Posts

Diverse Women of Tudor Place

October 11th was declared the International Day of the Girl by the United Nations in 2011. The day serves a dual purpose: highlighting the challenges girls in today’s world face and simultaneously promoting girls’ empowerment. In 2018, the day focuses on expanding learning opportunities by encouraging girls to think outside the box as they develop their skillsets. Tudor Place is filled with the stories of incredible women and, in particular, the stories of women who had to be creative and innovative throughout their lives. In telling these stories, we hope to inspire girls to discover their own stories while exploring those of the women who lived and worked here at Tudor Place.

The first woman on our list is Britannia Kennon. Born in 1815 as the youngest daughter of Thomas and Martha Peter, she married at age 27 in 1842. She had one daughter, Martha called Markie, before her husband was killed in a shipboard accident in 1844. She never remarried, choosing instead to live as sole mistress of Tudor Place until she passed away on the eve of her 96th birthday in 1911. During her 56-year period of ownership, she took in four of her sister’s orphaned children, rented out rooms during the Civil War to avoid governmental seizure of the house, sold land at the northern end of the property to support the family, and assisted in raising her grandchildren following her daughter’s early death in 1886. We at Tudor Place are particularly fond of Britannia because she provided us with a treasure trove of knowledge about the objects in her care—including our extensive collection of objects from Mount Vernon. These handwritten notes detail the ownership and use of these objects and are invaluable resources for our curator and collections team. Because of this, we consider Britannia to be the house’s first ‘curator.’

Agnes Peter, Britannia’s only granddaughter, is another intriguing woman who lived at Tudor Place. In 1918, Agnes enrolled in a specialized summer course designed to prepare women for war work that included classes in wireless telegraphy, electrical repair, Red Cross work, the French language, and automobile repair. Following the course, Agnes prepared to go overseas with the Red Cross for war work. Though her trip was cancelled when the Armistice was signed in November of 1918, she did go to work in France with the YMCA and operated shelters for soldiers and children throughout France. In 1921 she received two medals from the French government for her humanitarian work there. Agnes did not marry until age 73; she married Dr. John Mott, an 88-year-old widower. He passed away in 1955 and she in 1957; she is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery near her parents, several of her siblings, and her beloved grandmother.

Caroline Peter, wife of Tudor Place’s last private owner Armistead Peter 3rd, was born in Paris in 1894 while her American parents were living abroad. Also a Red Cross volunteer during both world wars, Caroline served at the U.S. Debarkation Hospital and Georgetown University Hospital. At her Georgetown station she was a captain of the Red Cross Nurse’s Aides and completed over 4,000 hours of service. Having taken nursing courses at Johns Hopkins prior to World War I, she continued to volunteer in the medical field at the Mount Alto Veterans Hospital following World War II. Caroline was an active member of numerous local organizations, including the Literary Society, the Junior League, the Alliance-Française, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, and the Georgetown Garden Club.

But Tudor Place’s story is not just limited to the members of the Peter family. Numerous people, both enslaved and free, worked here on the property and we have the opportunity and responsibility to tell their stories too. The Peter family did own enslaved people and they represent a significant component of Tudor Place’s history. For example, the Peters owned a cook named Patty Allen prior to 1831. Though only fragments of information can be found about Patty, we do know that an enslaved woman named Patty was included in Thomas Peter’s Day Book listing of enslaved people received in 1796—Patty is noted to be 25 at this time. Patty was actually married to a free man who lived here in Georgetown and our records tell us she went home each evening, which was unusual as most enslaved people lived on their owners’ estates. Because of this, we see Patty as someone who was able to negotiate with the Peters and advocate for herself in a way that differed from the norm.

Another enslaved woman at Tudor Place, Stacia, did live at Tudor Place and worked in the household; her duties included caring for the Peter family’s children and occasionally acting as a nurse. Stacia was given major responsibilities by the family, including nursing a nephew through a bout of typhoid fever (which she did successfully) and caring for the house and grounds while Britannia, then-owner, was travelling. Stacia was roughly the same age as Britannia and they maintained a lifelong relationship, keeping in touch following emancipation in the District of Columbia in 1862. Stacia continued to live in Georgetown and her last recorded contact with Britannia was in 1892, only 19 years before Britannia’s death.

Like Stacia, Hannah Pope straddles the line between enslaved and free. Born in 1828 to Barbara, daughter of one of the Custis dower slaves, Hannah was raised at Tudor Place and her primary duties were as a lady’s maid to Britannia. Britannia noted that Hannah had mixed racial ancestry and, though her father is unknown, her descendants believe that he was a member of the Peter family. Hannah was sold to a nearby Georgetown family, the Carters, in 1845 to marry one of the Carters’ enslaved workers—a man named Alfred Pope. Both Hannah and Alfred were manumitted, or freed, in Colonel Carter’s will and proceeded to become prominent members of Georgetown’s African-American community. Alfred, with support from Hannah, became a successful business man and, at the time of his death, owned a significant amount of land in Georgetown.

Following emancipation, the Peter family turned to the immigrant population in addition to the newly-freed African-American population as a source of paid labor. Margaret “Maggie” Carraher, who had immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1868 at the age of 19, lived and worked at Tudor Place between 1880 and 1888, then again from 1904 and 1911. Armistead Peter 3rd, Tudor Place’s last private owner, remembers watching her make bread when he was a young boy, which she did “expertly.” Following her retirement in 1911, Maggie received cash gifts from the Peter family for several years. She passed away in December of 1932 and is buried nearby in Holy Rood Cemetery.

Each of these women demonstrate the resourcefulness, determination, ingenuity, and dedication that the International Day of the Girl hopes to inspire in new generations of girls. From negotiating to live offsite, as Patty Allen did, to utilizing nursing skills during the world wars, as Caroline Peter did, every one of these women were able to achieve remarkable things with the circumstances they were in. We can learn important things from all of these stories; determination from Britannia, adventurousness from Agnes, dedication from Caroline, ingenuity from Patty, capability from Stacia, resourcefulness from Hannah, and tenacity from Maggie. Perhaps we can even see a little of ourselves in these women and, in turn, learn something about ourselves from the girls of the past.

“Tradition”? Finding Surprises in Christmases Past

Those age-old Christmas “traditions” we revel in – how traditional are they really? Whether we celebrate the holiday or not, most of us consider Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and paper-wrapped gifts almost timeless. But like the American melting pot itself, many holiday staples came from overseas and changed over time. See for yourself how customs change, during the festive installation, Red, Green & Gold, The New and the Old, running through December, as Tudor Place “Sparkles for Christmas” — on view during all regular tours and seasonal programs.

Throughout the 1816 mansion, compare nearly 200 years of celebrations with your own winter pastimes and family gatherings. And feast your eyes on sparkling décor that imagines how it would have looked if the home owners, the Peters, were decorating today. You will leave with much to think about and appreciate!

mantel with clock and decor

In the Drawing Room mantel, ornament trees flank the French ormolu-and-enamel clock.

This creative installation melds 21st-century decorations and Peter family collections to celebrate the Washington-Custis lineage and contemporary flair. Few written descriptions or photographs show how or if the Peter family decorated, so our Collections team drew inspiration from the family’s interest in horticulture and nature. That’s why you’ll find lush greenery and more than 100 feet of lights alongside classic standbys like the circa-1910 goose-feather tree and fragile but playful pressed-paper ornaments made more than a century ago.

The weeks leading to December 24 appear to have been far quieter than our modern hail of festivities and engagements. As a student at Saint Albans School, Armistead Peter 3rd in 1914 described dinners, dances, and other family socializing at Tudor Place that commenced only on Christmas Day and ran through New Year’s. Still, the Peters lavished great attention and expense on their celebrations. Grocery invoices from 1926 in the archive show that they spent $322.88 – about $3,500 in 2013 dollars – on Christmas and New Year’s dinners alone.

In the 1920s office, you will find holiday greeting cards, also from the Archive. Though Christmas cards have been in circulation since the mid-1800s, they became a holiday ritual only in the early 1900s, supplanting the practice of giving small trinkets to friends. Another use for paper in the late 19th century was for small candy holders; vintage examples of these chromolithographs are also on view in the office.

In the Children’s Bedroom upstairs stands the goose-feather tree, imported from Germany. The tradition of live and faux indoor trees came from Europe in the 19th century, but mistletoe and holly sprigs were already popular here for decorating. Vendors began selling decorative greens in quantity at public markets in Washington in the 1870s and 1880s. You will see them in the house today and might want to pass with someone special under one of the mistletoe “kissing balls” that hang between the Saloon and adjacent reception rooms. In 1923, with the spread of electrification well underway (Tudor Place was wired in 1914), President Coolidge lit the first “national Christmas tree.”

Under their trees at home, children in the late 1800s might have found books, dolls, roller skates, sleds, baseball mitts or board games. Many such items are preserved in the Tudor Place toy collection, and you’ll find them beneath the feather tree. It was only in 1900 that paper gift wrap began to appear, usually in solid colors. (White tissue with red ribbon was most popular.) In the 1920s, however, printed patterns emerged – you can view examples from the 1950s in the Servant’s Sitting Room.

Felt stockings on the Parlor mantel today would have first appeared there after World War I and were probably purchased by the two last generations of Peters to live in the mansion, Armistead Peter 3rd, his wife Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter, and their daughter Anne. After opening presents on Christmas morning, the family would have retired to this room for a late breakfast and tea.

magazine cover image

In the Servants’ Sitting Room, wrapping, polishing, and seasonal magazines.

Tudor Place domestic staff were most numerous from 1918 to 1923, the years surrounding the marriage of Armistead the 3rd and Caroline. Their number included African-Americans and immigrants from Ireland, Italy, England, and Russia, most of whom lived off-site. Well paid for the time, as demonstrated by Peter family records in the archive, they may have received bonuses at Christmas and other holidays. In the Servants’ Sitting Room, where gift wrapping is under way, the traditional Irish Christmas candle in the window welcomes those looking for shelter.

In the Kitchen, you can visualize the staff bustle as preparations are underway for a family feast. Recipes and receipts in the archive include a name familiar to modern D.C. shoppers: Bills from John H. Magruder Fine Groceries and other invoices show that the family’s 1926 Christmas turkey weighed 13½ pounds and was served with beef. Festive meals around 1920 were served à la Russe, with staff serving and clearing dishes one by one, a job that probably fell to butler Jacob Taube. After Taube’s departure, the Peters appear – like most of us – to have mostly served themselves.

Cakes and roasts have never fallen from fashion, but the Peter family table also bore dishes less common today. The plum pudding and figs on the Kitchen tables may be faux (made by Artist-in-Residence Peter Waddell), but the Chocolate Plum Pudding recipe on the baking table comes from a 1915 cookbook actually owned by the Peters, Knox Sparkling Granulated Gelatine Makes Desserts, Salads, Puddings, Sherbets, Jellies, Ice Creams, and Candies. The handwritten eggnog recipe likewise comes from the archive, and on the wooden table beside the door is another family recipe, typed in the early 1900s, for “Sweet Stuffing for Turkeys, Capons, or Chickens.”

In the kitchen, gelatin molds would have been in frequent holiday use.

In the kitchen, gelatin molds would have been in frequent holiday use.

Through December 2015, these holiday vignettes and the collections riches that surround them will be on view on all regular tours (docent-guided and offered hourly, Tuesdays through Sundays), as well as at Tudor Nights on December 4 and the festive Holidays Through History four-museum open house on December 6. Take a break from the season’s hubbub and rush to enjoy the panorama of holidays past, adding fun, elegance, and a taste of history to your own celebrations!

“Hogs are in the highest perfection” — Recipes for the Smokehouse’s Best

· Georgetown and the Federal City ·

The Virginia Housewife cookbook and a ca. 1790-1820 Mochaware bowl — important tools in Martha Peter’s kitchen. Bowl courtesy private collection of Miss Martha Custis Peter.

“You see bacon upon a Southern table three times a day either boiled or fried,” New Englander Emily P. Burke observed in Reminiscences of Georgia, published in 1850. Given pork’s ubiquity — and popularity — as a staple of Washington area tables, it is not surprising that Mary Randolph’s 1824;Virginia Housewife cookbook included 18 different recipes for pork, both full-grown and “shote.” You can read several of them here.

« Return to Topic