Victorian Women of the Gilded Age

Helen Clay Frick takes a break from studying with Governess Marika Ogiz in the foreground and schoolfriend Virginia Frew at right, 1902–1903. Photographer unknown. [Courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives]

 

Clayton, located at the corner of Penn and South Homewood Avenues in Pittsburgh’s East End, served as the Henry Clay Frick family’s primary residence from 1882 to 1905. A meticulously restored historic house museum where more than 90% of the furniture and artifacts on display are original, Clayton offers Frick Art & Historical Center visitors a unique opportunity to learn about life during the Gilded Age, the Frick family, local history, and Victorian social customs.

 

Clayton, located at the corner of Penn and South Homewood Avenues in Pittsburgh’s East End, served as the Henry Clay Frick family’s primary residence from 1882 to 1905. A meticulously restored historic house museum where more than 90% of the furniture and artifacts on display are original, Clayton offers Frick Art & Historical Center visitors a unique opportunity to learn about life during the Gilded Age, the Frick family, local history, and Victorian social customs.

 

In her memoirs about growing up at Clayton, Helen Clay Frick (1888–1984) wrote, “My mother was a meticulous housekeeper, as were most Pittsburgh ladies of that generation. As a matter of fact, this was necessary as Pittsburgh was not the clean city that it now is, and it required the greatest care in order to have a really clean house.”

Keeping a clean house and running an efficient, comfortable home for one’s family were among the highest duties of a wife and mother at the turn of the 20th century, and Adelaide Frick, Helen Clay Frick’s mother, was no exception. She was fortunate to have the means to hire and direct a staff of servants at Clayton to help her. Each home has its own story, but Clayton is also representative of households across the country, particularly at a time when even middle-class families had domestic help.

 

A new thematic tour of Clayton will be offered during the months of March and April 2011. All the Ladies of the House is the latest in a series of new tours designed to provide visitors multiple ways to connect to Pittsburgh history and to find personal meaning in the stories that are told. Payroll receipts and household documents, some of which are included on the All the Ladies of the House tour, provide information about some of the women who worked for the Fricks, such as governess Mademoiselle Marika Ogiz, lady’s maid Pauline Turon, laundress Marie Johnston, and maids Mollie Hett, Bridget Conroy and Mary Coyne. Together, they helped Mrs. Frick with her elaborate attire, taught Helen Clay Frick in the schoolroom upstairs, set and cleared tables, washed clothes, scrubbed pots, and answered the summons of the family. Other women figure prominently in Clayton’s story and are discussed on the tour as well, such as Mrs. Frick’s sister Martha—known affectionately as Aunt Attie—and Annie Blumenschein Stephany, neighbor and companion to the Frick children.

[Left Image: Adelaide Frick, wife of Henry Clay Frick, 1905. Photograph by E.W. Histed, New York. Courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives]
 

Issues of immigration in Pittsburgh will be addressed as part of the All the Ladies of the House tour, as the ethnicity of Clayton’s domestic staff in many ways reflected national trends. Archival materials will be included, and installations in the rooms will evoke the universal experiences of any woman who has ever taken care of a home. The ladies of Clayton represent a range of economic levels, education levels and ethnic backgrounds, and the rooms of Clayton were the places where the relationships between the women played out. This tour looks at these rooms from the very different perspectives of the women, as places that meant something different to each of them in terms of privilege, responsibility and behavior.

[Right Image: Pauline Turon, Adelaide Frick’s lady’s maid, Pittsburgh, 1899. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.]
 
(From left to right): Martha “Attie” Childs, Eleanor, Whitney, Helen Clay Frick, and Mademoiselle Marika Ogiz, 1902–1903. Photographer unknown. [Courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives]
 

As part of the All the Ladies of the House tour, visitors will see Mrs. Frick’s wedding cape and Helen Clay Frick’s school notebooks, along with corsets, clothing and a number of displays that evoke daily life. Also included are period kitchen and clothing touchable items that allow you to feel as well as see the type of objects that were common in a well-to-do household at the turn of the 20th century. For more information visit www.thefrickpittsburgh.org.