Notes on collections and events at the RIHS
Eighteenth and 21st centuries meet at the John Brown House Museum when RIHS Director of Collections Kirsten Hammerstrom and Registrar Dana Signe Munroe get the museum ready for spring in the 18th century manner. Dressed in period-appropriate clothing, we will discover what it takes to make the John Brown House ready for spring. With buckets, cloths, and brooms, we will start with the formal parlor and demonstrate for visitors domestic work described in Hannah Glass’s “The Servants Directory, Improved, or, House-Keepers Companion,” published in 1762 and Susannah Whatman’s Housekeeping Book (1776-1800).
To prepare for this day’s event, in addition to researching historic housekeeping methods and the Brown family servants, we have been hand-sewing clothing suitable for servants in the 1795-1803 period. Although we do not know exactly who worked for the Browns at the cusp of the 19th century, we do know that they, like other wealthy Rhode Island families, employed servants and owned slaves. In this program, we will not interpret specific servants, but instead explore the work and methods that servants or slaves would have used, wearing clothing typical of the period.
The house may seem insurmountably large, a vast Sahara of dust and dirt, to a woman wearing jeans and equipped with a vacuum cleaner. Taking on spring cleaning in late 18th century stays and long dress and petticoat, knowing that we will climb ladders (fortunately modern) to reach woodwork, will be daunting. But the experience will provide us with first-hand knowledge of what a day was like for a house maid who followed Hannah Glass’s exhortation to “Be up very early in a morning, as indeed you are first wanted; lace on your stays, and pin your things very tight about you, or you never can do work well. Be sure always to have very clean feet, that you may not dirty your rooms, and learn to walk softly, that you may not disturb the family.”
The methods outlined in these period books are surprisingly similar to today’s conservation cleaning methods outlined in the Manual of Housekeeping published in by the National Trust of Britain in 2006. Fortunately, recently completed construction has provided us with a house full of dust ready for cleaning. Join us on Saturday, April 21, from 10 to 4:00. The program is free with the regular house tours at 10:30, 12:00, 1:30 and 3:00.
Follow dress making progress and research updates, as well as a report of the day’s findings, here on the blog using the housecleaning tag.
~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections