The Veiled Arts of Victorian Women

During the Victorian era, women’s lives were incredibly affected by developments in food preservation and the importance of stringent rules of etiquette. The Veiled Arts of Victorian Women Exhibit explores the ways in which these two aspects of daily life influenced the Victorian woman’s place in the middle class home as she strove to be the moral compass of her family, ensuring that they adhere to the rules of etiquette in any situation.

This exhibition will examine the role of women in the Victorian period when Moses and Mary Irvin Thompson were raising their family at the Centre Furnace Mansion and serving as a center of hospitality during the development of the Farmers High School.  Rules of etiquette, hidden languages and tradition of flowers, fans, and calling cards will be explored as well as the more practical side of daily life including the challenge of safely preserving and storing food.

More About the Exhibit

From the nineteenth century kitchen to the formal dining room, food and the social customs surrounding its consumption were rapidly changing. With the advent of etiquette manuals, families across the United States were given access to a set of rules governing social interactions of the upper class in places like New York City and Philadelphia. In fact, historian John F. Kasson asserts that “fundamental to the popularity of manuals of etiquette was the conviction that proper manners and social respectability could be purchased and learned.” Families began to study thick books detailing the correct way to act in any social situation in both the public and private sphere, and the Thompson family of Centre Furnace Mansion would certainly have been a part of this trend. The formal dinners hosted at their home would have been controlled affairs, following the social fashions of the time, with several courses and more forks than anyone today would know what to do with.

Meanwhile, the food served at these dinners was changing as well. With new developments in food preservation, “food… became increasingly important as a measure of class distinction.” The Victorian period was a time when Americans were experiencing significant changes in their diets and food rituals. Commercially produced canned goods began to enter the market and appear on pantry shelves, so that, by the latter part of the nineteenth century, there were a wide variety of commercially canned vegetables, fruits, and meats available to consumers. Lettuce, a vegetable that is considered ordinary by today’s standards, was just beginning to appear on the dinner table in upper class households during this time period.

Exhibit Credits

Objects featured in this exhibition are from CCHS collections, and are generously lent by local collectors, the Pasto Agricultural Museum of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, and the Ladies of Battery B, 3rd Pa. Vol. Light Artillery.This exhibit has been developed by Penn State Integrative Arts major Olivia Perdew and is a collaboration of CCHS, Richard Pencek, Diane and James Farr, Candace Dannaker and Mary Sorensen.Photography coordinated by Photographer Fred Weber with Penn State College of Arts and Architecture. Graphic design by David Lembeck.Printing is sponsored in part by Jaru Associates, Inc. Funding is provided by a grant from AAUW State College and the Karen Rugh–Richard Pencek Program Endowment for American Art and Culture at Penn State.Location and ParkingThe Centre Furnace Mansion is located at 1001 E. College Avenue, State College, PA 16801. Parking is available in the Mansion parking lot off of Porter Road, and overflow parking is available in the lower lawn along College Avenue. Admission to the Veiled Arts Exhibit is FREE. For more information, please call (814) 234-4779.