Manship House puts on Summer Dress
A major event in the Victorian household was the annual spring cleaning. The Manship House Museum interprets the life of a middle-class family in the South in 1888. Then, the responsibilities of a woman were primarily devotion to her husband and the care of home and family. The home was considered to be a haven of culture and education. The arts and sciences were brought into the home in the form of curios, shells, prints, paintings, a piano or organ, and books. Interiors were designed to transform empty rooms into places that would communicate the family's status, reflect its culture, and provide a strong moral influence.
During the spring cleaning the house and its contents underwent a top-to-bottom scrubbing in preparation for the warm months ahead.
As the days grew longer and warmer, the windows were opened to allow outdoor air to cool and freshen stuffy, stale rooms. The heavy silk draperies, so useful in winter for insulating windows, were stifling in summer and had to be taken down and stored. Along with the cooling breezes came dust, pollen, insects, and sunlight, which could be quite damaging to fine furnishings and fabrics. Therefore, all woolen rugs, scarves, and tablecloths were removed, cleaned, and stored safely away. Straw matting replaced carpets as floor coverings, and all upholstered furniture was covered with washable slipcovers to protect it from dirt and perspiration stains.
Gilded surfaces such as picture frames and chandeliers were covered with netting to prevent fly specks. Mosquito netting was hung over beds, and fans were located throughout the house. After fireplaces received a thorough cleaning, the tools and accessories were stored.
Flies and mosquitoes were terrifically bothersome before the advent of window screening, so many methods of repelling, trapping, and killing them were used. The dining room would have contained a fly trap, fans, brushes, or feathers for shooing flies away from both food and diners. Many recipes for homemade concoctions believed to poison flies and crawling insects were published in household guides.
Duties common to spring cleaning included sweeping chimneys and fireplace openings, washing windows, dusting wallpaper, organizing closets, cleaning painted surfaces, whitewashing walls, and scouring floors.
One popular area of decoration when a house was in summer dress was the opening of the fireplace and the hearth. Creativity and the availability of materials were the only guidelines as women attempted to produce a cool and beautiful ambiance in the rooms of the home, often using decorative papers or native plants. Many books existed in the late nineteenth century to provide ideas for beautifying the house and also to guide the woman of the house through her regimen of duties regarding the home.
It is not a good custom to keep the curtains up during the summer, as it fades them, and covers them with dust; besides which, they seem to increase the heat of the rooms, and impede the free entrance of the air.
from Miss Leslie's Lady's House-book: A Manual of Domestic Economy (1852).
The Manship House is "dressed for summer" from early May through late September, as would have been the case when originally inhabited.
For more information call 601-961-4724.
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