Harrison Bennett’s article on rhistoric house einterpreting museums

History Smiths

The lives of the women who came before us can be frustratingly difficult to understand. Only a privileged few were able to write letters or keep diaries. Fewer still were memorialized in biographies. Students of women’s history have always had to look for documentation in other kinds of places, and historic house museums are one such resource.

We can walk through the rooms where women ate, slept, prayed, gave birth, raised children, read, wrote, discussed issues of their day, and planned action. We see the tools they handled, the gardens they maintained, the proximity of their home to neighbors, the town center, or their outside work. In describing the interpretive policies for the Society for the preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA),* Jane C. Nylander wrote, “in our buildings, landscapes, and furnishings, we see the particulars that define the actual texture of people’s existence. Places and objects can also tell us about more intangible issues, like beliefs and aspirations or economic and societal change.”1

The material culture that still exists in the form of historic house museums can make the lives of women compellingly real and accessible. But in today’s museums, how often are women’s stories told? In what way? Who decides?

As a movement, the idea of historic house museums really began in the middle of the nineteenth century with the establishment of Mount Vernon as a museum — “an innovation” on the cultural landscape, according to Patricia West.  While there were such precedents as when women displayed romanticized versions of colonial kitchens at Sanitary Fairs designed to raise money for the Union Army, the patriotic fervor behind saving Mount Vernon defined the movement. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association considered it essential to preserve the home of America’s first president and they inspired similar efforts to save the homes of other great (white, male) political and literary figures. These houses were preserved as “shrines,” writes West. The directors purposefully included only selected information about the historic house inhabitants.2

The lives of women in these houses were of peripheral importance at best, along with those of servants and slaves. As Page Putnam Miller asserted, “If Americans had to rely on existing historic sites for their understanding of women’s history, a very limited and distorted picture would emerge.”3 What is especially ironic about omitting women from historic house interpretation is that they often lived in the home longer than the men for whom the houses are named — either because the men were traveling, perhaps to serve in the legislature, or because the men died earlier.4

Often, the homes of prominent men were maintained by their descendants — usually well-off, culturally engaged people whose desire to honor their ancestors led to the preservation of many of the historic homes we enjoy today. These family boards of directors also determined what was said about their ancestors, how, and to whom. Needless to say, the information about these houses disseminated by such could be subjective and incomplete.

A second motivation behind establishing historic house museums came to a head in the late nineteenth century as the number of immigrants to America increased dramatically. Founders of historic house museums often justified their work as necessary for Americanizing immigrants. When the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was founded in 1890, for example, they actively set about acquiring historic properties specifically “to carry the gospel of Americanism to every American home” and to “safeguard the land against the ravages of ignorance and sedition.” The DAR, and other like-minded groups and individuals, wanted to preserve upper class, white American heritage by using house museums as living testimonials.5

When the Colonial Revival Movement came along in the early 1900s, historic house museums were a perfect vehicle to enshrine an idealized remembrance of the past — including women’s domestic sphere, or the home- and family-centered activities in which women were expected to engage exclusively. Not surprisingly, what fueled this portrayal of women’s domesticity was a reaction to the pivotal social and political changes affecting women at the time. The woman suffrage movement had grown in size and power, for example, seeing its ultimate victory in 1920 when women achieved the right to vote. Women’s educational opportunities had been improving steadily, including at the college level. Women were working outside the home in growing numbers, and the kind of work open to them was expanding. They were politically and economically active.

The response to women’s new roles from the historic house museums that celebrated the colonial or Victorian past often reflected the founders’ isolation from the changing social landscape. Many of them were conservative women and men who saw women’s work in historic preservation as an extension of their domestic duties. As a group, they were elite women who were generally not suffragists, social reformers, or even historians. The houses they maintained were seen in their surrounding communities as private spaces focusing on the past. Their actions were, however, highly political. Even though Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, was preserved to honor her, Alcott’s politics were left out of the early interpretive tours. Instead, guides described domestic life at Orchard House in romanticized fictional terms to echo the stories Alcott had detailed in Little Women. Her ideas on suffrage, antislavery, and women’s work were ignored. Orchard House became part of what James Loewen has called a  “landscape of denial.” 6

But over the past three decades, thanks at least in part to the civil rights and women’s movements, new scholarship has transformed how public historians present history. Researchers have uncovered and published voluminous records on the lives of women, African Americans, Native Americans, and early immigrant experiences not documented before. The information is available, and the methods used for documentation can be learned and replicated. Today, public historians are more open to telling a more complex American story because they understand the interrelationships among different groups of people. The public expects the stories about historic events and sites to be honest — and the public expects them to include women.

Public historians are also much more attuned to the concept of the public trust. The statues and memorials in the nation’s capital that honor America’s early leaders, for example, belong to everyone. The monuments the nation has erected to commemorate important battles, the historic markers that designate significant sites — they belong to everyone. So, too, in the same sense, do the homes of the women and men who helped shape America. Public tax dollars pay to maintain historic sites either directly through the National Park Service and state humanities councils, or indirectly through the tax exempt status conferred on nonprofit historic house museums. Visitors have a right to expect a fair treatment of American history in these places — and to expect women’s history.7

How have historic house museums responded to this expectation? As an industry, they are trying. Individually, each historic house has its own set of challenges in terms of available and applicable research materials, funding, and volunteer and staff time to develop new tours and programs. But the desire is there, as well as the ingenuity and, increasingly, caretakers of historic houses understand that telling women’s stories goes beyond the kitchen and the crib. At Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the staff wanted to “say more” about what is popularly known as “Longfellow House” — the home of the popular nineteenth century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The National Park Service was fortunate in two key ways: first, that the site manager and superintendent were committed to reinterpretation efforts including allocating staff time and resources, and second, that the lives of the residents were extremely well documented — and the materials were still in the house.

One woman the staff wanted to include on the tour, Alice Longfellow, Henry and Fanny Appleton Longfellow’s oldest daughter, was responsible for the thorough documentation. Alice dedicated her life to historic preservation work, and served as vice-regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association from 1880-1918. Alice’s work served her well when she decided to turn her family home into a museum that would pay tribute to her famous father and the house’s earlier prominent resident, George Washington. According to Kelly Fellner, the site’s education manager, Alice wanted the house to serve as “a source of education and inspiration for the public, whether they were students from Radcliffe (which she helped found) or a group of working women from Boston.”8

The house continued to be cared for by the Longfellow Family Trust after Alice’s death in 1918, until the trust transferred the house to the supervision of the National Park Service in 1972. It is largely because of Alice’s tireless caretaking of the building, collection, and papers, that staff and volunteers have been able to begin piecing together information about who else lived in the house. As the site’s curator, Janice Hobson explained, when they began the process of reinterpreting the house and changing the tour, they were only interested in conveying information if it was grounded in fact. In 1991, they began an intensive effort to catalog the archives and collection, knowing how unusual it was to have such extensive primary source documentation tied directly to the collection. Not only are there letters and diaries but the collection includes sales receipts for items of furniture, old photographs of interiors, mementos, building and garden plans. The catalog will take many years to complete and will include a historic furnishings plan listing the provenance of each piece, its locations in the house, and any supporting material that exists. Already their work has revealed important details about the lesser-known female residents of the Longfellow House.

Along with Alice, the role of her mother, Fanny Appleton Longfellow, is included in the tour. Before her tragic in 1861, Fanny not only served as an inspiration and sometimes as editor for her husband, she also made their home an inviting salon for writers and artists from around the world, many of whom visited the Longfellows in Cambridge and brought exotic gifts or wrote letters describing their experiences. Other former women residents included in the tour are Elizabeth Craigie, who created some of the first greenhouses in Cambridge in the early nineteenth century, and Martha Washington, who lived in the house with her husband from 1775 to 1776 when it was the headquarters of the Continental Army during the siege of Boston. According to eye witness accounts (documented in letters owned by Longfellow NHS), the crowds gathered around when Martha’s carriage first pulled into sight were jubilant in their welcoming cries, and she was very much a regal presence in Cambridge during her stay.”9

Adding the stories of lesser known women to the interpretation of homes of prominent men was the same challenge faced by The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. Long associated with the nineteenth-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne whose book of the same name put the house on the map historically, “The Gables,” as it is popularly known, had always drawn visitors through its doors. They came first, because of Hawthorne’s reputation, and, second, to hear about the lives of such prosperous sea merchants as Captain John Turner. Like Alice Longfellow, the founder of The Gables as a historic house was a woman — Caroline Emmerton — and she is today as much a part of The Gables’ story as Alice Longfellow is part of the Longfellow House story.

Like Alice, Caroline Emmerton was the daughter of a prominent family. Their philanthropic initiatives in Salem were numerous. Caroline was particularly concerned with meeting the health care and education needs of the growing number of families immigrating to Salem from Europe, and as a young woman at the turn of the twentieth century she founded a settlement house named for The Gables. She also devised a plan to pay for the settlement house by saving The House of the Seven Gables from demolition, restoring it, and opening it as a museum to the public. Two other historic properties were later added to the museum’s property, including Hawthorne’s birthplace, as well as a shop. Today, The Gables remains the successful venture it was when “Miss Emmerton” first created it — and admission fees continue to help pay for programs at the settlement house.10

Because Caroline’s life is well documented, including information about her founding of the Salem Fraternity (which became the local Boys’ and Girls’ Club) and her early activities as a member of SPNEA, it was relatively easy for The Gables’ staff to weave the story of their founder into the tour. What has not been as easy is finding documentation for the lives of two earlier women residents — Susannah Ingersoll and Mary Turner Sargent. As did the Longfellow NHS, The Gables’ management decided in the early 1900s that it was time to join the reinterpretation movement. They hired a museum director, David Olson, to over see the process. The Gables’ staff started with what they knew and began digging. Although they did not have the kind of onsite archives that Longfellow NHS has, they did have ready access to the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum (formerly the Essex Institute) just blocks away. They looked first for primary documents and found useful letters, reminiscences, organizational records, and newspaper clippings. Now visitors to The Gables learn that Susannah Ingersoll, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s older cousin, entertained him for hours with stories about their family and Salem history — serving, it is believed, as an inspiration for much of his writing. Susannah was also active with the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society and might have been part of Underground Railroad activities. She kept a family farm in nearby Danvers and was quite a successful businesswoman, overseeing many of the details herself. Mary Turner Sargent has proven more difficult to document. Family history relates that she was born at The Gables in 1743 and presumably grew up there. She was the wife of a prominent merchant, Daniel Sargent, who helped build Long Wharf in Boston, and the mother of the renowned painter Henry Sargent and author Lucius Manlius Sargent, but to date her beautiful portrait by John Singleton Copley is the only artifact connected to her that The Gables has found. She was, however, a regular correspondent with her niece, Judith Sargent Murray, whose letter books did survive. Some of the letters to Mary Sargent that Judith copied into her books provide insight into Mary’s character and activities.

Similarly, the museum is piecing together the lives of the various servants who lived at The Gables, one of whom was indentured and others who may have been enslaved Africans.  It is still unclear who they were, and even where in the house they lived, but The Gables is making every effort to find the answers. “We keep raising the standards,” David Olson explained. “As an organization, we have to be as accurate as we can be.”11

This is the sentiment echoed by Carolyn Wahto, site manager of the Otis House in Boston, one of the SPNEA properties open to the public. Verbal legend has no place at SPNEA, and Wahto, working closely with the manager of research, Susan Porter, is part of an organization-wide reinterpretation of their twenty-five historic house museums.12

Something as simple as changing the name of a house raises awareness and implies new thinking about interpretation. Instead of referring to the Harrison Gray Otis House by its traditional name, SPNEA now calls it, simply, the Otis House out of respect for Sally Otis, Harrison’s wife, and the couple’s numerous children. In fact, it was Sally whose many activities filled their fashionable home on Bowdoin Square while her husband, an attorney, was away serving in the U.S. Congress during the early Federal period. At home, Sally took care of his business dealings, ran a large household of children and servants, gave birth to several children whom she also educated, and received guests as dictated by Boston society. The hundreds of letters she wrote to her husband do not survive, but thousands of his are carefully preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society. “An interesting problem we have here,” Carolyn Wahto relates, “is that we have to interpret Sally’s voice through her husband’s letters. That’s really tricky. We have to work harder on her story to make her come alive.”13

As at other historic sites, SPNEA started with bills of sale documenting the transfer of the Otis House in 1801 to its next occupants, Catharine and John Osborne, to determine how rooms were used. That led to staff discussions about differences between male and female and formal and informal uses of space before they could agree on how to interpret the Otis House rooms. They conducted paint and wallpaper analyses throughout the house and replicated what existed in the late 1700s. They perused Federal period inventories of similar homes in the Boston area, pulled from their collection what was appropriate, and then went shopping for key pieces that were missing. They were also able to rely on two paintings by Henry Sargent, both owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that depict the high style interior of Sargent’s townhouse at Franklin Place. Designed by Charles Bulfinch, Sargent’s home was located just blocks away from the Otises. These paintings, The Dinner Party and The Tea Party, include rich detail about color, fabric, floor coverings, wall and window treatments, decorative and displayed items, modes of dress, and choices and presentation of food.

Today, two rooms on the first floor of the Otis House, clearly inspired by Sargent’s painting, include reproductions of his work on easels so visitors can appreciate the interpretive process. The drawing room is set up as if Sally were entertaining — complete with piano forte for the children’s lessons and her sewing table. Judith Sargent Murray’s letter books have been helpful to SPNEA as well. They know from one of Judith’s letters, written after she moved to Boston in 1794, that “morning visits [were] all the rage” during those years. Still, it is a challenge to balance general information about upper class Boston with information specific to the Otis House and make it historically responsible. As Wahto points out, “I try not to assume too much. I try to stay away from the average woman and really talk about Sally with accuracy, but this isn’t always possible. But being honest about not knowing is an education in and of itself. How little we know about the lives of women when they inhabited these rooms makes a bold statement.”14

Because the Otises only occupied the house for four years, the staff at the Otis House is also looking at the lives of other residents. In addition to researching the lives of the Osbornes, they are looking for sources to tell them about the Williams sisters, who ran a boarding house at the site from 1854 to 1868, and Mrs. Mott, who offered “Champoo Baths” to discerning customers in some parts of the house for a year in the mid-1830s. In the 1970s, the Otis House was on the “cutting edge” of historic houses in terms of paint analysis and interior design, Carolyn Wahto explained, “and we want it to be again today in the area of interpretation.”15

Like SPNEA, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) seeks to achieve this same high standard of interpretation and also strike a balance between specific and general information about its twenty-six historic properties. Their staff is also rethinking the titles of the houses themselves — each one named for a prominent white man. “Invariably,” explained Deputy Director of Special Projects John R. Grimes, “there are socioeconomic factors involved in these decisions that need to be looked at. We want to dismantle decades of assumptions, and do it in terms of what is fair historically and what will make the visitor experience meaningful.”16

The person heading this daunting task is Kimberly Alexander, PEM’s curator of architecture, who is herself an architectural historian. Each property presents its own set of issues: the seventeenth-century houses come with very little documentation, while the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century houses, many lived in by generations of the same family, often contain artifacts and documents that are original to the house. But in general, compared to other organizations, the museum has a wealth of documentation. As PEM acquired each property, the staff made extensive studies; now, staff and volunteers are revisiting these documents with fresh eyes. Alexander explained, “These details [about social history] that people weren’t interested in years ago are exactly what we want to know now.”17

Like other organizations, PEM believes that the use of space is a good starting point for discussing people’s lives. In its houses, the museum has the unique ability to show the progression from essentially one large universal room (John Ward House), to multiple rooms and prescribed uses of space (Pierce-Nichols House), to what appears to be vast areas of “wasted space” in the homes of the early nineteenth-century wealthy merchant class (Gardner-Pingree House). These architectural changes had a profound impact on women’s lives. The evolution of spaces for women that were separate from the main functioning of the household — particularly the kitchen and garden areas — isolated women from more public activities and strengthened the idea that separate spheres for women and men were natural. The museum can also illustrate the impact of the role of technology as the houses moved from the simple wood-burning fireplace in the common room, to kitchen fireplaces with such installed apparatus as reflector ovens and roasting spits, to Franklin stoves in individual rooms, and to central heating with coal.

Probate inventories are especially helpful when trying to reconstruct seventeenth-century daily life. Inventories from the John Ward House listed between twenty-three to thirty-five chairs in the front room. “Why all these chairs?” Kimberly Alexander asked. “Obviously, this was a very social place and meetings took place here. And since this was before women were banished into a separate kitchen, they would have been listening to, and perhaps participating in, whatever was being discussed.”18

Another central element of the 1684 John Ward House story is that many years ago it was moved about a mile from its original location opposite the jail used during the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. Using this evidence, one can easily imagine the subject matter of the gatherings that took place in the house. House moving in New England was not uncommon, especially during the Colonial Revival period of the early 1900s and during the urban renewal efforts of the 1970s. While it is critical to ground visitors in the context of the house and its environment to fully understand what its residents’ lives were like, it is not always easy to separate out nearby buildings, highways, and parking lots that often appear to suffocate them. Finding out the original proximity of the John ward House to the Salem Jail speaks volumes.19

The context of Salem itself plays a role, Alexander pointed out. She explained that Salem was a fluid society, “part city, part rural area, and part international port.” These characteristics made Salem very self-sufficient and engendered a lot of bartering. “Who was doing the bartering?” Alexander asked. “It was the women, because they tended to have control over the family’s resources. The men were often away at sea, and it was the women who dealt with issues of purchasing, land, and managing family wealth.”20

Specialized tours are one goal the Peabody Essex Museum has set as reinterpretation begins, particularly ones that focus on women and servants and ones that relate to museum exhibits. For a recent exhibition, Painted with Thread: The Art of American Embroidery, Alexander developed tours focusing on textiles. She has also designed a tour highlighting women residents through three museum properties — the John Ward House (1684), the Crowninshield-Bentley House (ca. 1727), and the Gardner-Pingree House (1804). She is presently developing what she calls a “backwards tour” of the Gardner-Pingree House, in which the tour begins in the winter kitchen and the servants’ work area, and may involve assigning such tasks to visitors as carrying wood to the third floor and preparing meals and serving them on the second floor. The tour will have special appeal to young people, Alexander believes: “They will appreciate how vastly different the experiences in this house were, even though geographically close — making the ‘downstairs’ experience as interesting as that of the ‘upstairs.’” What has the response from the public been to the new interpretive strategies? “Huge,” replied Alexander. “Every one of these thematic or ‘different’ tours we do is packed. It’s what people want.”21

Each interview conducted for this chapter showed the determination of modern caretakers of historic houses to bring change. Visitors want social history, and they expect women’s history. For some historic house museums, reinterpretation will involve a whole new way of thinking. While our understanding of history has changed, its presentation has not always kept up with new insights. The resources and methodology needed to effect change are available. Change requires resources — research time, tour guide training, and generally an updated publication. Although the solution for each site depends in part on funding limitations, reinterpretation can be done — and it should be an ongoing, enjoyable process of discovery. Where does one begin? Each of the organizations discussed here started with what they knew and continued from there. The important men who lived in historic houses had wives, mothers, daughters, and, in many cases, servants. There are generally letters, diaries, and other family papers, published genealogies, obituaries, and old newspaper articles about residents that can shed light on their lives. Researchers should tap the expertise of local librarians, archivists, and historical societies as well as those in state historic preservation commissions and archives. Volunteer organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution also can be helpful. You never know what you will find once you start asking questions and look at existing information with fresh eyes. The process of asking both specialists and community boards of directors new questions will engage them all in rethinking the interpretation of historic sites in their communities. Legal documents reveal unexpected kinds of information: probate court records list the content of a house at its sale; wills detail possessions, financial arrangements, and beneficiaries. Organizational records that include catalogs of collections and minutes of early meetings can be mined for information about acquisitions and family history. Many houses still contain such artifacts that belonged to its residents as portraits, collections of books, a writing desk, and collectables from a journey. At the Sargent-Murray-Gilman-Hough House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Judith Sargent Murray lived from 1782 to 1794, the curator, who had to catalog from scratch, combed through the minutes of early meetings to begin the process. Along the way, she was able to determine what belonged to whom — and the extent to which verbal legend had driven the guided tour. Tours that weave the material culture into personal stories are much more compelling; using cataloging as part of the interpretation process leads to new insights.

If the researcher finds that the details specific to the women she or he is investigating are few or vague, there is a wealth of secondary sources which will help achieve a balance of specific and general information. Local and state histories, especially old ones, can establish historical context and offer insight into daily life. Histories of African Americans in a particular town or accounts of the arrival and treatment of different immigrant groups can shed light on the experiences of less documented residents. Books describing details of domestic life over time are valuable resources.22

Bringing the interpretation of historic houses up to today’s standards of inclusiveness and historical accuracy must be done — and it can be done — but the central question remains: who decides that change is needed? The best volunteer and staff intentions will never see the light of day unless there is a commitment to change at the leadership level. Too often boards of directors cling to the “great white male” and “artifact” approach. They do this to the detriment of their organizations and to the peril of the houses they so earnestly want to preserve. They are violating the public’s trust. They will drive people away, become irrelevant, and lose the support of their broader community — just when the house should be loved and supported. Historic houses are wonderful educational tools. They connect us with our past in a way that effectively, and even emotionally, brings the past to life. Women were part of the story each one should be telling — and the public must insist upon it. Notes I am grateful to the following individuals for generously sharing with me their experience in interpreting women’s lives in historical settings: Irene Axelrod, The House of the Seven Gables (Salem, MA); Kelly Fellner, Longfellow National Historic Site (Cambridge, MA); Janice Hodson, Longfellow National Historic Site (Cambridge, MA); Caroline Keineth, Adams National Historic Site (Quincy, MA); David Olson, The House of the Seven Gables (Salem, MA);  Cynthia Robinson, Bay State Historical League (Waltham, MA); James Shea, Longfellow National Historic Site (Cambridge, MA); and to William La Moy (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA) for additional assistance.

1 Jane C. Nylnder, “A View from Our Windows,” SPNEA (Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) Newsletter (Boston, 1999), 1.

2 Patricia West, Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House Museums (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1999), 1.

3 Page Putnam Miller, Reclaiming the Past: Landmarks of Women’s History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 3.

4 Perhaps the most famous example is that of Abigail Adams, who ran the Adams homestead in Quincy, Massachusetts (now the Adams National Historical Park), while her husband, John, served in Europe and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

5 West, Domesticating History, 44

6 Cynthia Robinson and Gretchen S. Storin, Going Public: Community Program and Project Ideas for Historical Organizations (Waltham, MA: Bay State Historical League, 1999), p. 2; West, Domesticating History, 84, 91; James W. Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (New York: New Press, 1999), 19.

7 Sherry Butcher-Younghans, Historic House Museums (new York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Walter Muir Whitehill, Independent Historical Societies: An Enquiry into their Research and Publication Functions and their Financial Future (Boston: Boston Athenaeum, 1962).  For a discussion of the necessity of including women’s historic sites that provides many examples, see Miller, Reclaiming the Past and “Placing Woman in the Past,” National Park Service, Cultural Resource Management Bulletin 20 (No. 3, 1997).

8 Kelly Fellner interview, 5 November 1999. 9 Janice Hodson interview, 5 November 1999. Fanny Longfellow died in the house’s front parlor when her dress accidentally caught on fire from a burning match or hot sealing wax.

10 David K. Goss, Richard B. Trask, Bryant F. Tolles Jr., Joseph Flibbert, and Jim McAllister, Salem: Cornerstones of a Historic City (Beverly, MA: Commonwealth Editions, 1999); Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Peabody Museum, Essex Institute, Salem: Maritime Salem in the Age of Sail (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1987).

11 David Olson interview, 19 August 1999. 12 SPNEA owns ten “study houses” that are for architectural study only. 13 Carolyn Wahto interview, 24 August 2001. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 John R. Grimes interview, 10 October 2001. 17 Kimberly Alexander interview, 22 August 2001. 18 Ibid. 19 At the homestead of Abigail and John Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts (Adams NHP), the National Park Service has been able to preserve the continuing relationship between the house and grounds to illustrate how the surrounding farmland impacted the lives of the Adamses — particularly Abigail’s. 20 17 Kimberly Alexander interview, 22 August 2001. 21 Ibid.

22 See especially Jane C. Nylander, Our Own Snug Fireside (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994) and Jane C. Nylander, Windows on the Past: Four Centuries of New England Homes (Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1999).

Suggestions for Further Reading

Elizabeth Donaghy Garrett, At Home: The American Family 1750-1870. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990. This thorough, scholarly, and well-illustrated presentation of its subject makes this book a key resource for researchers and interpreters.

James W. Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. New York: The New Press, 1999. A delightful and well-documented dismantling of dozens of historic sites in the United States that should make everyone in the history business sit up and take notice. It validates the efforts of interpreters to rethink their own sites.

Page Putnam Miller, Reclaiming the Past: Landmarks of Women’s History. Bloomington: Indiana University press, 1992. Women active in public history present essays on how women used space in the fields of architecture, the arts, education, politics, religion, and work.

Jane C. Nylander, Jane C. Our Own Snug Fireside. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. This essential, highly detailed resource for researchers and interpreters was written by the president of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA).

Jane C. Nylander, Windows on the Past: Four Centuries of New England Homes. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1999. The SPNEA president takes readers on an illustrated tour through three centuries of SPNEA properties and discusses their interpretations.

Cynthia Robinson and Gretchen S. Storin, Going Public: Community Program and Project Ideas for Historical Organizations. Waltham: Bay State Historical League, 1999. The authors present a useful guide for connecting history activities to the community.

Harrison Bennett, Salem Women’s Heritage Trail. Salem, MA: Salem Chamber of Commerce, 2000. Like its predecessor in Boston, the book details the overlooked contributions of women to Salem history over four centuries, adding depth to existing historic sites and revealing new ones.

Harriet Welchel, ed. Caring for Your Historic House. New York: Hannry N. Abrams, 1998. A practical, hands-on guide that can become a bible for caretakers of historic houses.

Patricia West, Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House Museums. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1999. This key intellectual and political contribution to reinterpretation efforts in the historic house museum field was written by a National Park Service curator.

Susan Wilson, Boston Sites and Insights: A Multicultural Guide to Fifty Historic Landmarks In and Around Boston. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. This second look at well-known sites in Boston adds the history of women and people of color to the city’s story.

*Today, SPNEA is Historic New England.

*This article was originally published in Her Past Around Us, Interpreting Sites for Women’s History (Krieger Publishing Company, 2003), Polly Welts Kaufman and Katherine T. Corbett, editors. 2003 © Harrison Bennett