Author Harriett Beecher Stowe’s House at Nook Farm in Hartford Connecticut was built in 1871 and purchased by Stowe in 1873, some twenty years after the publication of her first book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. There, she resided until 1896 with her husband Calvin, and her twin daughters Hattie and Eliza. Together with her domestic staff, she created a comforting and inviting home that included some of the applications of her own decorating techniques which are described in her book on the subject of domestic science that she co-authored with her sister, Catharine Beecher. The master bedroom of the house, in particular, contains the ivy, paintings, and a Ward case which are styled and arranged according to some of Stowe’s own specifications for aesthetic pleasure and beauty from, The American Woman’s Home.
The front hall of Stowe’s home is where most anyone other than domestic staff, of which the Stowe house employed several, would have entered upon arrival. It contains numerous photographs of the various travel destinations visited by Stowe, and also includes the proper Victorian hallstand, hall chairs and card tray that are found in more affluent Victorian homes. It is warm and welcoming and leads to the front and back parlors immediately to the north side of the house that contains some hint of Stowe’s use of her own recommendations for decorating. These are more formal rooms, and the dining room across the hall to the south side of the house is more formal, as well. The kitchen and pantry are located on the west side of the house, and are arranged somewhat according to Stowe’s own design.
The American Woman’s Home focuses primarily on the use of economy to make an attractive home and emphasizes the wisdom of a budget that is balanced in spending on manufactured items such as furniture, wallpaper, and cloth. But it also elaborates on information and guidelines for home decorating that utilize many of the natural items which might be found out-of-doors, particularly plant life. The ultimate goal, as described by Stowe, is to create space that contains the aesthetic element because it, “holds a place of great significance among the influences which make a home happy and attractive.” This high ideal for the Victorian home appears to be realized in the decoration of the master bedroom in Stowe’s preserved historic house.
A variety of examples of art are also described by Stowe as an essential contribution to the aesthetic element in the home and she insists that, “ The educating influence of these works of art can hardly be overestimated.” For the purpose of thoughtful economy, it is suggested that, “pictures,” might be purchased and that frames may be hand crafted for hanging upon walls throughout the home in various rooms. Some examples of pictures provided in The American Woman’s Home are listed and include prices, directions, and locations for where to purchase them by American artists. There are also several illustrations throughout the chapter that include directions for hand crafting frames made from a variety of materials, including the smaller branches of wood. In this way, inexpensive materials may be utilized for creating wall art that once again brings the out-of-doors inside the home.
The master bedroom is located on the second level of the house and it is there that Stowe’s more prominent use of ivy, paintings, and a Ward case creates an inviting and relaxing atmosphere. The room itself contains furniture that would be expected in a master bedroom including a bed, dresser, nightstands, and lamps. Across the windows facing the north side of the room are streams of ivy that climb and descend in a natural cascade downward to the floor, which serves to help create an atmosphere just as the sisters experienced when they wrote, “We have been into rooms which, by the simple disposition of articles of this kind, have been made to have an air so poetical and attractive that they seemed more like a nymph’s cave than any thing in the real world.” This use of ivy in the master bedroom makes for a calming and healing environment that would have been a comfort during fatigue or illness, which the tour guide described as a recurring circumstance toward the end of Stowe’s life.
Stowe’s master bedroom windows are not as precisely decorated in the same manner that is shown in The American Woman’s Home, which is referenced from a March edition of a contemporary periodical called “Hearth and Home.” In that illustration, there are larger pots of ivy placed on either side of a window that include different varieties of plant life which climb across the top portion of the walls from the corners of the windows. In addition to this, there are potted plants that hang from the actual window frame itself which contribute to the overall imagery that depicts the kind of “nymph’s cave” which Stowe describes. The overall affect is charming and lovely in that detailed illustration, but in Stowe’s own home there is a lack of variety and number in the plant arrangements in the master bedroom of the house compared to those which are presented in The American Woman’s Home, as an example.
Stowe’s master bedroom contains numerous examples of finely made art that is suitable for hanging upon the walls, but some of the chosen paintings for this room are especially unique. Stowe was a talented painter and the master bedroom contains several of her own original works of art. There are several paintings, the most interesting of which is her representation of her “winter cottage” in Florida. Tour guides describe Harriet Beecher Stowe as a New England “snow bird,” meaning that she preferred to leave her home in New England for the winter months in order to reside at her home in Florida for the duration. The painting of this Florida home hangs on the wall in the master bedroom and is just one of the many paintings throughout the house that showcases Stowe’s talent for creating her own original works of art. Her painting techniques appears to be quite good, but it is the fact that she crafted her own art that is of particular interest, as it is in keeping with her own advice on economical home decorating.
The master bedroom contains a Ward case that is, according to tour guides, a reproduction of the Ward case described in The American Woman’s Home. Whether or not Stowe actually had a Ward case in her home at the time during which she resided there and whether or not it was placed in the master bedroom is unknown. However, the Ward case does best exemplify Stowe’s description of the economic use of things from out-of-doors, as she writes that, “Not so long as the woods are full of beautiful ferns and mosses, while every swamp shakes and nods with tremulous grasses, need you feel yourself an utterly disinherited child of nature, and deprived of its artistic use.” In this, the Ward case is the very best representation of Stowe’s values and ideals relative to the goals she both inspires for others and aspires to herself in home decorating.
The Ward case, named for its designer, is a lovely material object made of glass and mounted on a small wood table. When it is finished it measures approximately two feet wide by three feet long and is about two and a half feet high and resembles a child’s dollhouse. It is a terrarium in its form and function, which houses plant life that would otherwise be found closer to a forest floor. The Ward case in Stowe’s master bedroom contains larger seashells, some smaller stones, and larger ferns. It is an altogether beautiful addition to the room and creates the atmosphere of a lush and green affect that Stowe describes as being faerie-like. It appears that the reproduction artisan crafted the Ward case to almost the exact specifications found in The American Woman’s Home. In this, it is a wise addition to the preservation of the Stowe house.
Any student of Art and History who reads The American Woman’s Home, and who visits the Harriett Beecher Stowe house, will notice that some of the more remarkable features of home décor that Stowe describes in her text have been utilized in the decoration of the master bedroom. Moreover, whether or not some of the items were actually present when Stowe lived in the house may be uncertain, but there is evidence enough to suggest that Stowe did, in fact, use her own prescribed techniques for economically gathering together elements from the out-of-doors to use in decorating her home. The master bedroom in particular, contains the ivy, paintings, and Ward case that are specifically described and are almost to perfect specification. In this, Stowe appears to have achieved her Victorian ideal in creating a home environment that is both pleasant and attractive.
For more information on visiting the Harriet Beecher Stowe House: https://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/visit/campus/
In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s House: A Ward Case, by Robin Whitham McCrady, Copyright, 2020. All references, citations, sources, and bibliographies are available upon request.
“Wise Women, such as Midwives, Astronomers, Mathematicians, Healers, Philosophers, Herbalists, and Storytellers were once persecuted, as Witches,” from Wise Welsh Witch.