September 13, 2016

Samuel Tredwell’s School Days

by Ann Haddad

Back-to-School!

September was a busy month for Eliza Tredwell. After spending summer vacation at the family farm in Rumson, New Jersey, this mother of seven children (ranging in age from 3 to 17), returned to the city and faced the task of back-to-school shopping. Like today’s mothers who endure long lines at Staples, Mrs. Tredwell likely dealt with the crowds at such shops as H. & S. Raynor, on the Bowery, and C. Shepard & Co., on Fulton Street, to buy ledgers, notebooks, and writing instruments for her children’s school work. She also may have patronized clothing stores such as Brooks Brothers or Lord and Taylor’s, on Catherine Street, to outfit the children for the school year.

Boarding School for Samuel

What made 1838 different was that her 11-year-old son, Samuel Lenox (1827-1917), was enrolled in boarding school for the first time. Leaving home at a young age to attend school was not unusual, for in the early 19th century, most schools of higher education enrolled students between the ages of 12 and 15.

 College Point, Long Island, 1876. (Wikipedia.com.)

College Point, Long Island, 1876. (Wikipedia.com.)

Students of the Session 1838-1839, Saint Paul's College. (New York Historical Society.)

Students of the Session 1838-1839, Saint Paul’s College. (NYHS.)

On October 1, 1838, Samuel began his first year at St. Paul’s College and Grammar School, located over six miles from Manhattan in College Point, on 100 acres along the shore of Long Island Sound (now part of Queens). In the Introductory Class, he counted among his 31 classmates members of the Van Cortlandt, Morris, Jones, and other distinguished New York families.

As he would be living away from home for the entire school year, Samuel’s shopping list was longer than those of his sisters, who attended day schools. As stipulated by St. Paul’s, his necessities included sufficient clothing, at least half a dozen towels, hair brushes, and other toiletries. On Sundays and religious feast days he was required to wear a uniform dress suit:

“a single breasted round jacket, with a rolling collar and black worsted buttons,
of dark blue cloth, pantaloons, and a black silk vest.”

In addition, Samuel needed a bible and a prayer book, both stamped with his name.

Dr. William Augustus Muhlenberg. (Wikipedia.com)

Dr. William Augustus Muhlenberg. (Wikipedia.com)

The Respected Founder

Founded in 1835 by Dr. William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877), St Paul’s College and Grammar School had as its objective “the intellectual and moral education of Boys, in accordance with the principles of the Protestant Episcopal Church.” An early “Church-School” scholastic model that combined a classical education with the tenets of Christianity, it sought to provide both academic rigor and moral lessons, while emphasizing the familial nature of the school.

Daily chapel was an important part of the school day, as was the study of Scripture; from these practices standards were set that would lead to the development of Christian character. Dr. Muhlenberg, upon being asked, “What kind of boys do you want?” replied:

“Give us such boys as have been blessed with the instructions of a pious mother.”

.

The Cost of an Education

Seabury Tredwell paid a yearly tuition of $300 for his son’s education at St. Paul’s. The school year ran from the first week of October through the first week of August. The cost included all classes (except for music and drawing), and room and board. After paying an optional fee of $7 per year for the care of a physician who resided at the school, it must have reassured the Tredwells to learn that:

“It is a remarkable fact that since its opening…not a pupil has died, or contracted a fatal illness on the premises.”

Samuel Tredwell's Writing Book, 1843. (MHM Archives.)

Samuel Tredwell’s Writing Book, 1843. (MHM Archives.)

On to “College”

After spending three years in the Grammar School, where he studied mathematics, English, and writing, Samuel matriculated at age 14 to the College. When his use of the term “College” was called into question, Dr. Muhlenberg, responded:

“Whenever our senior boys know less of Latin, Greek, or Mathematics,
than the majority of the A.B.s in the US, we shall begin to think
there is some arrogance in calling our school St. Paul’s College.”

The curriculum, taught by distinguished professors and clergymen (among whom was Reverend Samuel Seabury, the son of Seabury Tredwell’s namesake), included Greek and Latin classics, mathematics, Scripture studies, French and English literature; and, (unusual for the time), physics, geology, chemistry, and anatomy. The skills of elocution and recitation were also highly valued and emphasized in the daily studies. Corporal punishment was forbidden; monthly reports of the students’ progress, including marks for “disorder,” were sent home to parents. Viewed as a superb and progressive school in its time, St. Paul’s saw many of its graduates go on to esteemed colleges.

St. Paul’s also offered a “Mercantile Studies” program, in which students took courses such as Merchandise and Commerce, Laws of Trade, Statistical and Commercial Geography, and Bookkeeping. For reasons unknown to us, Samuel did not choose this program.

Page from Samuel Tredwell's Cash Book, 1843. (MHM Archives).

Page from Samuel Tredwell’s Cash Book, 1843. (MHM Archives).

All Work and No Play Makes Samuel a Dull Boy

The daily schedule at St. Paul’s was long and regimented, but three hours of every day were set aside for recreation. Saturdays were devoted to play and to the welcoming of visitors.

Situated on an idyllic peninsula, the campus of St. Paul’s was ideally situated for outdoor sports. The boys enjoyed rowing and swimming in a cove immediately in front of the school, as well as ice skating, gardening, and riding. Several religious festival days, including the Epiphany and St. Paul’s Day, were celebrated with the cancellation of classes, and with “huge” cakes and other sweets provided by parents.

Samuel’s 1843 cash book paints an amusing picture of the school life and antics of a 16-year-old boy. Among his purchases that year were boots, an accordion, fishing tackle, a lock of “false hair,” and entry to “Peal’s Museum to see the fat girl.” Samuel must have broken the school rules when he paid 31 cents for a dog named Nip, only to pay Charly 6 cents to take care of Nip for one day! And, on at least one occasion, he broke the rule that forbade visits home to parents, when he traveled by boat to Rumson and back.

On the last few pages of the same cash book may be found Samuel’s awkward attempts at romantic poetry, along with this line scrawled in the margin:

“Poetry is the way to the heart of a woman.”

Life after St. Paul’s

Samuel Lenox Tredwell (1827-1917)

Samuel Lenox Tredwell (1827-1917)

Due to lack of sufficient endowment funds, the New York State legislature repeatedly denied St. Paul’s College a collegiate charter, which in effect forbade the school from granting degrees. In 1846, after 11 years of service to the school, Dr. Muhlenberg resigned his position to become rector of the Church of the Holy Communion in New York City. Despite their best efforts, the lack of funds forced the administrators to close the school in 1850. The buildings and land were sold to a private developer.

We don’t know what Samuel thought of the education he received at St. Paul’s College. Did he find the experience memorable? How did it impact his life and the choices he made? At least one former student seemed to recall the school with fondness. Thomas Kelah Wharton (1814-1862), wrote in his diary many years later:

“I passed some 8 years of my life in the pleasant seclusion of scholastic
pursuits. What a change! The revered Professors gone! The Muses’ haunt,
the marble porch where Wisdom went to talk with Socrates or Tully, hears
no more, save the hoarse dissonance of jarring wheels.”

Sometime after 1843, Samuel Tredwell left the school. According to city directories, by 1845, at age 18, he was back home on 4th Street, working as a commercial merchant on Front Street. On December 13 of that year, he began a four-year law clerkship with his brother-in-law, Effingham Nichols, an attorney in New York City, while simultaneously continuing as a commercial merchant and, in 1847, as a distiller on Water Street. The law must not have been Samuel’s cup of tea, for in December 1848, he took over his cousin’s crockery business at 195 Pearl Street, an enterprise he owned until 1854. Samuel had followed in his father’s footsteps after all, literally walking down the same street, to become a merchant.

Sources

  • An Account of the Grammar School, or Junior Department, of St. Paul’s College. New York: F.C. Gutierrez, 1842. New York Historical Society Library.
  • Ayres, Anne. The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg. New York: T. Whittaker, 1889. Accessed September 8, 2016. www.anglicanhistory.org.
  • Cash Book, S.L.Tredwell, College Point, N.Y., 1843. Merchant’s House Museum Archives. 2002.4602.27 Box 3.
  • Catalogue of the professors, instructors, and students of St. Paul’s College and Grammar School, for the session of 1839-40; together with the act of incorporation, constitution of the college, board of visitors, course of studies, discipline, &c. and observations addressed to parents intending to place their sons in the institution. College Point, N.Y. : [s.n.], 1840. New York Historical Society Library.
  • Doggett’s New-York City Directory. New York: John Doggett, Jr. 1846-1854. New York Historical Society Library.
  • Hunt, Thomas C. and James C. Carper, eds. The Praeger Handbook of Faith-Based Schools in the United States, K-12, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2012.
  • Journal of Saint Paul’s College, Feb., 1844, Vol 1, no. 1, College Point, NY: Charles R. Lincoln, 1844. New York Historical Society Library.
  • Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “College Point in 1839” New York Public Library Digital Collections.1854. Accessed September 7, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/ecfc2630-e5fd-0132-978d-58d385a7bbd0.
  • Writing Book, S.L. Tredwell, College Point, NY, 1843. Merchant’s House Museum Archives. 2002.4602.28 Box 3.
August 25, 2016

Julia Tredwell Takes the “Water-Cure”

by Ann Haddad

Julia 2002.0160Julia Eliza Tredwell (pictured at right), Seabury and Eliza’s sixth child, was born on May 16, 1833. She was two years old when her father purchased the house on East Fourth Street that would be Julia’s home for the rest of her life. Many books in the Tredwell Book Collection bear her name, including several on French language and grammar, natural history, poetry, and mathematics.

Julia’s Mysterious Illness

In a letter in the museum’s archive, written in August of an unnamed year, Julia expressed her concerns about her health to her mother. She was a guest at the National Hotel in Richfield Springs, a popular spa resort town in upstate New York, where she apparently went to take the “water-cure” to recover from an illness.

“I have felt very much better the past week. They all say I have gained. I feel it, but by weight I only have gained two pounds. I took a bath and I felt stronger as soon as I came out … It is so lonesome to be separated that I feel as if I ought not to stay as long as I have, but I hope in so doing that I will quite gain my strength.”

An Ancient Health Remedy: Water

Water cure therapies (wikipedia.com)

Water cure therapies (wikipedia.com)

Although we do not know the nature of the illness that befell Julia that summer, it would certainly not have been unusual for her to seek treatment at a spa hotel that offered the “water-cure,” a 19th century health reform movement that employed the therapeutic use of water to revitalize health and treat disease. Also known as hydrotherapy, it has been practiced since ancient times, when Greeks, Romans, and other early civilizations employed water for medicinal purposes. The perceived therapeutic value of springs rich in minerals such as bromine and sulfur was thought to be attained by a combination of bathing and drinking the water. After waning in the Middle Ages, the popularity of this form of alternative medicine spread throughout Europe and eventually became a craze in the United States, in part as a reaction to the brutal practices of blood-letting, purging, blistering, and other medical treatments of the time, which often worsened the patient’s condition.

The “water-cure” involved various rituals, some less aggressive than others, such as submersion in hot or cold tubs of mineral-rich water for hours at a time; wrapping in cold sheets and then sweating; as well as ingestion of 1-2 liters of foul-tasting mineral water in one sitting. Cold water enema was also considered to be of therapeutic value in treating bowel inflammations and constipation. The “water-cure” was prescribed for the relief of many other ailments, especially gout and arthritis; it offered a gentler alternative to the violent medical therapies typically employed. Dietary remedies, including abstention from coffee, tea, salt, and alcohol, as well as meat and dairy products, were also prescribed.

“For the Invalid and Pleasure Seeker”: Water-Cure and Vacation in One!

Richfield Springs, Otsego County, NY, 1865 (Albany Institute of History and Art)

Richfield Springs, Otsego County, NY, 1865 (Albany Institute of History and Art)

By the mid-19th century, the popularity of summer resort towns built around curative springs had soared, especially in New York State. The grand spa hotels typically featured hot and cold water therapy along with dietary and hygienic programs. Ever fearful of the summer cholera and other illnesses caused by the “miasma” that pervaded the air in New York City, those wealthy enough to escape eagerly adopted this fashionable practice, combining their quest for health with a desire for an elite vacation amidst splendid scenery. Among the most popular spa towns were Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, and Richfield Springs, which was celebrated for its sulfur water. Located about 65 miles west of Albany, Richfield Springs, where Julia stayed one August, began to draw visitors as early as the 1820s, after Dr. Horace Manley brought 25 patients to take the “water-cure” at his new sanitarium on the site of the Great White Sulphur Springs.

The Water-Cure for New Yorkers, Too

The Water-Cure Almanac for 1847 (New York Historical Society)

The Water-Cure Almanac for 1847 (New York Historical Society)

In 1843, Dr. Joel Shew (1816-1865) established a hydropathic treatment business in New York City, the first of its kind in America. He and his wife, Marie Louise Shew, ran the center out of their home on 4th Street, four blocks away from the Tredwell home. In 1845, Dr. Shew founded “The Water-Cure Journal and Herald of Reforms,” which promoted the principles and efficacy of the “water-cure.” Mrs. Shew, herself a staunch promoter of healthy living for women and children, wrote a popular treatise on the benefits of the water-cure, as well as proper diet and exercise, “Water-Cure for Ladies.”

By 1846, the Shews had relocated to 56 Bond Street, just a block from the Tredwells, where their Institution for the Practice of Water-Cure, was “situated in a very airy and pleasant part of up town, New York.” The Shews charged $1 to $2 per day for room and board, medical treatment, and advice, and focused their attention particularly on lung disorders, as “the air of New York is exceedingly bland and favorable for cases of the above-named kind.” The Tredwells may have known of the Shews’ water-cure business; they most likely would have been acquainted with and perhaps even subscribed to the Journal, as it was a very popular periodical of the time, acquiring 50,000 subscribers by 1850. As Dr. Shew stated in his Water-Cure and Health Almanac of 1847:

“…by the judicious use of cold water alone, the good effects of bleeding and blistering are most readily produced, without any of the bad effects, including the pain.”

Mineral Water in Central Park

Mineral Water Pavilion, 1869 (New York Public Library)

Mineral Water Pavilion, 1869 (New York Public Library)

Even New York City residents who did not have the means to escape the heat and humidity of their home town had access to therapeutic waters. In 1869 Central Park opened its own Mineral Water Pavilion north of the Sheep Meadow, which sold many varieties of spring water with desirable chemical properties thought to promote health and cure illness. Not to be outdone by the offerings of the lavish summer resorts outside of New York City, the Pavilion offered morning summer recitals as an entertainment for the water-ingesting masses. Due to the unprecedented demand for mineral water in the city, merchants in the spa towns took to bottling the mineral water and shipping it to the municipal markets. In the letter to her mother, Julia refers to a neighbor being able to obtain the mineral water from “Cozzens,” who is mentioned in an advertisement in The New York Times, May 16, 1861:

“Sulphur water from these celebrated Springs has been kept for sale, at F.S. Cozzens, number 23 Warren Street.”

Did Julia Recover?

By the turn of the century, with the discovery of germ theory and advances in drug therapy, and as the leisure class sought other forms of entertainment, the popularity of the resort spa towns and the “water-cure” declined. While we don’t know if the “water-cure” proved therapeutic for Julia, or if that was her only foray into a spa town for her health, it most likely did her no harm. She died in 1909 at her home on East 4th Street, at the age of 76.

Sources:

  • Bailey, W.T. Richfield Springs and Vicinity. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1874.
  • Legan, Marshall Scott. Hydrotherapy, or the Water-Cure in Wrobel, Arthur, ed. Pseudoscience & Society in 19th-Century America. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1987.
  • Miller, Tom. “The Lost Mineral Water Pavilion of Central Park.” Web blog post. Daytonian in Manhattan daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com. 14 August 2010. Web 20 April 2016.
  • Shew, Joel, ed. Water-Cure and Health Almanac for 1847. New York: William H. Graham, 1846.
July 20, 2016

“The Destroying Angel:” New York’s 1832 Cholera Epidemic

by Ann Haddad

Disturbing News

"View of South Street, from Maiden Lane, New York City," by William James Bennett, ca. 1827. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“View of South Street, from Maiden Lane, New York City,” by William James Bennett, ca. 1827. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In the harsh winter of 1831-32, Seabury Tredwell had cause for alarm. As he conducted his business at the seaport and in his warehouse on Pearl Street, he could not have avoided the terrifying news. It was spoken of at every turn, and reported daily in the newspapers: “King Cholera” was heading west! By mid-June, after cutting a path of death as it traveled west from India through Europe, cholera had crossed the Atlantic and reached Canada. If Seabury had kept a journal, most likely he would have written words similar to those of the former New York mayor and diarist Philip Hone, whose entry on June 15 reads:

“It [cholera] must come, and we are in a dreadful state to receive it.
The city is in a more filthy state than Quebec and Montreal.”

Read on…

July 4, 2016

Uncle Sam(uel): Bishop, Loyalist … Broadway Star?

by Ann Haddad

Samuel Seabury

Samuel Seabury

Early in Act I of Hamilton, as I sat entranced by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway mega-hit, a rapper in clerical garb mounted a box, and, in a song entitled “Farmer Refuted,” cried out, “Here ye, hear ye! My name is Samuel Seabury and I present…”
I was immediately taken aback. “Samuel Seabury? Seabury Tredwell’s namesake and uncle? Is this the same guy whose portrait adorns one wall in the Tredwell family room? What is he doing here, in a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton?”

Reverend Samuel Seabury (1729-1796), was the half-brother of Seabury Tredwell’s mother, Elizabeth Seabury. Born in Groton, Connecticut, Seabury completed his education at Yale in 1748, and in 1752 earned a degree in medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

One year later, like his father before him, he was ordained into the Episcopal Church in London, and returned to America, where he served as Anglican rector in various parishes in New Jersey, in Queens County, and, during the American Revolution, in St. Peter’s Church in Westchester, New York.

Read on…

June 13, 2016

“Seabury Tredwell to Eliza Parker:” A New York City Wedding, June 13, 1820

by Ann Haddad

The entry in the wedding registry of St. George’s Episcopal Church on Chapel (now Beekman) Street, dated June 13, 1820, reads simply “Seabury Tredwell to Eliza Parker.” The tying of the knot between 40-year-old Seabury and 23-year-old Eliza, officiated by the rector, Reverend Dr. James Milnor (1773-1845), was the start of a 45-year union.

Wedding Registry, St. George's Episcopal Church

Wedding Registry, St. George’s Episcopal Church

Read on…

April 15, 2016

Julia Tredwell’s Letter from Richfield Springs, NY

by Merchant's House Museum

Julia 2002.0160Julia Eliza Tredwell, Seabury and Eliza’s sixth child, was born on May 16, 1833. She was two years old when her father purchased the house on East Fourth Street that would be Julia’s home until her death in 1909, at the age of 76. A large number of books in the Tredwell Books Collection bear her name, including several on French language and grammar, natural history, poetry, and mathematics.

Julia is pictured at right, ca. 1862.

In an undated letter in the museum’s archive, Julia wrote to her mother from Richfield Springs, in upstate New York, where she apparently went to recover from an illness. Richfield Springs became popular in the 1830s after Dr. Horace Manley purchased the site of the Great White Sulphur Springs, built a bath house, and brought 25 patients to take the water cure. It became increasingly popular as a summer resort.

“I have felt very much better the past week. They all say I have gained. I feel it, but by weight I only have gained two pounds. I took a bath and I felt stronger as soon as I came out … It is so lonesome to be separated that I feel as if I ought not to stay as long as I have, but I hope in so doing that I will quite gain my strength.”

April 11, 2016

Coming Soon! Miracle on Fourth Street

by Merchant's House Museum

Museum Historian Mary Knapp’s new book, Miracle on Fourth Street: Saving an Old Merchant’s House, is coming soon.

Here’s what Mrs. Knapp has to say:

August, 1933—The country was in the depths of the Great Depression. Gertrude Tredwell had just died at the age of 93 in the 1832 rowhouse her family had inhabited for almost 100 years. A century of urban progress meant that the house, once located in the New York City’s most desirable neighborhood, was now just steps from the Bowery, the nation’s skid row. It was a time capsule, complete with the original owners’ furnishings dating to mid 19th century, and personal belongings as well—books, decorative objects, textiles, and even 39 dresses belonging to the women of the family.

Miracle on FourthEnter George Chapman, a distant cousin who made what can only be described as a foolhardy decision to “save” the old house from the auction block and turn it into a museum. Not only had the old house been long neglected and was then well along the road to disintegration, but certainly no one at that time was inclined to donate money to preserving the home of an early New York City merchant—a rich merchant, to be sure—a good man certainly—but not a person of historical significance.

But George was a wealthy man and in spite of increasing physical infirmity he just barely managed to hold his beloved museum together at great personal cost for over 20 years. However, he was not inclined to make major repairs let alone the needed thorough restoration of the collapsing house.

Eventually, after an improbable chain of events, an impeccable authentic restoration did take place, undertaken without charge by Joseph Roberto, an accomplished restoration architect who exercised a scrupulous regard for the original fabric of the building and recruited some of the most talented craftsmen in the country as well as White House architect, Edward Vason Jones and noted 19th century authority on American decorative arts, Berry Tracy, as pro bono consultants.

The restoration was a story of creative solutions to structural calamities, heartbreaking setbacks, personality conflicts, and an unceasing struggle to find funding, but Joseph Roberto simply would not give up, and eventually the house was restored to its original beauty, structurally stronger than ever. The textiles had completely deteriorated, but instead of replacing them with period appropriate examples, The Decorators Club, who were responsible for the interior refurbishment, wisely had the original silk curtains and the carpeting reproduced at extraordinary expense.

The story doesn’t end there, however, for there was to be one last crisis, which could literally have brought the house down were it not for the wise direction of the current director and the support of government and corporate grants, and the generosity of private donors.

Since the beginning, The Merchant’s House has held an unworldly attraction for all those who have been involved in its long life. It is not an exaggeration to say that people simply fall in love with it and are willing to devote extraordinary effort to its preservation.

Maybe that’s because of what happens when you cross the threshold.A mirror reflecting the 19th century.

Which brings me to the most miraculous circumstance of all. Here we come as close as we ever will to those who came before us. As we tune in to the height of the ceilings and the nearness of the walls, as we travel a path from room to room, observing the light, seeing what the family saw in those rooms—the piano, the mirrors, the Duncan Phyfe chairs, their four poster beds—we learn with our bodies as well as our brains what it was like to live in a 19th century urban rowhouse owned by one of the early merchants who laid the commercial foundations of this great city.

Once there were hundreds of such homes lining the streets of the neighborhood north of Bleecker. Now there is only one left to tell the story.

March 30, 2016

“The Habits of Good Society” — Etiquette & Entertaining at Home

by Merchant's House Museum

Julia 2002.0160On Saturday, April 23rd 2016, from 12 to 4 p.m., the Merchant’s House brings you “The Habits of Good Society” – Etiquette and Entertaining at Home, part of our ongoing Tredwells at Home, Living History series.

It’s 1858 and 25-year-old Tredwell daughter Julia (pictured left) is receiving visitors in the front parlor. New York women in the 19th century maintained friendships and other social connections through the elaborate ritual of formal visiting — or “calling” — and in order to participate, everyone was expected to know the rules. When do you make a personal call, and when can you leave a calling card? How soon should you pay a “party call” after attending a ball or formal dinner? How do you know when a family is ready to receive visitors after mourning a death? What is a “sociable”? Come pay Julia a call and find out how she and other young women in 19th century New York navigate the ins and outs of fashionable society.

This event is included with the price or regular admission and is open to all ages. Julia will be in the parlor to meet visitors from 12 to 4 p.m. 19th century attire is encouraged.

March 24, 2016

NEW Tour! “In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant.”

by Merchant's House Museum

The Merchant’s House Museum now offers a brand new signature tour, “In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant.”

The only one of its kind in New York City, this unparalleled “back-stairs” tour tells the heroic story of the Irish women who worked in domestic service in 19th Century New York, overcoming homesickness, culture shock, and prejudice to cultivate a new home and a new identity on foreign soil – ultimately altering the face of New York City forever.

The Irish domestic servant in 19th century New York City

Hal Hirshorn Servant ParlorIt is widely known that Irish women made up a large proportion of the servant class in 19th century New York. And the sheer amount of physical work they performed is taken as a given… though can we really imagine what wringing out hundreds of pounds of heavy, sopping wet laundry feels like? Yet even if we give them credit for their labor, we often fail to give them credit for their resiliency and the adroitness with which they adapted to a vastly different and complex new environment. 

Beyond the endless physical toil their positions demanded, these female domestic workers were also busy adapting to a new culture, decoding the vagaries of their employers, and parsing the subtle social intricacies of work in a big house. These girls, some only in their teens, soon learned to navigate this bewildering new world, becoming indispensable to running the household. Demand was so high that a more experienced servant had a surprising amount of power in negotiating her pay and other benefits; servants saved astonishing amounts of their salaries to send back home to Ireland.

Photo by Hal Hirshorn.

Into their home, into their world

“In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy” takes guests up the narrow stars to the 4th floor servants’ quarters, where the Tredwell family’s four Irish servants – Bridget Murphy, Mary James, Mary Smith, and Ann Clark – lived and did some of their work. The entire hour-long tour takes place the original setting where these women lived and worked, bringing you into their home, their lives, and their world – in what is “arguably the oldest intact site of Irish habitation in New York City.” (Time Out New York)

“In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant” is available on select dates or as a private group tour; please visit our Group Programs Page for more information.

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