, a tiny waist, three-dimensional hem decoration, and a short hemline above the ankle were the height of Parisian fashion in 1827. The hem appears to be weighted.

“The Rival Belles,” a short story published on August 1, 1829, in the New-York Mirror and Ladies’ Literary Gazette (the same periodical that announced the Lorillard-Bartow marriage), describes a society wedding of the period. “The company were all assembled at Mr. Singleton’s at eight o’clock. The bride, attired in lace and white satin, sat in her dressing-room with her mother, waiting the arrival of the clergyman. In another apartment were assembled the twelve bridesmaids, beautifully arrayed in crêpe-lisse over satin; the groom and groomsmen were there also, in their new blue coats lined with white silk. . . . The arrival of the clergyman was now the signal for summoning the bride. Augustus met her at the foot of the stairs. She accepted his arm with the charmingly timid air and downcast eyes, proper for the occasion. The groomsmen and bridesmaids followed arm-in-arm. They entered the drawing-room, took their appointed places, and the ceremony commenced.” This description from the late 1820s helps us to imagine the wedding of Maria Lorillard and Robert Bartow, which was officiated by the Reverend Dr. James Milnor (1773–1845). He was the rector of St. George’s (Episcopal) Church, then located on Beekman Street. Robert Bartow lived a few doors down and was a parishioner, as were a number of other members of the Bartow family and the bride’s uncle Jacob Lorillard, who was once a member of the vestry. It is unknown whether Dr. Milnor led the ceremony at the church or at someone’s residence. However, it is very possible that the bride and groom followed the common 19th-century practice of a home wedding, which was usually held at eight o’clock in the evening. A wedding cake—typically a rich, iced fruitcake—would have been served along with other food and drink.

Maria Lorillard Bartow became the mother of nine children. She and her husband were married for forty-one years until his death in 1868. She died almost twelve years later in 1880 at the age of seventy-nine. The generous inheritance she had received from her uncle remained under her control throughout her married life, which gave her more independence than most 19th-century women. The Bartow mansion—built largely with her money and completed in 1842—was Mrs. Bartow’s home for almost forty years.

Every March, we celebrate the Bartows’ wedding anniversary and Women’s History Month. This year, we look back to what must have been a joyful day in the life of Maria Lorillard Bartow, a (likely) vision in white.

Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian

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The Wigwam at Bartow-Pell: A Living History for Students

The wigwam (left), replica of a Lenape family home, and the Bartow mansion (right), home to Pell descendent Robert Bartow, his wife, Maria, and their children

In 2002, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum was preparing to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the signing of a treaty on June 27, 1654, by Thomas Pell, his associates, and Lenape sachems. This treaty signified the transfer of land, which included what today is known as the Bronx and parts of Westchester, from the Lenape to Mr. Pell. And the place where the treaty was signed was believed to be very close to the main building, south of the driveway.

The location of the wigwam is shown on this site map of Bartow-Pell.

Pat Ernest, who was then Director of Education at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, knew that few Europeans at that time were aware of the culture of the Lenape, even though they had lived on this land for thousands of years. After a great deal of research, she created a program for visiting school groups entitled “The Original Bronx Natives,” the centerpiece of which would be a wigwam constructed near the place where the treaty was thought to have been signed.

Jeff Kalin of Primitive Technologies and his son, Griffin, used authentic methods to rebuild our aging wigwam in 2014.
During the 2014 rehabilitation, the siding—made of bark from ash and tulip poplar trees—was secured by an outer frame of new cedar sapling poles.

The wigwam served as home for a Lenape family. It is shaped like an upside-down bowl on which layers of large pieces of tree bark are placed over a framework of bent saplings and secured on the outside by vines and branches. There is an entrance but no window openings, and a hole in the roof allows the smoke from a fire inside the wigwam to escape. The Bartow-Pell wigwam was constructed according to this traditional format and placed in a wooded area, which added to its authenticity.

Pat sent out notices to schools and visited many classrooms to describe this new program, which became very popular and won the 2004 Historical Services Award for Excellence from the Lower Hudson Conference. The program continues today. 

Linda Sacewicz teaches a school group about the Lenape.

The students are first introduced to the Lenape people and their rich history. Part of that introduction is learning to greet each other in the Lenape language. As they walk toward the wigwam, they are asked to look for deer tracks in order to reinforce the idea that they are entering a new environment. On occasion, an actual deer will scamper through the woods or a wild turkey will make an appearance, much to the delight of the students.

If students are lucky, they may catch a glimpse of wild turkey and deer on the grounds of Bartow-Pell.

When the students arrive at the wigwam, they are photographed standing in front of it. Then they sit down on tree stumps, which reinforces the experience, as the educator describes Lenape family life. Many artifacts from our collection are passed around for the students to touch and examine. One of these objects is a deer skeleton, which the Bartow-Pell gardener found at the bottom of a pit in the woods nearby and which I cleaned and dried for our collection.

A deer skull with antlers—found on the Bartow-Pell property—provides an excellent teaching tool.

In the cooking area outside the wigwam, students learn about the foods used by the Lenape, including seafood, meat, and the Three Sisters (corn, squash, and beans). A separate area in the Bartow-Pell children’s garden nearby is planted with the Three Sisters so that students can see how these plants grow and support each other. The cooking area also includes a drying rack, which helps preserve food for use during the cold winter months and a small version of a Lenape cooking pot. Nearby is a shell midden, a pile of discarded clam and oyster shells modeled after ancient middens found throughout Pelham Bay Park.

Museum educators discuss Lenape food in the outdoor cooking area while encouraging a dialogue with students.
A pumpkin ripens on the vine in Bartow-Pell’s Children’s Garden and helps to tell the Native American story of the Three Sisters.

A short walk from the wigwam is a tall fence surrounding a tree that is thought to have been the location of the treaty signing in 1654. Bartow-Pell has on display an enlarged copy of the actual treaty, so that the students can see the signatures of Thomas Pell and his associates and the marks made by the Lenape, who did not have a written language. After each class, a copy of the treaty is given to the teacher to take back to the classroom.

A school group at the so-called Treaty Oak, where tradition says that Thomas Pell signed a treaty with Lenape sachems in 1654. Today, students learn about primary sources by reenacting this historic event.
The Treaty Oak in 1905. According to legend, this is where Pell and the Native Americans signed their historic treaty, but the location has been questioned. The fence was added in 1903, just a few years before this tree burned down. Today, the fence remains but an elm tree stands in place of the oak.

After visiting the so-called Treaty Oak (which is now an elm), the students walk back up the path to sit at tables, where they learn to make rattles and are taught that music and dancing were an important part of the Lenape culture. Then they walk to the meadow, form a large circle, and move rhythmically while listening to authentic Lenape music, occasionally demonstrating their own “moves.” Then they are bid farewell in the Lenape language.

This watercolor of the wigwam at Bartow-Pell was painted by museum educator Linda Sacewicz.

A new option in the basic program is “Drawing a Wigwam,” in which each student is given a piece of paper on a clipboard and a pencil. Following simple step-by-step instructions from the educator, they manage to create drawings of a wigwam. In addition to instilling a sense of accomplishment, this activity enhances their understanding of the original structure.  

According to education guidelines, a school program should meet certain criteria, which include being informative, engaging, enjoyable, and flexible enough to meet the needs of the students. Judging by its popularity, it is clear that the Bartow-Pell Native American program meets all these objectives.

Linda Sacewicz, Museum Educator

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Through the Looking Glass: A Pair of New York Pier Mirrors by Hosea Dugliss

A pair of New York pier mirrors made by Hosea Dugliss—which date to about 1835–45—were given to Bartow-Pell by David M. Goldman in 2020 and now hang in the north parlor. The lamps on the pier tables were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Feld in 2014.

Robert and Maria Bartow had a house to furnish.

In 1842, when the couple moved into their brand-new residence on Robert Bartow’s ancestral Pelham Bay estate, they had probably purchased some furnishings for the superb Greek Revival interiors from shops in New York City. A house needs many things, and it is tempting to picture Mr. and Mrs. Bartow selecting carpets, draperies, furniture, and decorative objects. Did they always agree? We will probably never know. In any case, the only documentation that remains of the family’s furniture is the simple list of items enumerated on Mrs. Bartow’s estate inventory dated July 21, 1881. So, it is up to us to imagine how the mansion was originally furnished, and we are constantly trying to better interpret the period rooms.

On April 25, 1836, Robert Bartow of New York City, and his wife, Maria Lorillard, paid $40,000 for about 233 acres of land on Long Island Sound. Six years later, in 1842, the couple and their children moved into a large, newly constructed house on the property, according to their daughter Catharine Bartow Duncan. This country seat had once belonged to Robert Bartow’s grandfather John Bartow and before that to their ancestors the Pells.
Hosea Dugliss (England 1793–1867 New York). Pier mirror, 1835–45. Wood, compo, gesso, and gilding. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of David M. Goldman, 2020.01

A few months ago, David M. Goldman generously gave us a pair of gilded pier mirrors bearing the label of the New York maker Hosea Dugliss (1793–1867) and dating to about 1835–45, during which time the Bartow mansion was being completed. The mirrors reflect the most advanced design trends of the day, adding elements of the imminent Rococo Revival period to the classical aesthetic that had been popular for many years. Bartow-Pell Curatorial Committee Chair and decorative arts expert Carswell Rush Berlin notes that this transitional style can be seen in the C-scrolled corners of our mirrors as well as in other contemporary sources, such as the lavish curvilinear embellishments on chairs in Furniture with Candelabra and Interior Decoration (1838) by the British designer Richard Bridgens (1785–1846). These handsome mirrors now hang in the north parlor.

Richard Bridgens (British, 1785–1846). Furniture with Candelabra and Interior Decoration, plate 55. Published in London by William Pickering, 1838. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962. www.metmuseum.org. The ornamental elements on these chairs—such as elaborate C-scrolls—are cutting-edge style and compare to the ornamentation on Bartow-Pell’s mirrors.
Hosea Dugliss, pier mirror (detail). Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Bartow-Pell’s mirrors are very similar to a labeled pier mirror in the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute that was made by Dugliss’s contemporary and competitor Isaac Platt (1793–1875). These designs also relate to two examples in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that are attributed to Platt. Dugliss and Platt—whose shops were just a few blocks apart—were among the looking glass and frame makers and gilders working during the first half of the 19th century in what is today lower Manhattan. In fact, Carswell Berlin has found that both mirror makers and andiron makers seem to have gravitated to the area between Park Row and the East River.

Hosea Dugliss’s label is pasted on the back of the Bartow-Pell’s mirrors. His shop at 11 Chatham (Park) Row was in the same block as the Park Theatre (which burned down in 1848) and across from City Hall Park. Robert Bartow would have been very familiar with this neighborhood, having once lived a few blocks away on Beekman Street and having worked on the now-demolished Franklin Square.
William D. Smith (American, 1800–after 1860), engraver, after a drawing by Charles W. Burton (American, born England 1807). Street Views No. 1 – Park Row, New York, 1830. Engraving. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of International Business Machines Corporation. This 1830 view shows Park Row running northeast from the bottom of City Hall Park. The Park Theatre at 21 Park Row is the large arcaded building, and M. & E. Cronly, a tavern, is just south at 15 Park Row. Dugliss’s shop was at number 11. The steeple of the old Brick Church on Beekman Street is visible at the north end of the block.
Nathaniel Currier (American, 1813–1888), lithographer and publisher. Broadway New York—South from the Park, ca. 1846. Lithograph. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library. Hosea Dugliss’s looking-glass shop was near the intersection of Broadway and Park Row. This view by Nathaniel Currier from about 1846 faces south down Broadway. P. T. Barnum’s American Museum—on the corner of Broadway, Park Row, and Ann Street (at left)—opened in 1841. St. Paul’s Chapel can be seen across the street on the right with the spire of Trinity Church in the distance. Astor House—a magnificent luxury hotel that was completed in 1836—is the large porticoed building at the right. Broadway was lined with a variety of shops offering everything under the sun. Here, a store selling shirts, fancy articles, and human hair is at the left on the corner of Park Row, and a hat shop is on Broadway in the Astor House, across from the tip of City Hall Park.

S. E. Morse & Co., publisher. City of New York (detail with added labels), 1843. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. The location of Hosea Dugliss’s shop in relation to some neighboring landmarks can be seen in this detail from an 1843 map.

Who was Hosea Dugliss and what do we know about him? Dugliss was born on Christmas Day 1793, in Birmingham, England, which was a well-known metalwork center. He first appears in New York City directories in 1820 at 5 Park Row, where it splits off from Broadway south of City Hall. By 1825, he was listed in a “looking glass store” at number 11 Park Row. (It should be noted that Park Row as it appears in the city directories and Chatham Row as it appears on Dugliss’s label are one and the same street.) He remained at this address for the remainder of his career (until about 1850). By 1854, he is listed only at his home address, 232 East Broadway, as “late [recent] looking glass.” (As a “manufacturer” of looking glasses, Dugliss also made frames.)

James P. Weston, daguerreotypist (active New York, 1842–1857). Hosea Dugliss, 1850–57. California Historical Society, www.californiahistoricalsociety.org. This photographic likeness of Hosea Dugliss—probably taken shortly after his retirement—was made by the New York City daguerreotypist James P. Weston, whose studio was at 132 Chatham. The back of the frame bears the name of Dugliss’s great-granddaughter.

The British-born Dugliss joined a number of ambitious émigré craftsmen in 19th-century New York City, where he became a very successful entrepreneur with a good head for business. In fact, his moneymaking ventures went well beyond the manufacture of looking glasses and frames. Like some other merchants with spare capital—such as the furniture-maker Duncan Phyfe—Dugliss was able to invest substantially in real estate. One of his properties was a six-story building on the corner of Ann Street and Theatre Alley, which in 1836 housed a couple of booksellers, a bindery, a tailor, a print colorer, a jeweler, and a printer. An article published on November 12, 1836, in Horace Greeley’s weekly journal the New-Yorker (not to be confused with today’s New Yorker magazine) names Dugliss as the owner and reports the details of a damaging fire in the building (which was attributed to a furnace in the fifth-floor bindery). In the 1860 census (when he was 66 years old), his profession is given as “gentleman” (a man of good breeding with no occupation), and the value of his real estate was $10,000. At the height of his career, and as proof of his hard-earned standing in society, Dugliss commissioned Samuel Lovett Waldo (1783–1861)—whose work included many prominent sitters—to paint his portrait.

Samuel Lovett Waldo (American, 1783–1861). Formerly attributed to William Jewett (American, 1792–1874). Hosea Dugliss, 1835–45. Oil on panel. Collection of the de Young Memorial Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Photo: Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive files. According to the Catalogue of American Portraits, this portrait of Hosea Dugliss is now attributed to Samuel Lovett Waldo rather than to his partner William Jewett. It is dated to ca. 1835–45, about the same time that Dugliss made the pier mirrors now at Bartow-Pell.

Hosea Dugliss married Mary Ann Silvester in April 1828 at the Vandewater Street Church (Presbyterian) in New York City (she was apparently his second wife), and they became the parents of a large family of children. Mary Ann was born in New York in 1808 and died in 1864. Hosea died a few years later at the age of 73 and was buried on April 30, 1867, in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

As a historic house, Bartow-Pell is always working to refine the museum’s collection and to acquire objects that improve our interpretation. Now, Hosea Dugliss’s pier mirrors add a new page to the story.

Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian

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Sugarplum Fantasy: Visions of Candy Long Ago

A cotton-candy fantasy in the Lannuier bedchamber features this dramatic tree.

Lemon drops, cardamom comfits, coconut creams, almond taffy, chocolate cream drops, sugared almonds, violet drops, and rose drops offer just a small taste of the sugary confections that have enchanted past generations of candy lovers and inspired professional candy makers and home cooks; manufacturers, shopkeepers and consumers; cookbook authors, fantasy writers, and moralists; and holiday gift givers.

“There are fashions in candy,” explains the author of The Candy-Maker (1878). “Ten years ago, taffey [sic] cut up into various shapes, and variously flavored, was the favorite. Then gum drops couldn’t be made fast enough to meet the call. Dealers began putting brandy and cordials into them, and with that the demand fell off, and the gum drop furore was killed.” Trendy New York women joined a craze for cream-stuffed dates, and then “fig-paste had a run of about two years.” “The most profitable trade is in fancy candies in ornamental boxes, on a fashionable thoroughfare.”

Left: Trade card. Bailey’s Fine Candies, Boston, 1875–1900. Library of Congress
Right: Trade card. Henry Maillard Chocolates and Confections, New York, ca. 1876–90. From The New York Public Library

Confectioners offered a variety of sweets, including ice cream and candy. Some of these establishments were elegantly appointed. In 1899, according to the Confectioners’ and Bakers’ Gazette, there was “an abundance” of “confectionery stores and bake shops” on Eighth Avenue between Columbus Circle and 14th Street (which was on a major trolley line). Although “there is a sameness about them,” “here and there a store stands out as distinctive.” Mr. Fajens’s confectionery was between 57th and 58th Streets. “His store is one of the best on the avenue. The fixtures are of cherry, handsomely carved, and backed with mirrors. At the right is a large Tuft soda fountain. It is of marble and onyx and has 18 draughts. Ice cream soda is the popular tipple. . . . On the left is the candy counter. It is of unusual height and has a glass front.” Palm trees surrounded tables at the back. Revolving fans kept customers cool in the summer, and electric lights illuminated the delightful scene. “I saw here all the popular makes of confectionery, which shows that Mr. Fajens is a wideawake merchant,” the reporter writes.

A colorful collection of Pez dispensers and candies make cheerful ornaments for George Bartow’s bedchamber.

On the other hand, penny candy shops—which catered to children—responded to a ready market of juvenile spenders with their own coins to spend. “A good trade in less expensive varieties can usually be had by locating in the neighborhood of a school,” The CandyMaker unabashedly advises its readers. And this was often the case. “On their way to school, they had to pass a candy-store, the window of which was gay with glass jars of bright-colored sugar-plums and candy baskets filled with mottoes, and all sorts of animals and figures made in white sugar and highly colored. This store was a great resort of all the children who went to Miss Porter’s school. To Jack it was a never-ending temptation. He would begin to jingle the pennies in his pocket as soon as he came in sight of it, and sometimes he had even coaxed Rosy to spend her pennies too, in buying candy cigars or dogs, though he knew she was saving her money for a wax doll.” (“Jack and Rosy,” Demorest’s Young America, January 1869)

It seems that many children had pennies for candy, even ones in low-income neighborhoods and those on their way to Sunday school. “We had a count made once of the amount taken in penny purchases of gum, candy, and ice-cream in seven candy stores, in a very poor district in New York City, each week, and we found that it amounted to one hundred and seventy-five dollars a week. Nearby there was a large Sunday school,” A. F. Schauffler wrote in 1895 in Ways of Working. The anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock (1844–1915) called such stores “devil traps” in Traps for the Young (1883). “These traps may be discovered in confectionery stores which keep open on Sunday.” “Any person who has observed these matters must have been struck with the numbers of little ones who throng into candy stores before and while going to Sunday-school. . . . The pennies placed in the tiny hand of the child for the missionary or other good cause, are thus easily secured, and the child, with its back toward home, says, ‘Nobody will know,’ and tempted by the delicious flavors so sweet to the taste, dishonesty is encouraged and swiftly follows.” This moralistic finger wagging, however, did not deter most children from enjoying their penny treats.

Illustration from “The Candy Country,” written by Louisa May Alcott. St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, November 1885. “For some time, Lilly was quite happy in going about, tasting the many different kinds of sweets, talking to the little people, who were very amiable, and finding out curious things about them and their country.”

Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) is among the authors who have used the fanciful realm of candy not only to appeal to children’s imaginations but also to serve as an alluring didactic tool. In “The Candy Country” (St. Nicholas Magazine, November 1885), the author of Little Women tells the story of a schoolgirl and her adventures in a fantastical land where—like Dorothy in the Land of Oz—she learns some important life lessons. This is the tale of Lilly, who borrows her mother’s “red sun-umbrella” and is blown away “like a thistle-down, right up in the air.” After a crash landing in a faraway place, she is thrilled to find a fairy-tale world made entirely of candy with chocolate rocks, candy fruits and flowers, jujube streets, “dainty candy people,” and sugar birds singing in candy trees. “Lilly discovered that it never rained, but that it white-sugared. There was no sun, as it would have been too hot; but a large yellow lozenge made a nice moon, and there were red and white comfits for stars.” “A fine palace of white cream candy, with pillars of striped peppermint-stick,” had “a roof of frosting that made it look like Milan Cathedral.” Inside the “pretty rooms, . . . all the chairs and tables were of every colored candy, and the beds of spun sugar. A fountain of lemonade supplied drink,” and the floors were made of ice cream. But Lilly finally realizes that there can be too much of a good thing, and she makes her way to the “happy Land of Bread.” Here, she has “the best bread and milk that she has ever tasted,” but like Dorothy in Oz, she longs for home. “Just take the bread in your hands and wish three times,” her bready friend Sally Lunn tells her. Lilly never forgot what she learned in Candy Country and grew “into a fine, strong, healthy woman, because she ate very little cake and candy, except at Christmas-time, when the oldest and the wisest of us like to make a short visit to Candy-land.”

Candy canes and peppermints adorn this festive tree in Bartow-Pell’s carriage house.

Candy was more than just fun; some people used it for medicinal purposes. One of the most well-known “cough candies” was—and still is—made from the horehound (or hoarhound) plant, an aromatic perennial in the mint family. Charles F. Heilge of Boston was one of many 19th-century candy makers who sold sweets with healing properties, such as honey rock candy and Iceland Moss and Flax Seed Candies, a confection for soothing bronchial irritation. In 1880, Dr. A. W. Chase published Dr. Chase’s Recipes, or Information for Everyone, in which physicians, pharmacists, and “families generally” could find his recipes for cough drops and lozenges. Sugar, molasses, honey, and licorice sweetened these concoctions and helped to mask stronger ingredients like castile soap, laudanum, spirits of turpentine, and extract of opium.

Joseph Ferdinand Keppler (1838–1894). “Our Mutual Friend.” Cover illustration from Puck, January 7, 1885. Chromolithograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. In this commentary on unhealthy ingredients in some store-bought sweets, a sexton and a doctor flank a large multi-colored candy cane labeled with the names of poisonous dyes such as arsenic, red lead, verdigris, and chrome green (as well as additives like chalk and glucose). The men stand in front of a confectionery selling “all kinds of candy” as children gaze into the shop window behind them.

Candy makers were well aware that consumers worried about impure or harmful ingredients. “Many of the lozenges sold in trains are little more than sweetened and flavored starch. It would be well if this were the only adulteration,” The Candy-Maker warned in 1878, “but conscienceless manufacturers add china clay, called terra alba, or white earth, plaster of Paris, etc.” Even more alarming was the use of poisonous dyes. “Some of the poisons used either in the manufacture of the candies or to color them, were the following: red-lead, chrome-green, Prussian blue, burnt umber, vermillion and fuchsine,” reported a scientific study of New York City candies that was published in The Therapeutic Gazette in February 1885. Mothers, in particular, were concerned about the threat of injurious ingredients. Purity and freshness were prized, and if possible, retail confectioners were advised to make at least some of their candy within public view. In addition to reassuring customers about the quality of the ingredients, this was also a good way to attract business from curious passersby who wanted to see how candy was made.

Illustration from trademark registration by P. Wunderle for Common Sense: The Best Confectionery, Philadelphia, 1887. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. “People who eat Candies are generally willing to pay a few cents more for pure, wholesome goods of the best eating qualities than for inferior grades of goods.”

“It is now quite the thing to make candy at home,” Mrs. Frances Owens wrote in her 1884 cookbook. “The home-made is much more wholesome for the little folks than the cheap, highly-colored confectionery retailed so largely. Candy-making is a pleasant pastime for children, and they will become quite expert at it in a surprisingly short time.” Some popular homemade favorites were old-fashioned molasses candy, taffy, butterscotch, caramels, and cream candies.

Illustration from “Candy-Making.” Our Young Folks, May 1869. ‘‘‘This is cool enough for pulling, now,’ said the [candy] artist, gathering up the lump of peppermint candy in his hands, and suddenly throwing it over a great hook set in a stone post beside the table. Then, before it had time to cling or drop, he pulled it toward him in a great shining band.”

Candy pulls—also called “candy frolics”—turned candy making into a party, especially for young people. “Who has not taken part of a taffy-pull?,” the Ladies’ Home Journal asked in October 1891. “How the jokes go round, and merry laughter resounds as hands, smothered in flour or butter, seize the shining brown mass and pull it with infinite patience until the taffy takes on cream-white color. Our parents derived much pleasure from the taffy-pull. It is one of the recognized institutions of the country.” For “excellent taffy,” the author suggests boiling a quart of molasses and half a pound of butter for about half an hour, then adding half a teacup of vinegar and letting the mass cool for pulling.   

Santa Claus Sugar Plums label, U.S. Confection Co., New York, ca. 1868. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Historically, sugarplums were sugar-coated seeds or nuts (comfits or dragées). In 1830, Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language defined sugarplums as “a species of sweetmeat, in small balls,” and a sweetmeat as “fruit preserved with sugar.” But by 1875, a few years after this label was printed, Webster’s had changed the definition of “sugar-plum” to “a species of candy made up in small flattened balls or disks.”

“Whatever treasure the Christmas stocking may contain, the child’s stocking that holds no sugar-plums will be empty indeed,” Mrs. Henry Brown observes in “Sugar-Plums” (The Cosmopolitan, December 1886). She advises making candies at home, not just as a fun family holiday activity and to save money, but to ensure that the sweets are as “pure and wholesome as possible.” (Mrs. Brown uses “sugar-plums” loosely to mean candies in general.) Homemade treats, which were sometimes presented as festive Yuletide gifts, could be arranged in pretty packaging. In “Christmas Candy,” (Good Housekeeping, December 1897), Grace Clark suggests placing sweets in pasteboard boxes “covered with crepe tissue paper and tied with gold bullion cord.”

Who doesn’t love to sample a luscious piece of candy? And from Clement Moore’s visions of sugarplums to the Land of Sweets in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker to Shirley Temple’s Good Ship Lollipop to the Gumdrop Mountains of Candy Land to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, the magic of candy has inspired our imaginations . . . and probably always will.

Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian

Visit Bartow-Pell this month for Home Sweet Holidays and enjoy beautiful candy-coated trees throughout the mansion and in the carriage house. 

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Soap, Optional (and What Is Shampoo?): The Sometimes-Surprising Bathing Habits of Americans in the Past

Basin and pitcher. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leland S. Hanson, 2003

We’ve all seen the period films (or heard the spiel in historic houses) that depict cozy fireside baths in a tub filled with warm water by an obliging servant. But is that the whole story? And how did people’s bathing habits and attitudes really differ from those of today?

Mary Cassatt. The Bath (The Tub), 1891. Color drypoint, soft ground etching, and aquatint. Library of Congress

Personal cleanliness was increasingly important in the 19th century and is frequently discussed in period guides to health, beauty, etiquette, and domestic economy. Of course, not everyone read these books—which were mostly written for the middle and upper-middle classes—and not all people followed the rules. But, in any case, the 19th century was unquestionably an age with new standards of hygiene. In The Habits of Good Society (1865), the author derisively describes the previous century: “Our great-grandmothers were not rigid in points of personal cleanliness. . . . There were those amongst them who boasted that they . . . had only passed a cambric handkerchief over the delicate brow and cheeks, wetted with elderflower water or rose water.”

Nineteenth-century advice books pay close attention to the skin as an organ of the human body, and readers are constantly reminded that removing oil, perspiration, and dirt is a key to good health. Some writers even describe unclean skin as downright dangerous. “The insensible perspiration, or animal effluvia, when it . . . is fixed and concentrated upon the skin, becomes an energetic poison, and acts upon the system as such,” warns Mrs. Farrar in The Young Lady’s Friend (1849), “. . . hence the danger to the health from want of cleanliness.”

What is missing in these early assessments of cleanliness? Germs. But the work of Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) and other scientists would revolutionize microbiology by the end of the 19th century, which allowed the importance of hygiene to become better understood. (Even then, some people challenged “germ theory,” calling it a “craze” and a “fad.”)

Cleanliness was not just about health. We have all heard the maxim “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” from a sermon by the great English cleric John Wesley (1703–1791), and this precept was often reinforced in 19th-century Christian teachings. Just as cleanliness was linked to religion, it was also associated with moral purity. “Neither physical or moral beauty can exist without cleanliness, which indicates self-respect, and is the root of many virtues, especially those of purity, modesty, delicacy, and decency,” declares Julia M. Dewey in Lessons on Morals, a guide for schools published in 1899.

Chemise, 1830s; Shirt, 1870s; Drawers, 1860–68. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. www.metmuseum.org. “A frequent change of linen is another essential of cleanliness. It avails little to wash the body if we inclose [sic] it the next minute in soiled garments. It is not in the power of every one to wear fine and elegant clothes, but we can all, under ordinary circumstances, afford clean shirts, drawers, and stockings.” (How to Behave, New York, 1857)

Then as now, social norms and propriety were also reasons for good hygiene. “Those who aspire to be gentlemen and ladies” must be clean in “person and dress,” writes Alexander M. Gow in Good Morals and Gentle Manners for Schools and Families (1873). And, needless to say, unpleasant smells from a lack of bathing as well as the use of strong fragrances must be avoided. “True politeness would suggest that we shall not be perfumed with cologne or musk, onions or tobacco, the odors of the hen-house or the barn.”

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917). Woman Bathing in a Shallow Tub, 1885. Charcoal and pastel on light green wove paper, now discolored to warm gray, laid down on silk bolting. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. www.metmuseum.org. In The Lady’s Annual Register for 1838, Caroline Gilman discusses how to bathe: “You may have a shallow vessel like a large baking pan, if you choose, to stand in.”

How did people clean their bodies in the past? Sponge baths were a common choice. These could occur in a portable tub, such as the type consisting “of a large flat metal basin, some four feet in diameter.” (The Habits of Good Society) “A large coarse sponge. . . and a few Turkish towels” complete the necessary supplies. But not everyone had—or used—a tub. In 1849, Mrs. Farrar advised: “If you cannot command the use of a tub or a tin wash-pan, the whole surface of your body may be gone over with one large wash-bowl full of water, and by practice you will become so expert as not to make any slop on the carpet.”

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844–1926). Woman Bathing, ca. 1891. Drypoint, aquatint, and soft-ground etching in color. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Gift of William Emerson and The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund, www.mfa.org

“For persons of really robust constitutions, a cold shower-bath may be recommended,” writes Sarah Annie Frost in Laws and By-Laws of American Society (1869). But what exactly was a “shower-bath”? An article published in 1879, “Benefits of the Shower Bath,” provides a description: “A bucket of cold water (or tepid if the shock is too great) poured over the head, is the simplest form of shower bath, and as good as any. But it is not the most convenient.” However, manufactured shower-baths were available. “We happen to have a handsome one . . . made of polished walnut, with gilded weights, and the inside lined with zinc at the bottom.”

Shower-bath. Illustration from An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy by Thomas Webster and Mrs. Parkes, London, 1844 (American edition, 1848). “The water is forced up into a cistern, a, with a perforated bottom by a syringe, b, and the bather, by pulling a string, opens a valve, which causes the water to descend suddenly in a shower on his head and body through the perforated bottom. . . . The whole is made of tin-plate painted, one of the upright supports being hollow to allow the ascent of the water.” Shower-baths were believed to be therapeutic and were sometimes suggested for people in ill health. (Alternatively, an extreme version was used as a punishment in prisons.)
Plunge bath, 1840–80. National Museum of American History, Gift of Kenneth E. Jewett. www.si.edu. The plunge bath, like the shower-bath, was an immersive bathing experience. This one is made of tin, which was a common material for bath tubs.

Warm or cold? Everyone in the 19th century, it seems, had an opinion on the best water temperature for bathing. The New American Cyclopaedia (1863) is one of many sources that promotes washing in cold water for people with a “vigorous constitution.” “The effects of the cold bath, where it agrees, are tonic and bracing; it stimulates the skin, improves the appetite, and renders the circulation more active and vigorous. It hardens the system . . . against the liability to take cold.” As for warm baths, the Cyclopaedia cautions that “its frequent use tends to . . . debilitate.” Not everyone agreed, including Mrs. Farrar, who says the opposite: “Warm bathing is highly useful to the health, and if properly indulged in, has no debilitating effect.” She does, however, recommend cold baths for certain people under the right circumstances. “By washing a small part of the person at a time, rubbing it well, and then covering up what is done, the whole may be washed in cold water, even in winter time, and a glow may be produced after it in a young and healthy person.” Cold baths were seen as invigorating, but warm baths—in addition to being soothing—were deemed the best way to get clean.

Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1757–1827). Salt Water and Fresh Water, March 25, 1800. Published by Rudolph Ackermann, London (active 1794–1829). Hand-colored etching and aquatint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959. www.metmuseum.org. This satirical print depicts two kinds of bathing. At the top, a woman enters the sea from a bathing machine. Salt-water bathing was seen as refreshing and invigorating, as well as excellent for the health. In the bottom scene, a woman pours heated water over a man in a tub while another one scrubs him with a flesh brush. A decanter and wine glass on the floor remind us of what some people saw as the “debilitating” effects of the warm bath. At any rate, both bathers struggle with their gleeful attendants.

Friction was a vital part of the cleansing process because it can remove dead skin. In the 19th century, this meant exfoliation with sponges and the vigorous use of towels and brushes. In The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility (1856), Emily Thornhill says to “let the body be thoroughly dried with a soft towel, and rubbed with a soft flesh brush, or gently with horsehair gloves; the latter, at first, will not be very pleasant, but in a short time becomes a luxury.” Mrs. Walker describes the flesh brush in Female Beauty (1840): “This is a brush with long silky hairs sufficiently soft not to hurt the skin, and at the same time sufficiently elastic to remove all those little scaly pellicles which the water has raised.” In Health at Home (1875), Dr. W. W. Hall says that “friction should not be spared.” Bathers should lay “the towel flat on the hand, keeping the mouth closed, then rub with a will nearly as hard as the hand can press.” Popular choices were Turkish towels—made of cotton with a looped pile—and huckabacks—a woven linen and/or cotton towel with a textured surface.

Advertisement for a “sitting bath,” “improved bathing pan,” and other articles sold by Waterman’s Kitchen Furnishing Rooms in Boston. Sketch of the Lives of Taylor and Fillmore [1848?]. “All the essentials of a well appointed kitchen will be found at this establishment,” the ad promises. Along with broilers, refrigerators, and kitchen gadgets, this store offers bathing items that “far surpass all others for daily ablution.”

Was the use of soap optional? For a long time, it was. But, why? Soap—which people used for laundry and household cleaning—was harsh on skin. In 1828, Dr. Richard Reese warned in his medical guide: “Some practitioners have attributed a variety of inflammatory and irritative diseases of the skin to the use of soap, with its caustic alcali.” Over fifty years later, Dr. H. Newell Martin of Johns Hopkins University still had the same view, writing in The Human Body (1884): “Nearly all soaps contain so much potash or soda that lathers made from them are really weak ‘lye.’ . . . Probably as many skin-diseases have been caused by too free use of soap, as by uncleanliness.” And even when milder toilet soap was available for use on the skin, plain water was usually considered just fine for bathing. If people did lather up, they often preferred “white soap”—which the New Family Encyclopedia (1833) tells us was made of “olive oil and soda, or with tallow and soda.” Ladies and gentlemen could also indulge in toilet soap perfumed with fragrant essences such as rose, bergamot, cloves, vanilla, and musk. By mid-century, bath soap was on the rise, and in 1849, Mrs. Farrar reassuringly wrote: “Some persons avoid the use of soap as pernicious to the skin; but good white soap, in moderate quantity, and with soft water, can never do any harm to a healthy skin.” In 1876, The Popular Health Almanac further reflects evolving opinions on soap and hygiene: “In washing and bathing, if for no other than sanitary reasons, the use of soap cannot be too much recommended.”

Advertisements from the 1890s for Cuticura and Ivory show that bar soaps were sometimes used for washing the hair.

Washing the hair with soap (or what we call “shampoo”) was not a common practice until the late 19th century. In fact, “shampoo” used to have nothing to do with clean hair. The outdated definition is “massage,” and in 1867, Webster’s dictionary still defined it as such: “To rub and percuss the whole surface of the body . . . in connection with the hot bath.” By 1875, however, Webster had expanded the meaning to include washing the head with soap. So how did people clean their hair and scalp? For ladies, it involved a great deal of brushing, and the secret, according to Sarah Annie Frost in 1869, was “a clean hair-brush.” “Brush the hair carefully both at night and morning,” she says. “Let it be occasionally cleansed with yolk of egg beaten up, or a mixture of glycerine [sic] and lime-juice.” Indeed, eggs were commonly recommended for cleaning the hair. Nevertheless, frequent hair washing was not advised, even late in the century. “Too frequent shampooing of the hair is detrimental,” Godey’s cautions in 1896. Except in very warm weather, the hair should not be washed “thoroughly more than once a month; a sponge, wet in tepid water, rubbed on the scalp every morning, will be sufficient to keep it clean.”

Bath Room Interior. Illustration from Catalogue “G”: Illustrating the Plumbing and Sanitary Department of the J. L. Mott Iron Works, New York, 1888. This “very artistically designed Bath Room” from 1888 features luxurious state-of-the art plumbing fixtures and fine wood cabinetry.

How often did people bathe? Many experts agreed that some form of daily bathing was imperative. In 1851, J. Bradford Sax was adamant on the subject in The Organic Laws: “We now presume the necessity of daily washing or bathing the whole surface of the body, in order to remove the waste material . . . daily deposited thereon. . . . Soap should be used occasionally. . . . Some go for months and years without ever washing more than their hands and face. No terms are strong enough properly to reprobate the filthy practice. I would almost as soon go to the breakfast table without washing my face, as I would without my morning bath. . . . Strange that civilized beings can neglect it!”

Interior of a Swimming Bath. Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, August 20, 1870. In the summer of 1870, new “swimming baths” opened for the poor in New York City. This one, “at the foot of Charles Street . . . contains 68 rooms, the water is four and a half feet deep, and 200 bathers can be accommodated at one time. . . . Such institutions are not only beneficial to the poor, who are unable to leave the hot and sweltering city during the summer, but to the whole community, as all are equally interested in preserving the health of our population.” About a month earlier, on July 1, 1870, the New York Herald published “The Washed Democracy.” “The first public baths established in this city were opened yesterday . . . at the foot of Fifth street, East river, and at the foot of Thirteenth street,” promising “prospects of metropolitan cleanliness.”
Anthony Imbert (1794 or 1795–1834), lithographer. Facade of Arcade Bath, New York City, 1830s. Library of Congress. The Arcade Bath, which offered warm, cold, shower, and vapor baths in marble and tin tubs, was a lavish bathing facility for well-to-do New Yorkers at 39 Chambers Street. In 1836, an advertisement in Longworth’s City Directory announced: “This establishment has recently undergone a thorough improvement.” “The whole arrangement of the Bath is tasteful, rich, and convenient, and is said to bear a favorable comparison with the best establishments of the kind in Europe. . . . The interior gives about 80 rooms for bathing, and connected with the ladies’ bathing-apartments (which are entirely distinct from those for gentlemen) is a neatly furnished parlor for their accommodation.”

Finally, where did people bathe? Ablutions were often performed in the privacy of bedchambers, which were furnished with a washstand, basin, and pitcher and could also accommodate a portable tub. “Where two or three occupy the same room, without any dressing-room, or closet, large enough to wash in, it is impossible for the toilet to be properly made,” Mrs. Farrar writes. In that case, she proposes options such as bathing “when the eyes of younger sisters are closed in sleep.” Occasionally, baths took place in the kitchen, where water could be easily heated and tubs might be stored. And let’s not forget that indoor plumbing and modern bathrooms made bathing easy for the lucky few, especially in the second half of the 19th century. Public baths were also an option.

Today, a stroll through the personal-care aisles of a big-box store shows just how much times have changed. Soap and shampoo? Yes, please!

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Pretty and Cool: A White Summer Dress, ca. 1895

Eyelet lace dress, ca. 1895 (detail). Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Alexander Rogers, TC2012.07a–c
Bartow-Pell’s ensemble has a separate skirt and a choice of two bodices.

Pretty white summer dresses were everywhere in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were lightweight and cool, and everyone looked fabulous in them, whatever the occasion. No wonder these gowns were so popular.

In August 1897, a fashion writer counseled the wives of railroad men as follows: “The white dress is indeed the prettiest and most useful of all Summer frocks. It serves as an afternoon street costume, may be worn to a lawn fete in the evening, and with a little lace and ribbon decoration may be worn to Summer opera. Moreover, it is always charming as a house dress for small receptions.” According to Demorest’s Family Magazine in June 1890, “The simple hem-stitched white lawns with deep embroideries make pretty summer dresses for all-day wear, and a flat, wide sash of ribbon is all they need to make them quite dressy.”

Lace is the subject of “Mrs. Ralston’s Chat About Summer Clothes” in the May 1903 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. “The plain white gowns of Swiss, organdy, and, in fact, all of the thin white summer materials, are trimmed principally with insertions of lace, either white or of an écru shade.” This early 1900s predecessor of Martha Stewart goes on to recommend that if you are using old, slightly soiled lace as a trimming, “it is a good idea to dip it in coffee and color it to the prevailing fashionable tint of écru. It may then be used to trim a white muslin gown. Very often the most inexpensive lace in white if treated in this manner assumes quite an elegance of its own and makes an extremely pretty trimming for a sheer white muslin gown.”

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). A Friendly Call, 1895. Oil on canvas. Chester Dale Collection, Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, www.nga.gov

The Advertisers Cyclopedia of Selling Phrases (1909) devotes an entire section to “White Goods.” For example, Donaldson’s of Minneapolis reminds shoppers to purchase “a large and varied assortment of dainty white fabrics in all the most desirable materials, consisting of India Linens, Persian Lawns, Organdies, Swisses, Mercerized Poplins, etc. It is high time to have the materials for your summer gown in the dressmaker’s hands.” Meanwhile, in New York, Bloomingdale’s gets right to the point, “White stuffs lead, you know!”

Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944). Advice to Students: Be Read to. It Saves the Eyes for Better Things. Illustration from Americans, 1900
Short-sleeved bodice from Bartow-Pell’s ensemble
William Thomas Smedley (American, 1858–1920). Cover illustration, The Ladies’ Home Journal: The Summer Fashion Number, June 1908

Let’s take a look at a white dress of about 1895 in Bartow-Pell’s costume collection. Our eyelet lace ensemble is made of a fine lawn fabric and is embellished with lace insertions and embroidery. The separate skirt comes with a choice of two bodices—a long-sleeved version with a high neck for day wear, and a short-sleeved one with a lower, open neckline to wear to “dances and similar occasions. I always think it wise to have two bodices for either a white or a black dress, especially if one goes out much, for . . . one can in this way have two distinct dresses to all intents and purposes at very slight expense,” as Hélène advised in “Fashions from Paris” in Home Notes (November 1895). The sleeves of Bartow-Pell’s day bodice are very full at the top and fitted below the elbow. They are cut in the stylish leg-of-mutton shape from the mid-1890s, which was a revival of the gigot sleeves from the 1830s. Alternatively, the dressier (and lacier) low-necked bodice has short, puffed lace sleeves, a square lace-trimmed neckline, a lace yoke, and covered back buttons. The bodices, which are slightly pouched, presage the fashionable pigeon-breasted silhouette of the early 1900s. Readers of Leslie’s Weekly learned about this new style on February 28, 1895: “The favorite bodice has a pouched front. That is, it bags over the belt directly at the centre.” The skirt is narrow through the hips and flares out at the bottom; numerous small tucks control the fullness of the fabric. A succession of lace insertions gives an illusion of flounces, and a short demi-train sweeps the floor. This dress may have been worn in her youth by a member of the International Garden Club (now the Bartow-Pell Conservancy) or by one of her relatives.

Bain News Service, publisher. Garden party, Governor’s Island, New York, Florence Kimball and escort, May 27, 1908. Glass negative. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Hats were a big fashion trend in the 1890s as bonnets began to go out of style. And in the early 1900s, hats just got bigger. These frothy concoctions often had trimmings galore, such as flowers, ostrich plumes, feathers, ribbons, and bows. However it was decorated, a stylish hat was easy to coordinate with a lovely white dress. In summer weather, women carried parasols, which were essential for protecting delicate complexions from the sun. Bartow-Pell’s collection includes one from B. Altman, the legendary New York department store. “Parasols to match the gowns are exceedingly fashionable,” writes Marie Duval in “Artistic Parasols” (Godey’s, July 1895). “A pretty brunette attired in a white, dotted muslin gown, trimmed with yellow lace and ribbon, is thoroughly bewitching beneath a white dotted parasol edged with narrow yellow ribbon.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (center rear) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (front center) with others at Campobello Island, 1910. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library archives. In September 1908, American Lawn Tennis describes women’s “tennis togs” as “simple, plain white dresses, with sometimes a bit of color, or ribbons, at the throat and wrists, but immaculate appearing, even after a hard match.”

These outfits were especially popular for outdoor events. White fabrics were not only cool in summer weather, but they also created a pleasing picture when worn in the open air amidst fresh green grass and leafy trees. In July 1878, Demorest’s Monthly Magazine describes attire for garden parties: “The revival of lawns and muslins has given us a suitable material for garden-party costumes, of which ladies are availing themselves of largely. White is, of course, always used more or less, and still forms a large proportion of the toilets now upon dressy occasions of this character.” And sometimes, women dressed in white for lawn tennis, croquet, and yachting.

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844–1916). Two Pupils in Greek Dress, 1883. Platinum print. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1943. www.metmuseum.org. White garments were frequently depicted in 19th-century interpretations of classical antiquity.

It is well known that white dresses come from a long fashion tradition and were not just a fin-de-siècle fad. In the 1780s, Marie Antoinette popularized simple white muslin dresses in a style known as the chemise à la reine. These gowns—which reflect the aristocracy’s fascination with pastoral life—caused a royal scandale because their informal appearance was considered improper for the queen of France. Furthermore, these garments did nothing to support the French silk and luxury textile industry. Josephine Bonaparte was among the trendsetters in the early 19th century who favored diaphanous white dresses inspired by classical antiquity. Neoclassical artists such as Adam Buck (Anglo-Irish, 1759–1833) recognized the aesthetic appeal and cultural underpinnings of these white Grecian-style gowns—which were considered very modern—and depicted them in their work.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (French, 1755–1842). Comtesse de la Châtre (Marie Charlotte Louise Perrette Aglaé Bontemps, 1762–1848), 1789. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Jessie Woolworth Donahue, 1954. www.metmuseum.org. Here, the aristocratic sitter wears a chemise gown. This simple, pastoral style—often made in white fabrics such as muslin—was made famous by Marie Antoinette after she wore one in a portrait by Vigée Le Brun that was exhibited at the Salon in 1783.
Marie Guillelmine Benoist (French, 1768–1826). Madame Philippe Panon Desbassayns de Richemont (Jeanne Eglé Mourgue, 1778–1855) and Her Son, Eugène (1800–1859), 1802. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Julia A. Berwind, 1953. www.metmuseum.org. White was a popular color for high-waisted Grecian-style gowns during the Neoclassical period.

Later, in the early 20th century, suffragists adopted white to symbolize the purity and solidarity of their movement.

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Helen Hitchcock, Woman Suffragette, 1914. Glass negative. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Sylvia Pankhurst recalls in The Suffragette (1911) that Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence came up with the movement’s colors of white, green, and purple for the massive demonstration in London at Hyde Park on June 21, 1908. Purple, white, and gold were commonly used in the United States.
Nine African-American women with Nannie Burroughs holding a banner reading “Banner State Woman’s National Baptist Convention,” 1905–15. Photograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Educator and activist Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879–1961) was a supporter of women’s suffrage. American women finally got the right to vote in 1920 after the 19th amendment was signed into law.

White—with its ability to send a strong message—has been a powerful symbol throughout history. For example, babies, children, debutantes, and brides have worn it to signify purity, innocence, and virtue. And, at times, white has been worn for mourning.

Graduating class, Straight University, New Orleans, 1909. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. Straight University in New Orleans was an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in operation between 1868 and 1934. In this photograph from 1909, women graduates follow current practice and wear white for commencement. “The graduation dress must be all white, of course, and should be made of simple . . . materials exquisitely fine and trimmed with fine lace or embroidery.” (The Delineator, May 1911).
Daisy Chain, Vassar College, 1909. Postcard. College women sometimes wore white for annual traditions such as the Daisy Chain at Vassar College and Ivy Day at Smith College.

Around the turn of the 20th century, women across the social spectrum were keen to own pretty white summer dresses, including the wives and daughters of farmers and railroad workers, college students, working women, housewives, Gibson Girl sophisticates, and society ladies. This wardrobe staple was always in good taste. Besides, it was a great look.

Margaret Highland, Historian

Family group in Florence, Alabama, ca. 1910

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