We’re Back!

Thank you to everyone who made our opening day such a success!

We’re Back!


It’s that time of year again-time for flowering cherry blossoms, random thunderstorms, and the opening of the Hunter House Victorian Museum! It has been a trying winter for us as the staff has been navigating around the realities of working in an old house- old pipes needing repair, ceilings caving in, and finding the right people to do the work. Luckily, we have prevailed and the museum is now functioning at an optimal level, until the next round of ‘this old house’ of course. There are never dull moments around here!
We are very excited to invite you to join us during our 2017 operating season. Our goal this year is two-fold. First, we wish to make strides to fulfill our mission to educate the public on nineteenth century decorative arts, Victorian lifestyles, and the museum’s place in Norfolk’s local history. Second, we want to preserve, protect, and reinterpret our collection to allow for the fulfillment of our educational mission. These are lofty goals, indeed. Here are some of the ways we are going to meet them (and how you can be a part of what we are doing):
1. Raising funds through programming to support work in our third floor archive
Through programs like our silent auction (of REAL Hunter family/museum items!) at our Kentucky Derby Garden Party on May 7th, we hope to raise funds to purchase archival quality boxes and paper, page protectors for our extensive postcard collection, and cataloguing software.
2. Museum Memberships
Our Museum membership program is in its second year, and we hope you will consider joining! Like our special programming, funds from the museum memberships will be used to aid in restoring our archive, which will help us fulfill our educational mission. As a member, you will receive special pricing on events and become our valued partner in preservation.  Please call us for more details!
3. Spring Lectures and Symposium
Our lecture series is the purest form of educational programming we offer, and we would be delighted if you would consider attending- or even presenting- a program. Lectures are offered Fridays mornings at 11 AM in our parlor in April and May. Our scheduled programming includes:
April 7th- Alex Shelanski, ODU Student, 19th Century Boating
April 14th- Lisa Lyman, Fine Arts Specialists, Painting Conservation
April 21st- Alexandra Whiteside, Art Institute, Evolution of Interior Design
April 28th- Seth Feman, Chrysler Museum, 19th Century Art
May 5th – Jim Fish, Numismatics or the Art of Coin Collecting
May 12th- Stacy Weissner, Regency Society, How the Regency Period molded  Victorian Identity
May 19th – Joshua Weinstein, Chrysler Museum of Art, Women and Norfolk Arts:  The Victorian Origins of the Chrysler Museum
We are always on the lookout for interesting topics and presenters for both our lecture series and the 19th Century Symposium, which we cosponsor with the Eloise Hunter Chapter of the Victorian Society in America. Let us know if you would like to present on an interesting topic! If you would like to attend our spring symposium on April 29th from 10-3, give us a call at 623-9814.

4. Offering Guided Tours
Our regularly scheduled guided tours allow us to fulfill our most basic and primary function: to present our collection to the world for historical interpretation. In order to do this, we need a dedicated team of volunteer docents and interns to give tours to guests, participate in special programming, and share their love of Victoriana. Won’t you consider joining our team? Applications can be emailed to hunterhouse@juno.com.

5. Tapping into our community
After many talks and pow-wows with our lovely neighbors at the Hill House Museum in Portsmouth, we are thrilled to be partnering for a weekend honoring our fallen soldiers and Victorian mourning customs on May 27th and 28th. Come to the Hunter House on May 27th for a cemetery tour and lectures to be held throughout the day (we will post times on our social media- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) focusing on the traditions of Memorial Day. On May 28th, journey to the Hill House for a thematic tea featuring Civil War Reenactors commemorating those who lost their lives during the conflict. Reservations for the tea must be made through the Hill House directly. Cost is $40 per guest and reservations can be secured by calling 393-0241.
But, let’s face it, sometimes we just want to party like a Victorian! So, we will continue to offer our afternoon teas filled with fun and friendship, make-and-take classes like our Paint en Plein Air, and evening programs which may or may not feature libations. Sometimes immersing oneself in a culture is the best way to educate yourself about it. Whether you choose to know the Victorians through books or Brandy is your prerogative- and we will offer you programming and support your thirst for knowledge either way!

Questions about our mission, getting involved, or our current programming? Call 623-9814 or email hunterhouse@juno.com. We’d love to hear from you!

5 Reasons You Should Take your Children to Museums

Why should you take your children to museums?  Find out the top five reasons from our Director Jackie Spainhour!

5 Reasons You Should Take your Children to Museums

If you’re like me, some days the furthest thing from your mind is dressing your screaming child, packing the diaper bag full of endless supplies, and jetting off to a supposedly fun destination as a solo caregiver. As a parent with a partner, I cannot even fathom how much more difficult it would be as a single parent. So, what I am about to suggest may seem impossible, but hear me out. I vote that you start taking your child, no matter the age, to museums. Yes, we all love the convenience of mall play centers and the park, but how many of us really take the time to introduce our children to our local gems of history, art, and culture? Really, why should we? Here are a few of my reasons why you should take that leap and adventure to your closest museum with your lovable, frustrating child.

  1. Live Through Their Eyes (Or Wandering Fingers…)


(Two of our younger guests with their moms at the witch’s tea October 2016)

Every time I take a child through the museum, I am able to view our collection in new and exciting ways. Children have a talent for pointing out the mundane and making it revolutionary. I once gave a tour to a kindergartner who had an obsession with trees and the color green. So, she proceeded to call my attention to every shade of green throughout the museum and every instance where a tree was in a pattern- on the wallpaper, on a book cover, on the upholstery and draperies- until I was convinced I was actually touring a lush forest rather than a nineteenth century house museum. This tour, and others like it with children, allowed me to appreciate surroundings that have become so familiar to me that they sometimes feel ordinary rather than extraordinary.

My child is too small at this point to really interact with museum collections, but every time I have toured a museum with a friend or family member’s child, I find the same idea holds true- they notice things you would otherwise overlook as commonplace. Children ask the best questions too, like why do the mommy and daddy sleep in different rooms? What is that chair with the opening in the seat used for anyway? Where is the television and DVD player? You can really get your money’s worth with children engaging in a Q&A with your tour guide. Of course, we can’t forget the amount of bonding you will do with your child that isn’t focused on yet another episode of Sesame Street or Bubble Guppies. That should be reason enough to get out of the house and visit a museum, but I digress.

So, in order to shed your adult haughtiness and sensibilities bring a child to a museum to find your own sense of wonder and appreciation once again.

  1. Have an Adult Conversation (With an Actual Adult)

I find that one of the most difficult parts of parenting, especially in those first few months, is getting used to being void of the normal amounts of adult human contact to which you were accustomed prior to the birth of your little one. I spent entire days having conversations aloud with a tiny person, whose only response was a dirty diaper, crying, or confused blinking.  Honestly, the lack of mature conversation is enough to drive any educated person insane. I found myself watching Ancient Aliens and other ‘historical’ programs just so I could argue aloud, rather intelligently and enthusiastically, with another adult. I guess you could say getting back to work couldn’t come fast enough.


(Gloria, Kristen, and Patsy volunteers from the Hunter House 2016)

The great thing about museums is that the majority employ a volunteer or paid docent staff, most of whom are intelligent adults. Taking your three month old son to a museum may sound insane, but it really is the perfect opportunity to watch him sleep in his buggy while you engage in articulate, adult conversation over a Monet or Van Gogh. In many instances, this may be the only adult conversation you have for a while that does not focus on your baby. In-laws, parents, and even your partner generally only engage in conversation with you to discuss the baby in some way, shape, or form. So, if you are craving adult interaction and your brain hasn’t yet turned to mush, take your little one to a museum to give yourself a much needed adult intervention.

  1. Save Money


Let’s face it- a movie will cost you and your little one $20 easily. Add in a fast food lunch or a sit down meal at Panera and your afternoon could cost close to $40- and that’s just for the two of you! Many museums offer free admission, are donation only, or offer very low-priced rates for visitors. Most of the museums in our area (with the zoo, aquarium, and Nauticus as the exceptions) cost $5 or less per person, with some offering children’s rates as low as $1. Places like the Chrysler Museum are free, thanks to the generous patronage of their members. The Hunter House charges $5 per guest, with a $1 child rate. Children under 5 are free. While I cannot argue that a museum is always a more economical outing than one to the beach, park, or mall, I do think the benefits of such a trip outweigh the nominal costs.

  1. Be a Tourist in Your Town


(Tourists visiting the Hunter House Fall 2016)

Travelling with young children can be difficult and sometimes impossible. As a result, the last time you had a vacation was probably a few years before they were born and most likely involved expensive dinners and copious amounts of alcohol. Gone are those days, my friend. Still, you can find time to have new experiences like you would have on vacation if you choose to visit places in your town that are not necessarily new, but new to you. Grab a Visitor’s Guide to your city or contact the local welcome center to discover places you may not have even known existed. People tell us all of the time, and I mean ALL of the time, that they have lived their entire lives in Norfolk and never heard of the Hunter House. Private entities like ours are not affiliated with the city and often do not get as much exposure as a result, but you can find us in Visitor’s Guides and centers because that is where we are most likely to spend our limited advertising dollars. So, plan a weekend of discovery in your town by plotting a course to visit museums and cultural centers you never knew existed. It will be much less expensive and more educational than that weekend in Cabo.

  1. Experience New Children’s Programming

Children’s programming at museums has come a long way from drawing pictures or simply touring facilities. Many museums now offer programs designed specifically for children that focus on educational milestones, STEAM education, and more. The Hunter House offers a patch with the Girl Scouts that is designed specifically around our collection. The Chrysler Museum has educators who will engage with children on their level to interpret the historical artifacts in their collection. Some museums offer puppet shows, outdoor movies, craft classes, and more for nominal or no costs. You can often subscribe to websites like http://hamptonroads.myactivechild.com/ to learn about all of the children’s programming happening in your area. Libraries are also treasure troves for children’s programming, but for an equally educational but different experience, take your child to a local museum and watch them learn first-hand.


There are so many more reasons to take children to museums, but in the interest of not talking you to death I will end here. What are your reasons for taking children to museums? What are your favorite local spots or children’s programs? Leave us feedback in the comments- maybe we can try to incorporate some of your favorites into our programming!

Charles Dickens and Christmas Culture

It wouldn’t be a Victorian Christmas without discussing Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol!  Enjoy our Christmas post below from our intern, Megan, and learn about the darker context behind  A Christmas Carol.

From Megan:

The celebration of Christmas predated the Victorians, but the culture that surrounds the holiday today coincided with the work of Charles Dickens. In A Christmas Carol – the story of heartless capitalist who found himself confronted by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future – Dickens constructed the myth of the spirit of Christmas. While Dickens has been credited with inventing Christmas, many of the traditions now integral to celebrations were not included in A Christmas Carol. Modern practices – even caroling – were not present in the infamous story. The most essential contribution of A Christmas Carol to modern holiday celebrations derived from the endurance of the idea of Christmas spirit: emphasis on family, food, decorations, and goodwill. An examination of the context in which Dickens’s tale was conceived, however, revealed a darker side of the story.[1]



As with A Christmas Carol, Dickens organized his literary works around the class struggle in Victorian England. Charles Dickens’s fixation on the plight of the poor derived from his childhood experience in a family living in poverty. As a result of his father’s inability to manage the family’s finances, Dickens and the rest of his family were held in a debtors’ prison for six months. With power came responsibility, and Dickens used his eventual success and celebrity platform to elucidate the prevalence of economic disparity within England – helping to propagate the term “red tape” for bureaucratic policies that marginalized the poor. Perhaps the most significant motivator for his efforts toward social justice, Dickens venerated children and was tremendously disturbed by the plight of poor, uneducated, and often imprisoned juveniles. This devotion to children shaped his story-telling with an emphasis the innocent, pure-hearted child.[2]


(Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. Title page.)

The romanticized image of Christmas presented in A Christmas Carol demonstrated Dickens’s hope for children and for the betterment of society. The beautiful, snowy Christmas Day that served as the setting for a revival of the human spirit and blessings to all characterized the spirit of Christmas for Dickens’s readers. A biographer of Charles Dickens, Peter Ackroyd, disputed criticisms of Dickens’s allegedly unrealistic expectations of Christmas. Dickens’s portrayal of the rare white Christmas as ordinary, for example, was defended by Ackroyd as having been inspired by the first eight years of Dickens’s life during which it always snowed at Christmas time. According to this interpretation, Dickens may have found the inspiration for this idealized holiday in his own reality. A second biographer and expert on Dickens, GK Chesterton, similarly defended the idealized version of the holiday, as well as the moral fortitude of the story. “Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us,” Chesterton explained.[3]

Victorian England shaped Charles Dickens as a writer and as a legend. The Christmas spirit evoked by A Christmas Carol created the modern incarnation of the holiday festivities. The advancement in the commercialization of Christmas served as an ironic consequence of Dickens’s writings and social activism. To Charles Dickens, for the literary masterpieces – most notably A Christmas Carol – and for the spirt of Christmas, we remain eternally grateful.[4]


[1] Geoffrey Rowell, “Dickens and the Construction of Christmas,” History Today 43, no. 12 (1993): 17, MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost, accessed December 9, 2016.

[2] Alex Hudson, “Charles Dickens: Six Things he Gave the Modern World,” BBC News, December 15, 2011, accessed December 9, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16184487.

[3] John Sutherland, “The Origins of A Christmas Carol,” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians, British Library, accessed December 9, 2016, https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-origins-of-a-christmas-carol.

[4] Sally Ledger and Holly Furneaux, Charles Dickens in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).


Hudson, Alex. “Charles Dickens: Six Things He Gave the Modern World.” BBC News. December 15, 2011. Accessed December 9, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16184487

Ledger, Sally and Holly Furneaux. Charles Dickens in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Rowell, Geoffrey. “Dickens and the Construction of Christmas.” History Today 43, no. 12 (1993). MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost. Accessed December 9, 2016.

Sutherland, John. “The Origins of A Christmas Carol.” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. British Library. Accessed December 9, 2016. https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-origins-of-a-christmas-carol

Victorian Christmas Traditions

Have you ever wondered how the Victorians celebrated Christmas?  What did they do differently than us or similarly?  To find out how the Victorians celebrated Christmas and which modern traditions they practiced please continue reading!

From our intern, Megan:

The marriage of Queen Victoria to German-born Prince Albert introduced some of the most prominent Christmas traditions to Victorian Britain, and later, to the United States. The custom of decorating a Christmas tree, for example, gained popularity after the Illustrated London News, 1848, published a drawing of the royal family surrounding an evergreen tree, or Tannenbaum, – continued from the medieval tradition in which the tree represented eternal life – adorned with candles, sweets, and handmade decorations. Evergreen plants – trees, mistletoe, holly, and ivy – served as holiday decoration, protection from evil spirits, and hope for spring. The decorations quickly became extravagant and Victorians encouraged uniform elegance (“History of Christmas,” BBC; Johnson, “A Victorian Christmas).”

The advent of the commercialization of Christmas celebrations, like everything else in the Victorian era, did not occur independently of industrialization. The invention of the Christmas card took place in 1843, but the average Victorian could not afford the one-shilling price tag. Not long after children were encouraged to create their own cards as an inexpensive alternative, color printing technology allowed for the mass production of affordable cards. By the 1880s, mailing Christmas cards was wildly popular.


(Victorian Christmas Card from the 1890’s from Archives New Zealand’s former Post and Telegraph/Telecom Museum Holdings collection)

Excess wealth accumulated with industry allowed Victorians to take time off of work. Christmas Day and Boxing Day, December 26, became recognized holidays in the Victorian period. Boxing Day earned its name for the opening of boxes of money gifted by the wealthy and do-gooders to servants and working people (“History of Christmas,” BBC; Johnson, “A Victorian Christmas).”


Industrialization in the Victorian period similarly led to the marketing of sweets designed especially for Christmas, such as Christmas crackers. The giving and receiving of Christmas presents also started with the Victorians, evolving from the tradition of gift-giving during New Year celebrations. Industrialization allowed for the widespread availability of factory-made children’s toys as an alternative to the handmade toys that were only affordable to the wealthy. The Christmas stocking became popular in the early 1870s, as poor children generally received only stockings filled with fruit or nuts. The United States recognized the commercial potential of Christmas earlier than Britain, and in 1880s New York department stores filled their windows with European toys and manufacturers began the production of ornaments – often decorated with “diamond dust,” or powdered glass (“History of Christmas,” BBC; Johnson, “A Victorian Christmas).”

Two of the most beloved Christmas traditions, carol singers and Santa Claus, were popularized in the Victorian period. Caroling, celebrated in Britain as musical entertainment, gained popularity as a Christmas celebration by Victorians. In the United States, the sight of carolers marked the beginning of the holiday season. Carolers sold sheet music, often frequenting market areas, and traveled door-to-door performing. Christmas carols have remained one of the most celebrated Christmas traditions. Also in the Victorian period, the figure of Father Christmas originated in the legends and stories of many different countries and many different languages. Clement Moore’s 1822 poem, “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” inspired Bavarian artist Thomas Nast’s illustrations of Father Christmas on which the modern-day depiction of Santa Claus was based (“History of Christmas,” BBC; Edwards, “A Victorian Christmas).”

Modern Christmas traditions were modeled after Victorian Christmas celebrations – including decorating Christmas trees, singing carols, and mailing greeting cards. Often credited as the inventor of Christmas, Charles Dickens, in The Christmas Carol, depicted the most meaningful characteristics of the Victorian Christmas. The morals of Dickens’s story – the importance of family, peace, and goodwill – have been adopted as the cornerstones of the present-day Christmas spirit (“History of Christmas,” BBC; Phillip V. Allingham, “Dickens: The Man Who Invented Christmas)”.

Question for the reader: Does your family have any Christmas traditions?  If so what are they?






“History of Christmas.” BBC. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchristmas/history.shtml.


“A Victorian Christmas.” The Complete Victorian. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.thecompletevictorian.com/christmas.html


Allingham, Phillip V. “Dickens: The Man Who Invented Christmas.” The Victorian Web: Literature, History, and Culture in the Age of Victoria. Last modified December 14, 2009. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/authors/dickens/xmas/pva63.html


Edwards, Sylvia. “Victorian Christmas Traditions.” Ancestry: Blogs. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://blogs.ancestry.com/uk/2011/12/01/victorian-christmas-traditions/


Johnson, Ben. “A Victorian Christmas.” History Magazine: History of England. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/A-Victorian-Christmas/


Victorian Superstitions

If you missed the Spiritualism Faire at the Hunter House don’t fret!  Below is a post from our intern, Megan, on some of the Victorian’s superstitions and death omens.

From Megan:

Victorians strongly believed in the mystical and subscribed to a variety of superstitions. The most common of these superstitions were related to death. There were specific procedures for dealing with corpses as well as funeral proceedings, and every action had to be perfectly executed to prevent spiritual possessions or additional deaths. Improper handling of a corpse or ignoring a death omen threatened imminent death or spiritual damnation for many Victorian believers.

Following the death of a loved one, all mirrors in the house were covered with a heavy black cloth. The covering was believed to prevent the deceased’s spirit becoming trapped within the glass while awaiting burial. It was warned that the next reflection seen in the mirror would be the next to die.


Spirits were also believed to have the ability to escape one’s body while living. Victorians thought that the mouth must be covered while yawning to avoid a person’s spirit from leaving his or her body or from becoming possessed by the devil. Corpses were removed from the home feet first to avoid the deceased from looking back and beckoning another family member. If two deaths occurred within a family, it was believed that a third would soon follow. When several deaths occurred within the same family, a black ribbon was tied to everything living that entered the home. The ribbons were thought to stop the spread of death to the other people and animals within the household. Similarly, stopping the clock at the moment of a loved one’s death prevented other untimely deaths.


Victorians believed in a variety of death omens. Some omens foretold imminent death, but others described ways to avoid it. When a member of the household was ill, Victorians believed that a dog’s howl signified impending death. This omen could be reversed by the turning of a shoe, upside-down, under the bed. The hoot of an owl or an owl sighting in the daytime portended death. If a bird pecked on or crashed into a window, death had already occurred. When a vase contained only red and white flowers together, or a person experienced an inexplicable smell of roses, it was believed that death was near.


After death, flowers were thought to only grow upon the graves of good men. Victorians also believed that a person must always turn around when coming into contact with a funeral procession. If turning around was not possible, it was believed that the danger could be quelled by holding tightly to a button.

Modern superstitions derived from Victorian beliefs. The idea that an umbrella opened indoors signified bad luck originated in the Victorian belief that an open umbrella, or one that had been dropped on the floor, forecasted murder within the home.


Large rain drops warned that the death had already occurred. It was also thought that three knocks at the door, followed by no visitor, indicated the death of an acquaintance or a loved one. This was also indicated by a picture falling from the wall.

Commonly characterized by their obsession with death, Victorians’ behavior was dictated by superstitions and omens. Many modern ideas of bad luck derived from the death omens that originated with the Victorians, but the supposed repercussions drastically diminished in severity. Seven years of bad luck could not be compared to Victorian’s fear of eternal damnation. But remember the Victorians’ warning: Do not speak ill of the dead, or they will come back for you.


Do you believe in any superstitions? 





“Death Rituals and Superstitions.” History. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-death/death-rituals-and-superstitions


“Victorian Superstitions.” Last Modified July 31, 2013. Accessed October 10, 2016. https://classicbookreader.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/victorian-superstitions/


Corbella, Alexandra. “Superstitious Beliefs of Victorian Society.” Synonym: The Classroom. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/superstitious-beliefs-victorian-society-5443.html


Dziedzic, Shelley. “Victorian Customs and Superstitions.” Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery. Accessed October 10, 2016. https://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/victorian-funeral-customs-fears-and-superstitions/


Luckhurst, Robert. “The Victorian Supernatural.” British Library. Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-victorian-supernatural


Morgan, Rosa. “Superstitions.” The Victorian Times. Last modified October 17, 2011. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://thevictoriantimes.blogspot.com/2011/10/superstitions.html

Votes for Women!

If you missed our Suffragette Tea in October you are in luck!  Our intern, Megan, who helped design the Suffragette Tea menu and decorations has written a blog post about the Suffragette Movement.  Please see below for more from Megan!

The history of women’s suffrage has reemerged as a relevant issue in today’s politics. With the first female candidate for presidency (Hillary Rodham Clinton) running against a man (Donald Trump) who has been deemed a shoe-in for office – if only women were unable to vote – has inspired an unsettling slogan trending among Trump supporters: “repeal the nineteenth.” With the heated debate surrounding this new mantra, the historical significance of the Nineteenth Amendment has been disturbingly overlooked.


One way to enlighten today’s voters on the significance of women’s rights to contemporary politics is to celebrate the women who achieved this victory. These women, credited with pioneering women’s suffrage movements in 19th and 20th century Great Britain and the United States, are known as suffragists or suffragettes. These activists comprised various organizations that worked to attain women’s rights, primarily the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). On October 16th, the Hunter House Victorian Museum held a Suffragette Tea in honor of these women who fought for women’s right to vote.


It may seem counterintuitive when analyzed in connection to contemporary feminists, but the pioneers of the American women’s suffrage movement occasionally relied on the proceeds from the sale of cookbooks. One of these cookbooks, The Woman Suffrage Cookbook, served as inspiration for our Suffragette Tea. Charitable volunteers recreated modernized versions of a few of the recipes found in the Cookbook, while copies of the originals were posted throughout the front parlor. These recipes, the sale of the Cookbook and others like it, demonstrated the independent successes of suffragettes in the struggle for personal agency and a voice in public and political affairs.


This newly created female political culture was perpetuated through the utilization of recognizable symbols that indicated commitment to the movement. The pro-women’s rights journal, Justicia, published in 1887 an explanation of the significance of the sunflower to the women’s suffrage movement:


“It has remained . . . for the ‘Equality before the law’ agitators to don an emblematic color. Yellow, the color of sunflower petals, has been adopted as the distinguishing badge of the woman suffrage army;. . . The sunflower seems an appropriate flower, as it always turns its face to the light and follows the course of the sun, seemingly worshipping the [arche]type of righteousness. Let us all don the yellow ribbon, and fling our banners to the breeze. By this sign let us be known, and the more who wear it the greater our strength will be … ”(National Women’s History Museum).


Members of the movement relied on the use of symbols and colors to signify solidarity. Adhering to sunflower imagery, American suffragettes wore gold, purple, and white, which was modeled after their British counterparts’ use of violet, white, and green. We incorporated these colors into our celebration, along with handmade reproductions of the buttons worn by the suffragettes.


                                           (Image from National Women’s History Museum)

Tasked with planning this particular event – relying heavily, of course, on the wisdom and experience of the director, assistant directors, and docents – I became entrenched in studies of women’s suffrage and received crash-courses in public history, contemporary politics, and event planning. My hope is that, in light of today’s political culture, voters will be reminded that a political voice is not an inalienable right. To exercise the hard-won right to vote is to honor the suffragettes.




“An Introduction to the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/votesforwomen/exhibit_text.html

“I’m No Lady; I’m a Member of Congress: The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848-1920.” Women in Progress: Historical Essays. History, Art and Archives: United States House of Representatives. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Womens-Rights/.

“Symbolic Suffrage Colors.” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/votesforwomen/tour_02-02l.html.

“Volunteers and Museum Labor.” Center for the Future of Museums: Blog. American Alliance of Museums. Accessed October 20, 2016. http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.com/2016/10/volunteers-and-museum-labor_18.html.

Burr, Mrs. Hattie A. The Woman Suffrage Cookbook. Boston, MA: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1890.

Why I love William Morris

If you missed our Docent Becky Fawcett’s lecture on William Morris here is a snippet of what you missed!  Please don’t forget to check out our next lecture on Science Fiction in the 19th Century on Friday October 21st at 11am.

There are many reasons to love William Morris.  He was a Victorian of renown: a lover of nature, quality workmanship, and medieval times. His work reflects these three loves.  He produced fabrics, textiles, paintings, books, and furniture of great beauty and functionality.

In the Hunter House Victorian Museum we have rooms wallpapered with his patterns of leaves, flowers, and birds.  The parlor displays a lovely period reproduction of his wallpaper as does the gentleman’s bedroom with my personal favorite of leaves and blue birds.


(Wallpaper from the front parlor of the Hunter House)


(The ceiling of the back bedchamber of the Hunter House)

In the doctor’s office there resides a Morris chair, a recliner that he invented and made in books written during the 1920’s and 30’s you can find references to characters sitting in a Morris chair.


(A Morris chair from the doctor’s office in the Hunter House)

I remember reading an article which told of William Morris being the first to display peacock feathers in his home.  The British, and then the Americans, quickly copied this man of talents in decorative arts, including the wealthy Hunter family with their feathers in the parlor.  This tale may be a myth, but it is one I believe.

Now I will share some reasons for my fascination with William Morris: Morris and his Pre-Raphaelite brethren adored medieval times: its Gothic architecture, and love pathos in Sir Walter Scott’s and Mallory’s stories of King Arthur and Camelot.  Chaucer’s stories and illuminated manuscripts plus the fonts used in those times fascinated Morris and his friends.

Tragically, his very life paralleled the Arthur saga.  Among the Pre-Raphaelites was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a marvelous painter and poet whom Morris developed a deep friendship.  Rossetti spotted a beautiful girl among the spectators at one of their events, a poor, but lovely girl named Jane Burden.  Her parents agreed to let her model for the painters.  When Morris saw Jane, he was immediately smitten.  Rossetti was a suave, charming man while Morris was awkward with a mancap of red hair that earned him the nickname ‘Topsy’.  What Morris had in his favor that Rossetti lacked was wealth.  It is not known for sure that Jane was seeking security, and that was why she chose Morris, but for whatever reason Morris proposed and she accepted.  They had five wonderful years of marriage resulting in two daughters.

‘Arthur’ and ‘Guinevere’ were enjoying ‘Camelot’ when who should move in (literally) but ‘Sir Lancelot’- er, Rossetti, the tempter in paradise.  Jane and Rossetti had an affair that lasted many years and caused poor Morris much grief.  But, just like King Arthur, he continued to love his ‘Guinevere’ and spent much time in Iceland to escape his pain.

How can one NOT love such a man!  And this is just one of my reasons.

Which room in the Hunter House has your favorite wallpaper?

Memorial Photography

In case you missed our Friday Lecture on Memorial Photography, here is a glimpse at what Assistant Director Kelly Kubiak talked about!  If you are interested in learning more about memorial photography feel free to contact us.  Also do not forget to mark your calendars for this Friday’s lecture on Body Art in the 19th Century.

Without further delay here is Kelly:

Post-mortem photography has experienced a resurgence of interest lately due to the growth of the Internet mixed with the popularity of social media, blogs, and Pinterest.  All too often, memorial and mourning photographs are posted and reposted as weird, creepy, morbid or simply odd habits of the Victorians.  Instead, we really should view them in an entirely different perspective – one that is as inclusive as those who would have purchased them and those who would have been looking at them.  Post-mortem photography (memorial, mourning photography) should be seen in the same manner as their original owners:  love, pride, loss, grief, as a form of sentiment, memorial, and remembrance.


This form of imagery was not created because the photographers or families were macabre or deranged. These photographic images, were created because families were grieving, mourning, their hearts broken.  Looking at these images it is easy to forget that they were someone’s child, brother, sister, mother, father. Photographs were taken because hearts were broken, grieving.   Above all else, the individuals captured within daguerreotypes and photographs, were dearly loved and their owners desired to remember them and these images truly reflect the owners sentiments and desire to remember.


Anthropologist, Jay Ruby, concluded in his ten-year research that there is very little dialogue to correspond with the photographs.  All too often, the individuals, families, and photographers remain anonymous.  Therefore, today’s viewer must create their own narrative regarding who the individual(s) were that are in the photograph, how they died, who their family was, how the daguerreotypes, photographs, stereo cards, or carte-de-visites became available for us to see. Through each successive generation, stories may have been lost or forgotten and therefore, the objects find homes in antique shops or garage sales. All too often they have lost their identity and become anonymous individuals and we are left to create their story. Therefore, when we gaze upon these images today, let us attempt to view them not with macabre interest but instead, with the understanding that they were essentially a personal and intimate part of everyday life, death and grief.


In Securing the Shadow, Jay Ruby, determined that three basic styles of post-mortem developed in the nineteenth century: last sleep, alive but dead and the use of coffins and caskets.  Intermingled within these three styles are single or group portraits; pets and the development of memorial forms and styles.


Last Sleep

This form dominates the decades from 1840 – 1880.  The deceased resembles a sleeping individual, therefore it is often easy to overlook them as mourning photographs – especially those involving children and infants.  Posed to literally resemble a sleeping person, bodies are often placed upon bedding, couches, chairs or rest in the arms of a parent or sibling.  Generally, the only distinguishing feature in many of these images of deceased children is the facial expression of their parents.


“William” c.1850

Alive But Dead

The ‘alive but dead’ style incorporate persons posed in a variety of settings that someone alive would have been posed, but they are in fact, dead.  There is often an attempt to disguise death and allow the owner to remember the deceased not as dead, but eternally sleeping.  A variety of methods was used in an effort to pose the deceased, many can be considered studio ‘props’ – items such as furniture, couches, carriages, family or even mechanisms used to hold a living sitter in place was often perfect to hold a deceased individual.



c. 1870, author unknown; Netherlands


Coffins / Caskets

During the 1880s we begin to see an emergence of coffins and caskets in the photographs.  With the advent of daguerreotypes and photography, photographers and mourners were able to take advantage of the time it took to build a coffin, as they were not ready-made items as they are now.  Therefore, photographers were able to rush to a home and take ‘likeness’ of the deceased or the mourners were able to bring the deceased to the photographer’s studio, which is why in the early years there is an absence of coffins.  By the end of the nineteenth century we see not only images of simple coffins but we see the emergence of more costly caskets and funerals.  Important to note is the changing use of coffin into casket:  a ‘coffin’ is simply a long narrow box used to hold and to bury the dead; whereas a ‘casket’ is a small ornamental box designed to hold precious items such as a jewel or souvenir.


Memory in Mourning

By the end of the century a new form the emergence of mourning as opposed viewing the deceased within the photograph.  Women are most often within this form (this does not

mean that men did not pose in this format, simply we may be unaware).  The focus and gaze now has shifted from that of the deceased to that of the mourner.  For many mourners, mourning becomes fashionable in keeping the memory ongoing.  Ruby discovered that in 1887, one widow wrote that “…mourning is a form of memory; when we mourn, we keep our loved ones alive in memory.”  Memory is perpetuated through the creation of mourning cards, photographs and stereo cards that could be saved and sent to family in America and Europe.  In many of these later forms we see memorialization of family, presidents, politicians and royalty.  Photo memory cards now can superimpose the image of the deceased (taken while they were alive) with that of memorial wreaths or family.


Memorial Cards (carte-de-visite and cabinet cards)

This form became popular from 1880 – 1905 and were often mass-produced.  Studios were able to create them with the deceased’s name and personal information provided by the family.  The Burns Collection describes this form of memorial and commemoration as the most common form of the nineteenth century mourning artifact.  Over time, we begin to see that these cards become mailed to family across America and to family members throughout the globe.



Memorial stereo card of Abraham Lincoln



Throughout the century we begin to see how much pets have become part of our family dynamic.  Dogs, cats and in one case, a squirrel by the name of Genoushe*, have become immortalized by their owners.

11th mourning.png




In the last few decades, there has been a resurgence of interest regarding these types of imagery.  Because of great sources such as Thanatos.net, the Stanley Burns Collection and through the collections of libraries, museums and archives we have a deeper understanding of their importance in the daily lives of those in the nineteenth century and even today.  To view a wider variety of these forms, please review some of the more notable online sources below.  But when viewing them, remember that these images were created for families and individuals that had experienced the loss of a beloved family member (child, sibling, parent, husband, wife) or friend.  As mourning traditions and rituals, so too did the likeness of the deceased.  Ranging from sleeping to temporarily resting within a photograph to the creation of the memorial cards.   Memorial photography extends beyond viewing fashionable clothing or caskets; sitters placed within a group or individualized portraits – they have the ability to remind viewers to see this form not as odd, weird or bizarre habits of the Victorians, but rather more importantly, it was an effort to remember someone that was dearly loved, cherished and greatly missed.


For this blog, I have made every effort to use online images that are within the public domain and free from copyright infringement.  There are many websites, Pinterest accounts and blogs that may not have the proper authority to reproduce images, therefore, please see some of the sites listed below as their images.


Stanley Burns Collection and Archivehttp://www.burnsarchive.com/EXPLORE/HISTORICAL/Memorial/index.html


Eastman Museum: https://www.eastman.org/memento-mori-%E2%80%93-postmortem-photography



Luminous-Lint: http://www.luminous-lint.com/__phv_app.php?/v/_PROCESS_Ambrotype_01/

The Thanatos Archive (by subscription): http://thanatos.net/

*Genushe can be found at:  https://artblart.com/tag/kansas-city/


What would you like to learn more about within the realm of memorial photography?  Do you have any memorial photography in your family collection?

Making History Relevant: Marketing, Social Media, and Museums

The following blog post is the work of Assistant Director Victoria Gray. Read along to learn about her experiences trying to market our little museum in this big world.

From Victoria:

Making a house that was built over one hundred and twenty years ago relevant in today’s world can be a bit of a challenge.  There are still, of course, true history buffs and people who have a love for the Victorian Era, but with those folks set aside, I often ask myself: how do we draw in the average person?



(Picture: Victoria sporting an epic Downton Abbey themed hat at our trip to the costume exhibit in Richmond last November.)

Through my time at the Hunter House Victorian Museum I have learned three important words when it comes to attracting new people to our house: network, network, network!  It is amazing how much exposure your museum can get just from getting to know new people and collaborating with locals.  This year the Hunter House has been making a lot of new connections which have helped us become more relevant in areas of the community where people would have previously not pictured us.  Personally, I have been networking with local gardener John Wharton of Glass Gardens on a Spring terrarium class, as well as with Old Dominion University Professor Dr. Maura Hametz, who recently spoke at the Eloise Hunter Chapter of the Victorian Society’s Spring Symposium.  Director Jackie Spainhour has been testing out new advertising through Yelp and planning future collaborations with Nauticus,  Hill House Museum, and the Hermitage Museum.  Assistant Director Kelly Kubiak has even initiated planning for a future event with a local pet grooming salon and retail store, Muddy Paws, and Epworth United Methodist Church.



(Picture: All dressed up for one of our themed teas)

There have been many times when myself, Jackie, and Kelly have sat around the Hunter House kitchen table and spewed ideas back and forth.

“How about something with tattoos?”

“Maybe we could incorporate the LBGT community into one of our future events.”

“How can we draw more men into our facility?  Guns?  Cigars?  Beer?”

“How about something with spiritualism and paranormal experts?”

If there is one thing I have learned from working at the Hunter House, it is that no idea is too outlandish.  The Hunter House is so much more than just a thirty-minute tour.  Although the history of this house may have begun in 1894 it is still so relevant today!  It is my personal goal to make the Hunter House have a connection to every one of our visitors.

To achieve this goal, I have taken to social media.  You can find the Hunter House on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Through these new mediums our old house can achieve a worldwide reach and become known to a broader audience.  A person who does not like history, or so they think, may not seek out the Hunter House on its own;  however, once hashtags like #spiritualism #art #vampires #fashion are added to a post or photo,  it is amazing the response we are able to get!  Working to spread the word about the Hunter House and our events has led me to learn the power of the hashtag.  Before I started working at the Hunter House I had not hopped on the hashtag train; however, through my outreach trials and tribulations, I have learned that the hashtag is my best friend!  By using a hashtag on the Hunter House’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts I have been able to reach a lot more people who may not have been interested in old houses or the Victorian Era, but were drawn to seek out #vampires.  Yes, vampires were a thing in the Victorian Era. Some are interested in #makeup. Unlike today, the concept of beauty in the nineteenth century was synonymous with not only pain, but sometimes even death due to widespread use of arsenic in beauty routines.



(Picture: Victoria, Jackie, and docent Jessica in costume for the Witch’s Tea)

Beyond my experiences with using social media to boost the museum, I have learned that a good event can draw in even the most reluctant guest.  Director Jackie Spainhour has a special touch with events that get new people in here.  As many of our regular visitors may have noticed we are trying out a lot of new events and I think through this we have learned a lot about what attracts guests.  The Witch’s Tea and Spiritualism Faire seem to be a house favorite, well for most.

The last thing I have taken away from marketing the Hunter House Victorian Museum is that you cannot please everyone.  Some of the same people who may praise us for our teas and lectures may be turned off by our Spiritualism Faire (this is oh too true!).  However, that is ok.  Not everyone is going to like everything that we do, but we want to be sure that we have something for everyone to enjoy.



(Picture: Guests enjoying one of our most popular events- painting in plein air!)

If you have any suggestions for future events or lectures, please feel free to comment down below.  We love getting feedback from our viewers and followers!

The Language of Love Letters

From Jackie:

We are so excited that we have had the opportunity to once again offer Friday morning lectures in our museum parlor this fall. As usual, we challenged ourselves to get creative with topics, asking friends and colleagues for favors and ideas. We are lucky to have so many knowledgeable and willing friends! Our lecture series kicked off this past Friday with Brittney Smith, a friend of the Hunter House and of Asst. Director Kelly Kubiak. We were thrilled when she mentioned her interest in Victorian love letters and her willingness to give a talk on the subject. At our request, she has written the following excerpt to provide those who missed the program with an opportunity to learn more.

From Brittney:

I’ve long been intrigued by love letters and the flowery poetry that seems to rise from simple heartfelt strokes of a pen, scrawled longingly or angrily across the unscarred page. The passion of the Victorian love letter flows from their every word and pours into the readers mind like well-aged bourbon mingling slowly with the melting of an ice cube. Victorians were amazing letter writers. They wrote letters of all kinds; apology, congratulations, introduction, love and business in addition to many many others. After all, it was the social obligation of every Victorian lady to convey news and information through well written letters. One was judged on the quality of their letter by its elegance, the words they chose and penmanship. It is thought that the better the skill of letter writing, the finer the breeding.

What is a Victorian love letter?

Such a fantastic question with no explicit definition. Think of it, what is love? If the question were posed to three individuals there would be three similar albeit DIFFERENT responses. Yet, in the Victorian era, the definition was clearly defined in several publications; The Lover’s Casket and The Lovers Letter Writer. Both very popular etiquette manuals for letter writing of all kinds.

What we can say, with full confidence, is a love letter is often a romantic way to express feelings of love in written form. This written form could be delivered by hand, mail, carrier pigeon, or romantically left in a secret location (SIGH). Letters range from a short and simple message of love to a lengthy account of feelings. Love letters may, and often do, move through the widest range of emotions – devotion, disenchantment, heartache and crossness, poise, ambition, intolerance, guilt and resignation.

The Lovers Letter Writer provided answers to correct letter writing of the day. It covered love, courtship, marriage, friendship, relationships and business; totaling 66 examples. The samples covered every conceivable social need along with a very handy-dandy formula for a penning a cryptogram.  Like many amazing things, was born of Female Ingenuity. The contents of the letter were meant to be read between the lines.  This example of a cryptogram was used by a newly married young lady who was obliged to show her husband ALL the letters she wrote.


I cannot be satisfied, my dearest friend;

blest as I am in the matrimonial state,

unless I pour into your friendly bosom, which has ever been in unison with mine,

the various sensations which swell

with the liveliest emotions of pleasure,

my almost bursting heart. I tell you my dear

husband is the most amiable of men.

I have now been married seven weeks, and have found the least reason to

repent the day that joined us.

My husband is

 in person and manners far from resembling

ugly, cross, old, disagreeable and jealous

monsters, who think by confining to secure a wife;

it is his maxim to treat, as a bosom friend and confidant, and not

as a plaything or menial slave, the woman

chosen to be his companion. Neither party,

he says should always obey implicitly;

but each yield to the other by turns.



I cannot be satisfied, my dearest friend,

unless I pour into your friendly bosom,

the various sensations which swell

my almost bursting heart. I tell you my dear

I have now been married seven weeks, and

repent the day that joined us.

My husband is

ugly, cross, old, disagreeable and jealous.

It is his maxim to treat as a plaything or

menial slave; the

woman he says, should always obey implicitly.


What makes a Victorian love letter?

The letter’s physical appearance, in addition to content, was a key concern for letter-writing guides.  Men were encouraged to use plain paper, and a light spritz of perfume was sometimes acceptable.  Other sources disagreed and suggested high outward ornamentation such as ribbons, flowery drawings, and females could use interesting colors.  What was considered acceptable changed over time. Early in the century, ribbons were very popular, but later, fashion changed to heavy cream paper and then monogrammed letterheads became the norm by the end of the nineteenth century.  The driving force of letter decoration was friendship rather than romance.  Victorian women used their ingenuity and clever hands to fashion objects to give away including letters that carefully wrote.  One example was turning the plain ordinary envelope into a work of art complete with illustrations and / or painted calligraphy.

Letter seals and ink changed throughout the period as well.  Originally wax wafers and dried gum were considered acceptable.  As century progressed, colored wax became all the rage.  However, the use of wax was heavily dictated by social conventions; black wax was always associated with mourning while red wax was to be used in correspondence between men – particularly those dealing with business and letters from men to women.  Women on the other hand, were free to use a range of colors no matter the correspondent.  Meanwhile, ink was a hotly debated topic among letter writing guides.

All agreed on the use of a bold black ink, blue was also considered acceptable.  The use of any other color was shunned whereas scented ink was encouraged.  One ink recipe requires the blend of approximately 100 drops of essential oil (preferably rose or lavender) with a teaspoon of vodka.  The mixture should be adding slowly, into two ounces of ink (deep colors worked best); stir and it was ready to use.

Rules to writing a Victorian Love Letter

Most guides of Victorian letter writing advised letters should be expressive of sincere esteem and affection, written in a dignified tone and in such a style as to not provide embarrassment to the recipient if someone else should happen to find and read it, even if the reader promised to burn their letters after reading them (gasp)!As with all the other forms of proper decorum dictated by Victorian etiquette, there are guidelines for writing letters as well. To name a few:

  1. Never write an anonymous letter. It is the sign of a coward.  Anyone who receives such a letter should not give any consideration to its content
  1. Never write personal conversation on a postcard. They are considered a “cheap” version of a letter
  1. Formal letters should never be written on lined paper.
  1. Always use a full sheet of paper for your letters. A half sheet is considered cheap.
  1. Never use underlining in a letter to emphasize your meaning.
  1. Do not abbreviate – it is the sign of hurried writing
  1. Do not erase or cross out misspelled words in a letter. Should you make a spelling error, the letter should be rewritten
  1. Avoid the “postscript” in everything. This should only be used in the most friendly of letter
  1. Do not write ‘missed’ thoughts in the letter’s margins. Place them on a separate page
  1. Give every subject its own paragraph.
  1. Letters should always be handwritten
  1. Always match the style of writing to the letter type of letter being written. A business letter should be polite but distant in tone.
  1. Fold your letter correctly the first time. A person should never attempt to refold; rewrite the letter in its entirety as opposed to refolding.
  1. Read the letter over carefully before sending it.


Etiquette for composing a Victorian Love Letter

As all correspondence was written by hand, love letters were given the utmost attention and preparation, after all, they would be read, re-read, and cherished for a lifetime. Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, turn of phrase, and determination to retain dignity were the greatest concern. Young ladies were cautioned to exercise extreme restraint in writing to suitors. After all, feelings change with time, her love may be unrequited. No noble young lady would expose herself to potential ridicule by a thoughtless man.

If a courting couple mutually determined to end their romance, both parties would return all love letters and other keepsakes of affection. It was deemed very poor behavior to retain love letters after the demise of a relationship, speak of the contents with anyone else, or allow others to read them. Typically, correspondence was conducted with the acceptance and approval of the young lady’s parents and the young man’s parents. It was deemed highly inappropriate to disclose any details of correspondence with a young lady. A young lady never made light of sentiments expressed by a beau in a letter as it was considered most unseemly.

As for a gentleman, he would never think of boasting his conquests to his peers. Gentlemen were allowed to contact a young lady even though he may not have been formally introduced. They were expected to send a letter, to request permission to call on her. First, he had to find one who knew her name and address. The letter should include the circumstances and the location where she was glimpsed, why he wanted to call on her, and who in town could speak for him. This was highly risky. What if the young lady expressed disinterest in a return note.

When the gentleman couldn’t identify the young woman he had become so enamored with, it wasn’t uncommon to post a personal advertisement in the papers. Oddly enough, this happened with great frequency in the United States. Young ladies were cautioned to exercise extreme caution and never disclose her name or address until she had received a reply, addressed to the newspaper office, revealing his motivation for contacting her AND provide character references. Often this unusual introduction began a beautiful correspondence and courtship. However, just as often, young ladies became a joke among young men posting notices for sport.

Etiquette allowed for either party to terminate the courtship and thus correspondence in writing. These letters would often speak bluntly and express regret along with precise reasons why the correspondence should be terminated. It was not unusual, nor was it considered poor manners, for a nervous young gentleman to propose marriage in writing. These proposals would often request a return note within the hour. If in the presence of his beloved, young men may even pass her a note in which he had written his question.


Interested in our upcoming Friday morning lectures? Check out the schedule here: http://www.hunterhousemuseum.org/special-events/

Events are free, but we would appreciate a reservation to ensure we have enough seats and refreshments.

Did any of the information in this post surprise you? Do you prefer snail mail to email? I know I do!