It has recently come to our attention that some of our local community members have raised concerns about the content of our upcoming exhibit, ‘A Servant’s Life,’ and we wanted to reach out to ensure that those concerns are addressed prior to the opening of the exhibit. In a recent teaser article for the exhibit, some details of the duties were listed to give readers an idea of the activities and displays they will encounter during a tour. As is often the case with the monthly column, we run into a word limit, and attempt to make the content of the article and its prose as approachable as possible, so that even those with a limited understanding of the topic find it engaging. It is for this reason that we chose to exclude in-depth detail on the specific servants that worked in the household during the 1800s and 1900s.
We know from records that the families living in the Miller House from 1825 to 1966 used exclusively African American staff for service purposes, and that the Price family owned slaves, as well as employing free black people during the 20 years they lived in the home. The home’s history of slavery is something that we regularly acknowledge at the Miller House, because it is a part of the house’s history that should be discussed. Within our rotating exhibitions at the museum, we constantly try to show multiple viewpoints surrounding the topic on display, and ‘A Servant’s Life’ will follow in the same vein. The stories and artifacts on display will explore many of the circumstances surrounding the lives of multiple types of domestic staff: from African American slaves, to paid free African American staff, Germanic indentured servants, and paid working class white staff. The roles and duties of these servants, as well as their relationships to each other and the household hierarchy of the domestic servants are all an integral part of this new exhibit. The goal of the exhibit is to give a voice to this large private workforce that was expected to work invisibly within a household, and educate our 21st century museum visitors on the difficult and laborious life that these servants led.
We hope that this information helps to clarify the concept of the upcoming exhibit for those in our community who have expressed their concerns. As always, we welcome any questions and comments that can help us better serve Washington County and the surrounding areas, and we hope that everyone will join us for a tour of the new exhibit.