Virtual Program Examines Lives of Boston’s Domestic Help in Late 19th to Early 20th Centuries

An upcoming virtual program will examine the lives of domestic staff in Boston during the late 19th to early 20th centuries, including help employed by the Nichols and Gibson families.

The Nichols House Museum welcomes Gibson House Museum curator, Meghan Gelardi Holmes, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m. for  “The World of Domestic Workers in 19th Century Boston,” which examines the lives of the mostly young, immigrant Irish women who built a rich, interconnected community centered in the back alleys of the Back Bay. This talk will not only look at the work and their leisure time of the domestic staff, but also how the experience of immigration shaped their lives.

“While [past programs on life at the Nichols House] commonly looked at life through the lens of the employers, this one instead will examine what life was like for domestic help back then away from work,” said Barbara Callahan, public engagement manager for the Nichols House Museum.

Besides “church and other public spheres” domestic workers in the late 19th to early-20th centuries often get to know each other in the Back Bay’s back alleys, said Callahan, while evidence suggests that marriages between domestic help who first met in these back alleys weren’t an uncommon occurrence at the time.

This upcoming virtual program, said Callahan, also complements  “Hidden Spaces of the Nichols House Museum” tours on Sundays, Nov. 28 and Dec. 19, at 2 p.m.. at 55 Mt. Vernon St., which will offer a glimpse into the domestic work that went into keeping the house operational during the Victorian era, as well as how staff today manages its preservation.

The tours last around one hour and include visits to room and spaces in the museum not ordinarily open to the public. (Tour-goers will have to walk up three flights of stairs, and masks are required.)

As an incentive, the Nichols House Museum is offering a special discount on admission for those attending both “The World of Domestic Workers in 19th Century Boston” and the ”Hidden Spaces” tour, said Callahan with admission for the latter event reduced from $17 for non-members to $10.

Admission for “The World of Domestic Workers in 19th Century Boston” is $5 for Nichols House Museum members and $7-$15 general admission for non-members. Purchase tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-world-of-domestic-workers-in-19th-century-boston-tickets-208050613987. For more information on the Nichols House Museum, visit nicholshousemuseum.org

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