Livening up the House: Children at Home in America, 1680-1880

Betsy Widmer, Newburyport, MA

Saturday, February 13, 2016Mini-exhibit: 10:00 amLecture: 10:30amGould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor
The McConnell Children of Philadelphia

The McConnell Children of Philadelphia, unidentified artist, 1790, Olde Hope Antiques

What was it like to be a child in early America? Elisabeth Garrett Widmer’s illustrated talk, based on first-hand accounts, will invite you to meet with some of the babies, toddlers, children and adolescents of former times. Betsy Widmer will lead us through a series of homes from the late 17th century through the high Victorian period. Even the concept of childhood changed over time, along with the concept of “home,” as smaller versions of adults achieved recognition as individuals with discrete periods of personal development.

We will follow children as they find their favored spaces in the home and in the yard. What were their playthings and games? How did they change with the seasons? What were their youthful chores and responsibilities? Mrs. Widmer will also introduce the menagerie of pets that enlivened the household and added to its noise. We will listen to reminiscences of the joys and sorrows of tackling those infamous three “r’s”; reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. We will empathize with the sweat and tears accompanying the accomplishments of needle and thread. We will come to appreciate the intricacies, the pride and the downright anguish of getting dressed, and wearing costume.

Betsy Widmer will also introduce us to their parents. How did mothers and fathers govern and guide their little ones, attempt to counsel and steer them? How did roles for father and mother become different over time? What were the parents’ lofty goals? What earth-bound obstacles impeded their achievement? What worried parents the most? In answering an essential part of that question, we will enter the sickroom to consider the importance of health and illness in a world without antibiotics.

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Brides, Housewives, Hostesses: Caring for and Enjoying Nathaniel Gould’s Furniture in Eighteenth-Century Salem

Betsy Widmer, Newburyport, MA

Saturday, February 13, 2016Mini-exhibit: N/ALecture: 1:00pmGould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor
Side chair by Nathaniel Gould

Side chair by Nathaniel Gould, 1770, for Clark Gayton Pickman and Sarah Orne, Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Paul Moore, 1939. Photograph by Gavin Ashworth

The genesis of Betsy Widmer’s talk was the discovery of the account books of Nathaniel Gould, Salem’s most prominent mid-18th century cabinetmaker. Kemble Widmer and Joyce King found this treasure trove of Nathaniel Gould’s account books at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This extraordinary find, together with dexterous sleuthing and connoisseurship, have allowed them to understand better Nathaniel Gould’s multi-faceted and complex colonial business. They have also been able to identify extant furniture listed by Gould in his account books and to suggest a number of the original owners.

One of the most surprising discoveries was the number and size of orders placed with Gould at the time of marriage, when a newly wed couple set up their household. Betsy Widmer will take a close look at these wedding orders: the commissions, the furniture, the couples, the weddings and the houses which Nathaniel Gould’s furniture first furnished.

Additional primary sources, such as letters and diaries, allow us to follow some of these young couples as they courted and married. Betsy Widmer invites us to join in their flurry of activities and rituals, purchases and expenses that characterized elite weddings in 18th century Salem. Her presentation, however, does not stop there. We will follow the newlyweds, through primary source materials such as diaries and letters, as they “go to housekeeping.” Mrs. Widmer will help us understand how they displayed, and cared for the furniture in their homes. Daily challenges of living with fine furniture became far more complex as political events threatened the underpinnings of Nathaniel Gould’s Salem.

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