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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Rose Garden Mania: A New York City Garden Club Joins the Craze in 1917

Summer roses at Bartow-Pell. Photo by Richard Warren, 2014

Rose gardens were definitely a thing in the early 20th century. The so-called Queen of Flowers—redolent of summer pleasures—filled gardens large and small with a heady mix of colors, scents, shapes, and sizes that ranged from subtle to dramatic.

The International Garden Club (IGC) was formed in 1914 at a time when many public and private rose gardens were being planted and an interest in gardens and garden clubs was in the air, especially among well-to-do society women. The IGC, an ambitious new horticultural organization, was the brainchild of the energetic socialite and gardener Zelia Hoffman (1867–1929) and her British friend, the author and gardener Alice Martineau (ca. 1865–1956). Mrs. Hoffman recruited a number of wealthy, well-connected garden enthusiasts and horticultural experts as members, and the club leased from the City of New York the old Bartow mansion—located in the Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park—to use as their headquarters. The IGC quickly hired the white-shoe architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich to restore and modernize the dilapidated historic building and to create a formal terraced and walled garden with a fountain. The members raised an extraordinary sum in a very short time—about one hundred thousand dollars—to pay for these projects, which were completed in 1915. The only thing missing was a rose garden . . . but there would soon be a plan for that.

Jules Gravereaux. Cover illustration from La Vie à la Campagne, June 1, 1907. In the early 20th century, Monsieur Gravereaux’s collection of roses comprised every type known in the world at the time.

“The number of Rose gardens is nowadays considerable, and they are increasing year by year. . . . At the beginning of the 20th century it is beyond question that every decent estate should, somewhere or other, in a suitable position, include a Rose garden,” declared the great French rosarian Jules Gravereaux (1844–1916) in a 1914 article in the Rose Annual (later reprinted in the 1917 IGC Journal). Rose gardens were sprouting up all over the place.

In early 1916, about five miles from Bartow-Pell, the New York Botanical Garden approved plans for its rose garden—which was designed by the well-known landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand (1872–1959)—and broke ground later that year. The following spring, on April 22, 1917, the New York Times cheerfully announced that the NYBG was planning “one of the great rose gardens of the world.” Farrand’s garden opened in 1918. At the same time, on the other side of the Bronx, the race was on at the old Bartow estate to create its own world-class rose garden. As the club’s Journal put it in August 1917, the IGC was determined to be the first to open a “place [in or near New York City] where the rose can be studied and enjoyed by the general public.”

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864–1952) and Mattie Edwards Hewitt (American, 1869–1956), photographers. Rose trellis at Armsea Hall, the Charles Frederick Hoffman Jr. house, Narragansett Bay, Newport, Rhode Island, summer 1914. Hand-colored lantern slide. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Zelia Hoffman had her rose trellis made by an ironmonger in Nice, France, and shipped to her in Newport, where it was enlarged by local workmen. “When the roses are in bloom from July 27 (as that is almost the date to a day . . . ) to the middle of August, they are a wonderful picture which people come from far and near to admire,” she writes in the 1918 IGC Journal. “In September and October, the long new growth of the summer is trained over the trellis . . . This takes long, but there is no more delightful occupation than this in the month of September . . . It is like doing embroidery—only one’s worsteds are living branches.” (For more photographs by Johnston and Hewitt of early 20th-century rose gardens, click here.)

IGC president Zelia Hoffman adored roses and had glorious ones at Armsea Hall, her palatial house on Narragansett Bay. “One of the attractive features of Mrs. Hoffman’s Newport garden is the long rose arbor over a path leading down to the sea,” writes the rose-smitten author of “The Woman and Her Rose Garden,” published in The New Country Life in June 1917. “It is the especial pride of Mrs. Hoffman and demonstrates to what state of perfection the blooms may be brought by one who knows the rose and its needs.”

The Rose Garden of C. Oliver Iselin, Esq., New Rochelle, N.Y. Illustration from The Architectural Review, May 1908

Meanwhile, another impressive private rose garden could be found about five miles north of the Bartow estate at All View, the famous yachtsman C. Oliver Iselin’s spectacular waterfront mansion at Premium Point in New Rochelle. The garden was published in the Architectural Review in May 1908 and was undoubtedly overseen by Mrs. Iselin, née Hope Goddard, who was an avid gardener (as well as “the only woman ever to sail as a member of the crew defending the America’s Cup,” according to her 1970 obituary in the Times). 

Other notable early 20th-century American rose gardens include Elizabeth Park in West Hartford, Connecticut (1904)—which was the first municipal rose garden in the United States—and those of Henry and Arabella Huntington at San Marino, California (1908), the White House (1913), and the E. M. Mills Rose Garden in Syracuse, New York (1924), all of which still flourish today.

La Roseraie de l’Hay (Roseraie de L’Haÿ-les-Roses). Journal of the International Garden Club, August 1917. Jules Gravereaux’s famous rose garden at his estate near Paris influenced the International Garden Club’s 1917 proposal.

Delano & Aldrich’s proposal for the IGC was inspired by the Roseraie de L’Haÿ (now known as the Roseraie du Val-de-Marne), Jules Gravereaux’s celebrated rose garden at his house near Paris. (Beatrix Farrand also looked to Gravereaux’s garden when she drew up her plans for the NYBG.) Monsieur Gravereaux made his fortune as an executive at the renowned Parisian department store Le Bon Marché. He began collecting roses in 1894, and by 1910 his extensive garden included all the roses known in the world at that time. Furthermore, as an illustrious rosarian and good citizen who enjoyed an exciting project, he advised the city of Paris on the new rose garden at the Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne and donated a number of roses for it. In addition, at the Château de Malmaison, where Josephine Bonaparte had had a famous rose garden, Gravereaux re-established many of the empress’s original varieties by studying the botanical illustrations drawn by her court artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Pierre Joseph Redouté (French, 1759–1840). Rosa Gallica Officinalis; Rosier des Apothicaires, from Les Roses, 1817–24. Colored stipple engraving. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. In the early 20th century, Jules Gravereaux looked at engravings by Redouté, Josephine Bonaparte’s court artist, to identify the roses that were needed to re-establish her Napoleonic-era rose garden at Malmaison.

In August 1917, in the IGC’s new horticultural journal—Journal of the International Garden Club—William Adams Delano (1874–1960) announced his plans for the club’s magnificent rose garden. The garden must “be accessible for the public, as well as for members.” Good soil, perfect drainage, and a southern exposure were required. “All these conditions were found in the remains of an old apple-orchard near the main entrance to the Club, just East of the entrance drive.” Furthermore, “the old apple-trees, if they can be preserved, will give an air of age to the Garden.” Delano wisely notes: “Every garden to be enjoyed must have a sense of privacy. It will not do to have motor cars whizzing by in full view, nor can the beds dwindle off into daisy fields without well-defined boundaries.”

Madame Caroline Testout hybrid tea roses. Illustration from How to Grow Roses, 1916. These “large, rich, satiny pink flowers” were suggested for the “finest blooms” section of the proposed IGC rose garden.
Madame Ravary hybrid tea rose. Illustration from Roses and Rose Growing by Rose G. Kingsley, 1908. The French rosarian Joseph Pernet-Ducher created this rose, which was also picked for the IGC’s “finest blooms” category.

The IGC’s rose garden would sit on gently sloping ground “only a step from the entrance gate and from the Club House.” It would be divided into terraces and be framed by walls, balustrades, and steps to “pull the whole together,” the architect writes. There would be five collections of roses on three levels. The categories were historical, botanical, “modern” (19th century), “new” (20th century), and “finest blooms,” such as Madame Caroline Testout, Captain Christy, Frau Karl Druschki, Madame Ravary, and La Tosca.

William Adams Delano (1874–1960), Delano & Aldrich. Proposed Rose Garden for the International Garden Club, Bartow Mansion, Pelham Bay Park, New York City, 1917. Published in the Journal of the International Garden Club, August 1917

“An arbor covered with a profusion of rambling, climbing roses” would line the perimeter, and “a planting of vines and trees” would grow to stretch “their branches over the wall on the north, east and west,” adding “another charm to the Garden and keep[ing] off the cold winds.” The arbors were designed to connect four classical-style “small houses” with pedimented entrances, which were to stand at the center of each side of the garden walls. One of these edifices was the main entrance, which would “contain a stairway leading to the central terrace.” The other three buildings would house a “collection of pictures of roses,” a card catalogue, and a library, “where all the literature pertaining to roses that can be found will be collected.” A fountain—surrounded by “a collection of the most perfect roses”—would serve as a focal point for the symmetrical design. The idea of a formal rectilinear terraced garden with a central fountain ties the proposed rose garden to Bartow-Pell’s 1915 formal garden, also designed by Delano & Aldrich.

Title page from Roseraie de L’Haÿ: Catalogue 1900. Thousands of roses are listed in this charmingly illustrated catalogue compiled by Jules Gravereaux in 1900.

The planting plans reflect Jules Gravereaux’s ideas on a rose garden de collection. The “real Rose garden should not be merely decorative but contain a collection . . . resulting from a deliberate selection,” he writes in “La Roseraie de l’Haÿ” (1914). “The Rosary de collection” he adds, “is the result of an intimate cooperation between the Rose lover and the landscape gardener.” Gravereaux observes, rather disapprovingly, that the decorative rose garden, “which may be termed a garden adorned with Roses, is very much in vogue today.” But, in his opinion, that approach “is like a pretty woman without brains. She may attract attention for a time, but does not retain it.”

The English-born horticulturalist Arthur Herrington (1866–1950)—whose distinguished career included working in Britain for the influential landscape gardener William Robinson—had recently overseen the horticultural work for the 1915 formal garden at Bartow and was to be in charge of “laying out and developing the [rose] garden,” according to the IGC Journal.

Sydney Percy Kendrick (British, 1874–1955). Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman, ca. 1930. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Aymar Johnson, 1978.02

The thrilling new garden would be a collaborative project led by Zelia Hoffman (IGC president), William Adams Delano (architect), and Arthur Herrington (landscape gardener). Eighty pages of articles about roses in the 1917 IGC Journal added to the buzz. The club was on a roll. So, why was the proposed garden never built? The answer is World War I.

The war changed everything. “A campaign to raise funds for the building of a Rose Garden, modelled after those near Paris of Bagatelle and the Roseraie de l’Hay, had just been started this spring when we entered the war,” Hoffman reports in the IGC Journal of August 1917. “The site of the Rose Garden will be for the present planted to vegetables. The grounds of the Club will be offered to the Westchester Red Cross Society for open air hospital purposes in case a large number of wounded should come to us.” She has more to say in “Shall We Grow Roses in Wartime?,” in the 1918 American Rose Annual. “I only regret that the great municipal rose-garden which the International Garden Club has projected for the City of New York is not existing and ready to do its share in bringing inspiration, relief, and peace to the wounded among our people in this torn and agitated time,” she laments. The moment had passed, and the IGC’s rose garden was buried in history.

Margaret Highland, Historian

The front gate at Bartow-Pell (formerly the International Garden Club). Dense woods grow today where the IGC hoped to plant their rose garden in 1917.

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A Carpet of Velvety Green: Lawns on 19th-Century Country Estates

The rear lawn and the 1915 Delano & Aldrich formal garden at Bartow-Pell were restored by Mark K. Morrison Landscape Architecture PC with a 2012 Partners in Preservation grant from the National Trust and American Express. The mansion was completed in 1842. In the 1844 edition of A. J. Downing’s Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, he writes that buildings with a “simplicity of outline . . . harmonize best with all landscape . . . of simple or graceful beauty.” Downing was a great admirer of “a finely undulating lawn”; ordinarily, he found a flat surface “extremely dull and uninteresting.”

A beautiful undulating carpet of fresh green grass was an essential luxury on 19th-century country estates. Today, that idea may seem fairly obvious, but why? And how did the landed gentry plant and maintain their expansive (and expensive) lawns in the days before modern equipment?

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, wealthy Americans followed English models of architecture and landscaping, which they learned about from books, engravings, paintings, travel, and immigrants. This was a period when British landscape designers embraced the Romantic picturesque elements of an idealized natural style and rejected the formal, geometric aesthetic of French and Continental gardens. The new fashion was popularized by the great British landscape gardeners of the age—including Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716–1783), Humphry Repton (1752–1818), William Sawrey Gilpin (1762–1843), and John Claudius Loudon (1783–1843)—and their followers in the United States, such as Irish-born Bernard McMahon (ca. 1775–1816), Belgian émigré André Parmentier (1780–1830), and American wunderkind Andrew Jackson Downing (1815–1852). These American gardeners created a new national style that was suitable for the North American climate.

John Preston Neale (English, 1780–1847), artist, and J. C. Varrall, engraver. Attingham Hall, Shropshire, 1826. Illustration from Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, 2nd series, v. 3. In 1797, the 2nd Lord Berwick commissioned Humphry Repton to modernize the grounds at Attingham Park, where many of Repton’s original improvements remain today. A. J. Downing greatly admired Repton and considered him to be one of England’s most important landscape gardeners. In his Treatise, Downing turns to him on the subject of open lawns near houses. “‘The mind,’ says Repton, ‘feels a certain disgust under a sense of confinement in any situation however beautiful.’ A wide-spread lawn, on the contrary . . . conveys an expression of ample extent and space for enjoyment.”

Irregularity, curved lines, varied surfaces, unexpected views and vistas, meandering walks, majestic trees, interesting groupings of shrubs and plants, and, yes, lawns (especially dotted with a few choice trees), characterized the modern natural style. These elements were expected to work in harmony with architecture and the surrounding landscape. Although the look was natural, the design was contrived. In the 1844 edition of his treatise on landscape gardening, A. J. Downing writes that “in the grounds of a country residence,” natural beauty can be enhanced by “conducting all our improvements with an eye to picturesque expression.” British and American advocates of the modern style, however, varied in their interpretations of the ideal landscape, and writers such as Sir Uvedale Price (1747–1829) had strong opinions on the differences between the “beautiful,” the “picturesque,” and the “sublime.”

Claude Lorrain (French, 1604/5?–1682). View of La Crescenza, 1648–50. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1978. British and American gardeners sometimes looked to landscape paintings for inspiration. Works by the 17th-century artists Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, and Salvator Rosa were particular favorites. This view by Claude of a medieval fortress refashioned as a country house in the Roman campagna was in the collection of Richard Payne Knight. Knight—along with his friend Sir Uvedale Price—was a leading proponent of the picturesque in Britain and the author of The Landscape (1794), a didactic poem on the subject. A. J. Downing later wrote in his treatise on American landscape gardening, “To the lover of the fine arts, the name of Claude Lorraine [sic] cannot fail to suggest examples of beauty in its purest and most elegant forms.”

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington followed the latest gardening trends and were among the first wealthy Americans who planted lawns as part of a larger landscaping scheme in the natural, English taste. On June 2, 1798, the Polish writer Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz visited Mount Vernon, where he admired a grove of locust trees planted on “a green carpet of the most beautiful velvet.” In his book George Washington’s Eye, Joseph Manca shares an account of Washington’s gardens written about 1788–89 by the military officer, writer, and gentleman farmer David Humphreys, who describes “a lawn of 5 acres in front & about the same in rear of the buildings. . . . On the north-end it subsides gradually into extensive pasture grounds; while on the south it slopes more steeply . . . and terminates with the coach-house, stables, vineyard & nurseries.”

Unidentified artist, Mount Vernon, 19th century. Watercolor and pen and ink on paper. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson. This folky watercolor is a loose copy of an aquatint published in 1800 by the London printmaker Francis Jukes from original artwork by the Scottish-American artist Alexander Robertson.

What defined a lawn, exactly? In 1830, according to Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, it was “an open space between woods, or a plain in a park [i.e., the land surrounding a country house] or adjoining a noble seat.” To be clear, a lawn was not the same as a meadow, pasture, or clearing. Lawns—which were extremely labor-intensive—were expensive to plant and maintain. These costly status symbols were the perfect way to showcase a handsome mansion on a gentleman’s country estate.

In the 19th century, well-to-do Americans were keen to own a country seat, partially as a means to escape urban and industrial areas, which were becoming more crowded, dirty, and disease-ridden. As part of this movement, on April 25, 1836, Robert Bartow and his wife, Maria, paid $40,000 for 233 acres of waterfront property in the countryside just north of New York City—land that had once belonged to his Bartow and Pell ancestors—and made plans to build a splendid mansion. Naturally, new landscaping in the current taste would have been part of that scheme.

Bartow mansion, albumen print, ca. 1870, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum (left). Bartow estate, Map showing topographical survey of land to be taken for Pelham Bay Park (detail), 1885, Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library (right). The Bartow mansion had a large front lawn bordered by an oval tree-lined entrance drive and a smaller lawn sloping down to the water at the back.

Robert and Maria Bartow were among the wealthy New Yorkers who owned country houses on Long Island Sound in the picturesque area that is now Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Here, lawns, gardens, and orchards joined pastures, farmland, marshes, and woodland on idyllic estates. The Bartows’ neighbor Elisha King hired noted horticulturalist André Parmentier to lay out the grounds at Hawkswood, King’s fine 1829 Greek Revival mansion designed by Martin Euclid Thompson near City Island. In “Landscapes and Picturesque Gardens” (1828), Parmentier advises: “The front of the house ought always to be uncovered” and “open to public view; otherwise the taste and expense are, in a great measure, thrown away.” He also says that “it is desirable that a grass-plot should naturally present itself.”

Pelham—Rodman’s Neck, New York. Illustration from Atkinson’s Casket (Philadelphia), October 1831. The architect Martin Euclid Thompson built Hawkswood for Elisha King in 1828–29. This Greek Revival mansion sat on a rise with magnificent views of Long Island Sound and was surrounded by beautiful lawns and grounds designed by André Parmentier. “The Lawn is enriched with almost every variety of tree and shrub, and its arrangement is one of the happiest efforts of the late distinguished Landscape Gardener, Mr. Andrew Parmentier, of Brooklyn. . . . The situation is peculiarly picturesque.” The house was subsequently owned by Levin R. Marshall but was demolished in the 1930s.

John Hunter mansion and grounds, Hunter Island, New York, 1882. Albumen prints. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. On July 11, 1839, a reporter for the Morning Herald noted the “beauty and picturesque effect” en route to Hunter’s estate and admired “the house on the summit of a hill, covered with groves of trees, lawn, grass plats, and rich fields of grain.” “A sloping lawn of great beauty, interspersed with flower borders, leads from the east front steps to the water’s edge,” he wrote.

John Hunter’s Pelham Bay estate—modeled after those of the English nobility—was on its own island, which A. J. Downing describes in his Treatise. “The whole island may be considered an extensive park, carpeted with soft lawn and studded with noble trees,” he observes. Downing was also impressed by Robert Bolton’s Pelham Priory, which embodied the Romantic notion of the picturesque and was surrounded by lawns and woods, a faux ruin, and a gazebo.

William Rickarby Miller (1818–1893). Pelham Priory (left) and Woodland Path, Pelham Priory (right), 1856. Watercolor on paper. Collection of Catherine Boericke. Robert Bolton designed his 1838 neo-Gothic pile—and the surrounding gardens—in a highly Romantic picturesque style. According to Robert Bolton Jr.’s family history, “the grounds and woodlands were being more and more cultivated and adorned under Mr. Bolton’s eye, and became objects of admiration to visitors,” including his friend Washington Irving, who “took a lively interest in this specimen of English landscape gardening.” In these 1856 watercolors, spacious lawns slope down from the house and are shaded by stately trees. A formal geometric flower garden contrasts with the otherwise natural aesthetic.

How were these lawns achieved? Downing discusses the subject in the November 1846 issue of The Horticulturalist (which he edited). “We love most the soft turf which, beneath the flickering shadows of scattered trees, is thrown like a smooth natural carpet over the swelling outline of the smiling earth,” he writes. But growing a lawn and keeping it green wasn’t that easy. The American climate, “so bright and sunny” with the “summer searing” of July and August, made it harder to maintain “the perpetual softness and verdure of an ‘English lawn.’” But Downing had good news. “Fine lawns” could be had “in all the northern half of the Union” if people followed three important rules—“deep soil, the proper kinds of grasses, and frequent mowing.

First, the soil must be prepared. Downing recommends doing this in the autumn or early winter so that the ground has time to settle before it is seeded in the spring. “Large lawn surfaces are only to be managed (unless expense is not a consideration) with the subsoil plough . . . worked by two yoke of oxen” to turn up the soil two feet deep. Then a harrow should be used to break up clumps of dirt, and the area must be cleared of all stones. “It is quite impossible to mow a lawn well that is not as smooth as ground can be made,” he warns. Manure may be applied while subsoiling, but it is not needed “if the land is strong and in good heart.” “The object in a lawn,” he reminds us, “is not to obtain a heavy crop of hay, but simply to maintain perpetual verdure. Rich soil would defeat our object by causing rank growth and coarse stalks, when we wish short growth and soft herbage.”

In early spring, Downing says to stir the soil “lightly with the plough and harrow, and make the surface as smooth as possible—we do not mean level, for if the ground is not a flat, nothing is so agreeable as gentle swells or undulations. But quite smooth the surface must be.” When it is time to sow the seeds, Downing recommends a mixture of red-top (Agostis vulgaris) and white clover (Trifolium repens), “which are hardy short grasses” that “make the best and most enduring lawn for this climate. . . . The seed should be perfectly clean; then sow four bushels of it to the acre; not a pint less as you hope to walk upon velvet! Finish the whole by rolling the surface evenly and neatly. A few soft vernal showers and bright sunny days will show you a coat of verdure bright as emerald.” Hopefully nature cooperated.

Preparing for Croquet. Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, July 22, 1871. By the 1870s, croquet had become very popular as a lawn game, especially for ladies. “The accompanying illustration will please every body who takes any enjoyment in the game. The workmen have come out with their scythes to mow the lawn into perfect smoothness.” Lawn scythes were the traditional method for cutting grass, and although mechanical mowers had been invented by this time, they were not in widespread use.

How did gardeners mow and maintain these velvety green carpets? “After your lawn is once fairly established, there are but two secrets in keeping it perfect—frequent mowing and rolling,” Downing advises. Scythes were used for cutting grass, sometimes even after the lawn mower became widely available in the late 19th century. Downing recommends using an “English lawn scythe” with a broad blade “of the most perfect temper and quality, which will hold an edge like a razor.” “Of course, a lawn can only be cut when the grass is damp, and rolling is best performed directly after rain.” Lawn rollers—preferably made of iron—ensured that the ground remained smooth. “The English always roll a few hours before using the scythe. On large lawns, a donkey or light horse may be advantageously employed in performing this operation.”

Horse lawn boots. From the private collection of Mark K. Morrison. These “improved patent” leather boots were worn by Shire horses when walking across a lawn so as not to damage the turf. Collector Mark Morrison notes that “they are similar to medicine boots, which had poultices put in them when a horse had a bad hoof.”

Gardeners used rakes and brooms to remove grass cuttings. Specialized tools included edgers for trimming borders. For grassy areas away from the “dressed portions of the estate,” Downing’s friend Henry W. Sargent suggests using sheep to keep turf short and “diminish the amount of lawn now kept under the scythe . . . increasing very much the charm of the landscape” (The Horticulturalist, November 1849).

The roller water-engine. Illustration from John Claudius Loudon, An Encyclopedia of Gardening (London), 1835. “The roller water-engine consists of a horse, frame, and wheels, on which is placed a water-barrel, and under it an iron roller. It is an excellent machine for lawns and roads, as they may be watered and rolled by the same operation.”

Finally, how were lawns watered? Deep tilling helped keep roots moist. Water barrels—on wheelbarrows or horse-drawn—and eventually rubber hoses and sprinklers were among the systems that were used. Water sources could include cisterns, wells, reservoirs, streams, and ponds.  In any case, it was probably easiest to hope for rain.

At first, lawns were only for rich country gentlemen, but with the advent of the suburban front yard, anyone could have a private carpet of velvety green.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Just Up the Road: Henry James’s Cousin Minny Temple

1874 Map of Pelham and New Rochelle, Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association

Map Showing Location of Lands of the Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association (detail). Stephens Brothers & Co., New York City, publisher, 1874. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. This 1874 map shows the location of the house that belonged to Minny Temple’s brother-in-law Richard Stockton Emmet on Weyman Avenue and Pelham Road in New Rochelle. Properties where his siblings Lydia Hubley Emmet and William Jenkins Emmet and the Emmets’ relative Robert White Edgar lived are also depicted. R. S. Emmet’s estate was near the steamboat landing, which was on a little island in the Sound that was also the location of the Neptune House, a popular resort hotel with beautiful grounds and superb water views.

About two miles up the road from the Bartow mansion—near the border of Pelham and New Rochelle, New York—24-year-old Mary “Minny” Temple (1845–1870) died of tuberculosis on March 8, 1870. Her first cousin the novelist Henry James (1843–1916) received the sad tidings at the English spa town of Malvern in a letter from his mother, “news more strange & painful than I can find words to express,” he replied.

Mary Temple Houghton Library

Mary “Minny” Temple (1845–1870), ca. 1870. Houghton Library, Harvard College Library

Minny was full of life and energy. She was unaffected, an independent thinker, a lively and opinionated conversationalist, at times an irreverent rebel, and—sometimes—a dreamer. Her brilliant smile lit up a room. At 16, she cropped off all of her hair to half an inch and had a photograph taken. Minny enjoyed going to balls and to the opera. She liked to “knock about all day in a sleigh” in “the fresh air and sunshine,” as she wrote to her friend John Chipman Gray. She also fantasized about joining Henry James in Europe despite her illness, and she had a deep longing to meet the author George Eliot—whom she greatly admired as both a person and a writer—as her literary cousin did. Her close friends and contemporaries were intellectual and often artistic, and her social circle included the artist Helena de Kay, the painter Lizzie Boott (who married the artist Frank Duveneck), the future Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and Henry’s brother, the philosopher and psychologist William James. Minny’s luminous personality—bursting with intelligence and vitality—was magnetic.

HJ ca. 1863-4 Houghton

Henry James (1843–1916), ca. 1863–64. Houghton Library, Harvard College Library

James writes about Minny at length in his autobiography Notes of a Son and Brother. “She was absolutely afraid of nothing she might come to by living with enough sincerity and enough wonder,” he wrote. She was “an asker of endless questions.” In a letter to his mother dated March 26, 1870, James remembers his cousin’s “wonderful ethereal brightness of presence which was so peculiarly her own.” He mourns her early death and wistfully confides: “It comes home to me with irresistible power, the sense how much I knew her & how much I loved her.” Now “she is dead—silent—absent forever.”

James brought his cousin back to life in several of his most important novels. Minny appears loosely as a free-spirited American abroad in Daisy Miller (1878). Later, in The Portrait of a Lady (1881), she is resurrected as Isabel Archer, the unforgettable, headstrong heroine of what is perhaps the author’s finest novel. Finally, Minny Temple inspired the character of Milly Theale—the doomed protagonist of James’s late novel The Wings of the Dove (1902)—whose poignant struggle and premature death from a long illness recalls Minny’s own life cut short.

Minny Temple was born on December 7, 1845, to Colonel Robert Emmet Temple and his wife, Catherine James Temple, of Albany, New York. (Minny’s mother was the sister of Henry James Sr.) In 1854, when the couple died of tuberculosis, their six surviving children—two boys and four girls—went to live with relatives, spending time in Albany, Newport, Cambridge, and Pelham/New Rochelle, among other places.

The Temple and James families were both related to the Emmet family of New Rochelle. Today New Rochelle is a densely populated suburban city, but in the 19th century, country estates dotted the area. These properties were owned by wealthy New Yorkers, such as the Emmets, who enjoyed being away from the city but close to the metropolis and near Long Island Sound. The Emmets were descended from the Irish patriot and lawyer Thomas Addis Emmet, an Anglo-Irish protestant who was imprisoned and exiled after taking up the nationalist cause. He immigrated to the United States in 1804. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, several Emmet women had careers as well-known artists.

Christ Church, Pelham

William Rickarby Miller (1818–1893). Christ Church, Pelham, 1856. Watercolor on paper. Collection of Catherine Boericke. This was the Emmet family church in Pelham. It is where Kitty Temple and Richard Stockton Emmet were married in 1868, and where Minny Temple’s funeral took place in 1870. The Reverend Robert Bolton and his sons built the church on the grounds of their home and school, the Pelham Priory.

1874 map detail

This is another detail from the 1874 map of Pelham and New Rochelle, which shows the homes of Richard Stockton Emmet, Lydia Hubley Emmet, William Jenkins Emmet, and Robert White Edgar, as well as Frederic Prime’s house, the Bolton Priory, and Christ Church.

The three families—James, Temple, and Emmet—became even more entwined when the eldest Temple sister, Katherine (“Kitty”), married Richard “Dick” Stockton Emmet at Christ Church, Pelham, on September 29, 1868. The middle-aged bridegroom was more than 20 years older than the bride. As Lyndall Gordon writes in A Private Life of Henry James, “the marriage would enable Kitty to provide a home for her sisters.” A year later, another sister, Ellen (“Elly”) James Temple, married the groom’s brother, Christopher Temple Emmet. Minny wrote to Henry James about her sister’s “startling” engagement in a letter from Pelham dated August 15, 1869, now in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. “He is 28 years older than Elly—being forty-seven. We were all a good deal astonished by her engagement. . . . She is very happy, & they are both, apparently, very much in love with each other. . . . Kitty’s little venture in the way of marrying one’s grandfather has turned out so well, that I ought to feel quite safe about Elly.” Shortly after the wedding, Henry James wrote to his father, “I don’t a bit like Elly marrying that Methusaleh [sic].” (Methuselah was the Biblical patriarch who lived to be 969 years old, according to Genesis.)

Although Minny wrote to her various correspondents from her sister Kitty’s home in “Pelham,” the house was almost certainly the one that belonged to Kitty’s husband in the contiguous town of New Rochelle. This is a distinction that James scholars have overlooked, but it is of special interest for those of us who know the area well. The confusion is understandable because four Emmet family houses stood along a half-mile stretch in Pelham and New Rochelle on today’s Shore Road/Pelham Road. (The street name changes at the border.)

Edgewood, Frederick Prime house, 1860s

Edgewood, the country seat of Frederick Prime (1807–1887), New Rochelle, New York. Photograph, 1860s. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. E. Chester Peet, 2003. Frederick Prime’s estate was next door to that of Richard Stockton Emmet. This is one of two large photographs of Prime’s house that were given to Bartow-Pell by one of his descendants. Here, Mr. Prime is likely posing with his second wife and some of his daughters. It appears that two young ladies have driven over in a buggy to pay them a visit (one holds a whip). Minny Temple wrote to Henry James on November 17, 1869, that “John Gray made us a little visit, at Pelham. . . . I took him out in a pony-wagon between the showers, & shook him up, & splashed his clothes.”

Pelham-N Rochelle border, 1851

Map of West Chester County, New York (detail), 1851. Newell S. Brown, White Plains, publisher. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. The circled structure on this 1851 map is unidentified but appears to be the same house that was later occupied by Richard Stockton Emmet on Weyman Avenue and Pelham Road in New Rochelle.

The house that once stood at 197 Weyman Avenue and Pelham Road in New Rochelle belonged to Richard Stockton Emmet, Kitty Temple’s husband and Minny’s brother-in-law. Some maps indicate that his acreage may have extended to what is today part of the Pelham Country Club golf course. There are no known images of the house, and its date of construction is unknown, but according to the Emmet family website, the house was built by Richard S. Emmet’s father, Robert Emmet, as a country house in the 1830s. This is presumably where Minny died while living with her sister Kitty.


Kemble House (Emmet Cottage), 145 Shore Road, Pelham and New Rochelle, New York. Courtesy of the Office of the Historian of the Town of Pelham. William R. Montgomery, former Historian of the Town of Pelham, took this photograph in 1923. The Emmet family owned the home for a number of years in the 19th century.

Three additional Emmet family houses were very closely situated to each other and appear consecutively on the 1870 New Rochelle census. The so-called Kemble House (also known as “Emmet Cottage”) still stands today at 145 Shore Road; the Pelham-New Rochelle border cuts directly through it. The original section of the home was built before the American Revolution. By 1870, the year of Minny’s death, ownership had passed to Lydia Hubley Emmet (Kitty and Elly’s unmarried sister-in-law), and at that time, the household included a number of Emmets, including C. Temple Emmet and his young wife, Elly (Minny’s sister). A few years later, it was the site of a notorious robbery by a gang of masked bandits. Early in the morning of December 23, 1873, the robbers handcuffed and gagged several members of the Emmet family and their servants before ransacking the house and breaking into the safe. The burglars were soon captured by the police and brought to trial.

Sheffield Island, New Rochelle, 1868

Map of New Rochelle, Westchester Co., N.Y. (detail). Atlas of New York and Vicinity, plate 38, F. W. Beers, cartographer, 1868. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. The families of William Jenkins Emmet and his relative Robert White Edgar lived on Sheffield Island, which is now known as Travers Island and is the summer location of the New York Athletic Club. However, the water near the shore has been filled in, and it is no longer an island.

Henry James by Ellen Rand NPG DC

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875–1941). Henry James, 1900. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Marjorie Edel in memory of Leon Edel. The artist Ellen Emmet Rand was the daughter of Minny Temple’s sister Elly and her husband, C. Temple Emmet. Henry James was her mother’s first cousin. In addition, Ellen Emmet Rand’s first cousins were the artists Rosina Emmet Sherwood, Lydia Field Emmet, and Jane Emmet de Glehn, the daughters of William Jenkins Emmet and his artist-wife Julia, who lived on Sheffield (Travers) Island in New Rochelle.

The next household on the 1870 New Rochelle census was that of another Emmet brother, William Jenkins Emmet, his wife and children, and their servants. They lived on Sheffield Island (known today as Travers Island), which was at that time connected to Shore Road by a short causeway. An 1868 map shows two dwellings on Sheffield Island. “Sedgemere,” the house on the south side, is labeled “W. J. Emmet.” (William Jenkins Emmet and his wife, the painter Julia Colt Pierson Emmet, were the parents of the artists Rosina Emmet Sherwood, Lydia Field Emmet, and Jane Erin Emmet de Glehn. Emmet’s Sedgemere Diary has been digitized by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.) The house on the north side is labeled “R. W. Edgar,” which refers to the third Emmet household on the 1870 census, that of Robert White Edgar and his wife, Jane Emmet LeRoy Edgar, an Emmet cousin. In addition, the Edgars were the niece and nephew of Herman LeRoy Jr. and his wife, Juliet Edgar LeRoy, from whom in 1836, Robert and Maria Bartow purchased the estate that had belonged to Bartow’s grandfather.

Minny frequently corresponded with her good friend, the Harvard legal scholar John Chipman Gray. In a letter to him from Pelham dated January 27, 1869 (now in the Houghton Library at Harvard), she wrote: Kitty “takes good care of me & all the Emmets are so good & kind, that I found, when it came to the point, that there was a good deal that made life attractive, & that if the choice were given to me, I would a good deal rather stay up here, on the solid earth, in the air and sunshine . . . than to be put down, under the earth, and say good bye forever to humanity—with all its laughter and its sadness.” In a letter to Gray written on January 7, she told him: “I like to be out here in the country, and Kitty likes to have me with her. This being the case, her husband makes such a clamor when I propose to leave, that I am easily persuaded by his kindness and my own want of energy, to stay where I am. It is great fun living out here.”

Minny also enjoyed going in to New York City. “We are so near the town, that we go in very often, for the day, & do a little shopping, lunch with some of our numerous friends, and come out again, with a double relish for the country. We all went in, on a spree, the other night, & stayed at the Everett House, from which, as a starting point, we poured in in strong force, upon Mrs. Gracie King’s ball, a very grand affair, given for a very pretty Miss King, at Del Monico’s [sic]. On this occasion the raiding party consisted of thirteen Emmets & a moderate supply of Temples.” (Letter from Minny Temple to John Chipman Gray, January 7, 1869, Houghton Library, Harvard University)

In February 1869, about a year before her death, Henry James visited Minny on his way to an extended stay in Europe. In Notes of a Son and Brother, he describes seeing “her again, in the old-time Pelham parlours, ever so erectly slight and . . . so transparently, fair (I fatuously took this for ‘becoming’), glide as swiftly, toss her head as characteristically, laugh to as free a disclosure of the handsome largeish teeth that made her mouth almost the main fact of her face. . . . The house was quiet and spacious for the day, after the manner of all American houses of that age at those hours, and yet spoke of such a possible muster at need of generous, gregarious, neighbouring, sympathising Emmets.” Is James describing the Emmet house on Weyman Avenue in New Rochelle?

Pelham Priory rear resized

William Rickarby Miller. Pelham Priory, 1856. Watercolor on paper. Collection of Catherine Boericke. The youngest Temple sister, Henrietta, attended the Pelham Priory School, which was affiliated with Christ Church, Pelham.

Henrietta Temple, the youngest sister of Minny, Kitty, and Elly, was not far away. In 1870, she was a boarder at the Pelham Priory school, which was run by Nanette and Adele Bolton, the daughters of the Reverend Robert Bolton, an Episcopal minister who founded the school and was the first rector of Christ Church, Pelham. Christ Church archives reveal that in 1872 the Emmet family sat in pews 10 and 13, and Henrietta Temple shared pew 16 with the Bolton sisters. Today, a large stained-glass window in the sanctuary memorializes Katharine Temple Emmet and Richard Stockton Emmet.

Emmet Window, Christ Church, Pelham

Sarah Purser (Irish, 1848–1943), An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass) studio, Dublin. Jesus Blesses the Children, Katharine Temple Emmet and Richard Stockton Emmet Memorial Window, Christ Church, Pelham, 1913. Photo courtesy of Arthur Scinta

As the hemorrhaging in her lungs worsened, Minny was examined by the doctors, who at times gave her contradictory and confusing reports. “The problem still bothers me,” she confided to John Chipman Gray on March 4, 1869, after being told that her lungs were “a pair that a prize-fighter might covet,” while being ordered to stay in the country and “not to get excited, nor to listen to music, nor to speak to anybody.” “Either sound lungs are a very dangerous things to possess, or there is a foul conspiracy on foot to oppress me.” Despite the many physical and mental setbacks that she describes in her letters, Minny faced her illness with bravery, humor, and hope.

On the day of Minny’s death, Tuesday, March 8, 1870, the ground was covered with about eight inches of snow, and the New York Times reported that hundreds of people went ice skating in the city after the previous night’s storm had passed. As for Minny, her struggle was finally over. The funeral was on March 11 at Christ Church, the beautiful little stone building in Pelham with stained-glass windows designed by William Jay Bolton. According to the church register, Minny was buried in Beechwoods Cemetery, New Rochelle, where her sister Kitty and other Emmets were later interred. Henry James wrote his mother on March 26, “I resent their having buried her at N. Rochelle. She ought to be among her own people.” In 1910, Minny was moved to Albany Rural Cemetery, where she now lies with the Temple and James families.

In March 2020, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of her death, we remember the promise of Minny Temple’s short life and recognize the inspiration that she provided for one of our greatest American authors.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Multitasking Furniture: A Ladies’ Writing Fire Screen

Ladies' Writing Fire Screen, front and back

Attributed to Duncan Phyfe & Son (or Duncan Phyfe & Sons). Ladies’ writing fire screen, 1837–42. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart P. Feld, 2012.02

Ladies, take your pick. Writing desks, worktables, dressing tables, and even a writing fire screen. All made just for you. Some pieces can even multitask.

Starting in the 18th century, task-specific furniture—some made especially for women—appeared increasingly on the market. Why? First, the Industrial Revolution led to more profitable production methods, such as machine manufacturing, in England, France, and the United States. Economic growth followed, which meant that more and more people—including a burgeoning bourgeoisie—had the means to purchase a wider selection of fine home furnishings and other items. Enterprising makers, designers, and manufacturers seized the moment to produce a varied array of goods and novelties to tempt eager consumers, many of whom were women. While the “domestic sphere” encouraged them to become purchasers of task-specific furniture forms related to their duties in the home, advances in female education helped drive a demand for objects such as ladies’ writing desks.

A ladies’ writing fire-screen desk—which combines the functions of fire screen and fall-front desk—was given to Bartow-Pell in 2012 by Mr. and Mrs. Stuart P. Feld. The piece dates to about 1837–42 and is attributed to Duncan Phyfe & Sons (or Duncan Phyfe & Son). In 1837, Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854) made two of his sons his business partners—James D. and William. After William left the firm for other opportunities in 1841, James remained as his father’s sole partner.

Ladies' Writing Fire Screen

Attributed to Duncan Phyfe & Son. Ladies’ writing fire screen, ca. 1840. Photo courtesy of Carswell Rush Berlin, Inc., New York City. This piece—which is similar to the one at Bartow-Pell—is now in the collection of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and is on display at Millford Plantation in Pinewood, South Carolina. It is the same design as a writing fire screen (now in a private collection) that was listed on a bill of lading to John L. Manning, the original owner of Millford.

BPMM’s mahogany writing fire screen is similar to a documented piece that was made by D. Phyfe & Son and listed on a bill of lading dated June 2, 1841, for goods delivered to John L. Manning (1816–1889) in what is now Sumter County, South Carolina. At this time, he and his wife, Susan Hampton Manning (1816–1845), were in the midst of buying furnishings for their newly built home, Millford Plantation, a Greek Revival house that now belongs to the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. (Although the Manning writing fire screen is now in a private collection, the Trust has purchased an identical example for Millford.) In 2012, Susan Manning’s writing fire screen was on view in Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which was co-curated by Peter M. Kenny and Michael K. Brown. Mrs. Manning’s writing fire screen was part of a large shipment of furniture sent from D. Phyfe & Son in New York to her husband’s agent in Charleston. Many of these pieces were made in the so-called Grecian Plain style popularized by Phyfe, which featured architectonic forms, restrained classical elements, and figured veneers. The Manning writing fire screen and the one that was given to Bartow-Pell are both made in this plain style. The use of decorative fabric panels—seen on both of these pieces—was a common feature of fire screens.

Gentleman's fig. 1 and Lady's fig. 2 writing fire screens 1788, pl. 18

Gentleman’s Writing Fire Screen (left) and Lady’s Writing Fire Screen (right). Illustration from The Cabinet-Maker’s London Book of Prices, plate 18, figs.1 and 2, 1788

An early reference to a writing fire screen is found in The Cabinet-Makers London Book of Prices (1788), which lists two versions, one for a gentleman and one for a lady. The description of the latter reads: “A lady’s writing fire screen, all solid, the corners beaded, the inside fitted up for ink, sand, and wafers [for sealing letters], and a hollow for pens [quills], with 2 sliders [stacked dividers] for paper, no doors below.” Veneer and inlays (crossbanding and stringing) cost extra.

Screen table, Sheraton, plate 43

Thomas Sheraton (British, 1751–1806). A Screen Table. Illustration from The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book, 1793, plate 43. American cabinetmakers were familiar with this important pattern book by the influential British designer Thomas Sheraton.

A few years later, in 1793, Thomas Sheraton included a design for a screen-table in The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book. “This table is intended for a lady to write or work at near the fire; the screen part behind securing her face from its injuries.” Carswell Rush Berlin, decorative arts expert and BPMM Curatorial Committee chair, has identified the inspiration for Bartow-Pell’s writing fire screen as an écran-pupitre (screen-desk) in Pierre de La Mésangère’s Meubles et Objets de Goût, published in 1831.

Ecran-pupitre - detail

Ecran-pupitre (screen-desk). Illustration from Pierre de La Mésangère, editor, Meubles et Objets de Goût 4 (1831): plate 708. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1951. Pierre de La Mésangère’s 1831 design for an écran-pupitre is clearly the inspiration for Duncan Phyfe’s ladies’ writing fire screens, which were made about 1840 and are almost identical to the one shown in this engraving.

These desks are not very deep because they also function as fire screens, but the hinged fall-front provides a generous writing surface, and tiered compartments in the interior space behind it offer storage for desk supplies and papers. “Let us, therefore, open the writing-desk, and examine its contents,” writes Thomas Griffiths in The Writing-Desk and Its Contents (London, 1844). “First there are two glasses, the one full of ink, the other full of pounce; here is a bundle of quill pens; here are some steel pens, several quires of writing paper, a few sheets of blotting paper; here, again, are sticks of red and black sealing wax, and plenty of wafers; here a penknife, a hone, a strop, a paper knife, a wafer stamp, a pen wiper, a round ruler, a black lead pencil, a piece of India-rubber, a box of lucifers [matches], and a white wax taper.” In 1836, Godey’s reported: “It appears to us that much benefit has been produced by the inventors and professors of the new modes of forming the hand-writing, for the letters of almost every lady of these days are neat, elegant and legible.”

George Smith, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide, 1826, plate 83

George Smith (British, active London 1808–33). Ladies Drawing Table and Ladies Screen Writing Table. Illustration from The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide, 1826, plate 83. “The first subject in this plate is intended for the use of female artists, as well as to answer the purpose of a pier table. . . . The second subject in this plate exhibits a design for a writing table with a sliding screen at the back, which may be raised up or lowered at pleasure, and should be filled with plate glass.” These two inventive designs allowed women to use the same piece of furniture for more than one purpose.

A writing desk—from a small lap desk to a full-sized piece of furniture—was often highly personal. This is where private letters, valuables, and other items could be kept under lock and key. “The day before yesterday, accidentally hunting about in her bed-chamber for a letter I had mislaid, I found that the key of my bureau equally fitted her writing-desk; I mechanically opened it, and in a private drawer found several of Le Pelletier’s letters,” confided a husband to his doctor in “The Consultation,” an 1840 short story in The Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music, and Romance. “The devil you did,” his interlocutor replied, “but permit me to ask how you came to pry about your wife’s writing-desk? eh!” Although the desk in this story from a women’s magazine is likely a portable writing slope with a secret drawer—unlike Bartow-Pell’s writing fire-screen desk—the idea of the personal nature of a lady’s writing desk applies to both.


This 1820s worktable at Bartow-Pell has a workbag underneath for sewing materials and a writing slope and compartments for writing supplies in the top drawer. “Work” refers to needlework (such as embroidery), which was also called “fancy work.” This contrasts to “plain sewing,” meaning tasks like darning socks.

Bartow-Pell’s ladies’ writing fire screen—one of several objects in our collection made for women’s activities—is a useful and elegant example of furniture designed for more than one function. In addition, it was made at a date when Maria Lorillard Bartow would have been selecting furnishings for the family’s new mansion, which was completed in 1842. Perhaps, like the Mannings, she even shopped at D. Phyfe & Son.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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