Erin FH Hughes is the Curator of Collections. Erin is originally from Madison, WI. She attended the University of Wisconsin and is very proud to be a Badger.
When visitors come to the Dawes house, the first thing most say is, “Wow! Who lived here? This house is beautiful.” While in the past they were typically interested in hearing more about Dawes and his family, over the last few years people have also been asking questions like, “Did the Dawes family have domestic staff?” Thanks to the popular British TV drama “Downton Abbey,” people’s interest in the serving class has skyrocketed. In case you haven’t seen “Downton Abbey,” the show takes place in early 20th century England and depicts the lives of the Aristocratic Grantham family and the servants that keep the estate running.
It is exciting to hear these questions from visitors, because it shows that they are interested in parts of history that were once considered unimportant. Previously, many historical sites focused their stories on the socially prominent, and the intellectual or cultural elite. This is understandable, as most of the buildings that have been preserved are associated with these well-to-do people. However, this approach is changing. Historic places are telling a broader, more nuanced story, shifting the primary focus away from the most prominent figures and enabling visitors to learn more about the past.
Since the EHC has been making a concerted effort to tell this complete story, and because so many people started asking about the domestic staff at the Dawes house, it was high time that the Dawes house staff take center stage. Last summer I embarked on a research project focusing on the domestic staff in the Dawes house. Although there are many resources about Charles Gates Dawes and his family, there is little information available on the servants. Thankfully, there were some photographs, a handful of letters, and oral histories from Dawes family members. You can see some of the wonderful photographs we discovered in the EHC archives by watching the video below.
After a year of in-depth research, the EHC is very excited to be featuring a special tour entirely focused on the Dawes house staff. The tour is three nights only – Wednesdays at 7pm on April 10, 17 and 24. Visitors will get to take a peek “downstairs” at the Dawes house to hear the elusive voices of its staff. Visitors will be able to explore servant rooms, back staircases, and hear about the lives of the staff through photographs, reminiscences and artifacts. Because many of the areas that we will be touring are close quarters, space is limited and advanced registration is required. The tour will last about 90 minutes and tickets are $20, $15 for EHC members. Click here to become a member today!