Women at heart of new exhibit

Museum volunteers recognized for work

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

Just
The Facts

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ST. ALBANS — When the St. Albans Museum opens for the summer it will have a new display on the second floor.

Over the winter, volunteers spent several cold days repainting the room holding the hearth and home exhibit, removing the plywood from the windows, which had to then be covered with a UV film to protect the displays, and redoing the exhibit.

“We wanted to tell a story that wasn’t being told as well as it should’ve been,” said Alex Lehning, the museum’s executive director.

The room has been remade into an exhibit focusing on women’s history. “It was totally volunteer driven,” said Lehning. “This was an idea that came from community members and was driven by community members.”

The volunteers were recognized with a group achievement award from the Vermont Historical Society.

Many of the museum’s exhibits focus solely on men, noted museum volunteer Charlotte Pedersen. “The railroad was men. The military was all the men,” she said.

The hearth and home exhibit was stagnant, she added.

Lehning agreed. “It was a room that had this neat stuff in it, but it didn’t have a story,” he said.

Much of the room contains donated clothing items, but where possible the exhibit describes who wore the items, where and when. “We’re trying to make connections to St. Albans lives,” said Lehning.

One of the challenges is finding mannequins small enough to fit the clothes, explained Pedersen. People were shorter and tinier in the 18th and 19th centuries than they are currently. The waists and shoulders on the clothing are much smaller than those of modern women.

The clothes were also hand stitched. Even elaborate dresses were often made entirely by hand noted Pedersen, showing the tiny, careful stitching on a gown from the late 1800s.

19th century gown

This 19th Century gown on display at the Saint Albans Museum was hand stitched.

Also handmade were bonnets and purses, which were frequently crocheted. The museum has a collection of hats and purses from different periods on display, along with fans.

Some of the fans were simple, just an image on heavy paper or cardboard attached to a wooden stick. These were often used as marketing for stores and contained the name of the store on the back.

Fans would have been needed, especially by women whose clothing included multiple layers, even in summer. The first layer resembled pantaloons, extending down past the wearer’s knees. Then came a privacy slip, explained Pedersen, a hoop and then another layer over the hoop, and finally the skirt.

On their top half, of course, women wore corsets.

The room also includes sewing machines and a small loom, along with clothing worn by children.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” said Pedersen, who hopes to add more information about local women.

In addition to the women’s room, the museum is also working on a W.W. I. exhibit to accompany the war’s centennial, an exhibit about local civic and fraternal organizations, and is hoping to get some more local baseball items to go with parts of uniforms previously donated.

The museum will open for the season at the beginning of June.