Museum offers tea and teaching Invitation: The farm museum offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the customs of 19th-century life and adds a pitch for volunteers.

March 17, 1997|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Queen Victoria probably would not have been amused.

Passing around one's corset for inspection by strangers simply was not done in the latter half of the 19th century.

But 10 women, being introduced to Carroll County Farm Museum and its volunteer opportunities while enjoying a lesson in Victorian social graces and customs, were quite curious as 14-year-old Nicole Schott handed over a corset she was modeling for a closer look.

Nicole, a member of three 4-H clubs, was demonstrating how women of the 1800s dressed "from the inside out," starting with the chemise, adding drawers, the hoop and petticoat, the corset, undersleeves and finally, the skirt and bodice.

Women of the 1990s were amazed and questions abounded -- how long did it take to put all that on? (It took Nicole 10 minutes.) Did the lady have help? (Yes.) Show us how you sit in the hoop skirt. (No problem.) Did ladies always wear undersleeves? (Yes, to keep the outer sleeves clean).

"The corset gave form to the shapeless and grace to the graceless," Nicole told the women.

The demonstration was part of a program that included an English-style tea with finger sandwiches and cookies, a few tips on being a lady, plus a video on the farm museum and a tour of the 1852 farmhouse.

Linda Butcher, the museum's program coordinator, said, "The main idea behind this was to get people to find out more about the farm museum, teach them about the Victorian era and maybe get them interested in helping out at the farm museum.

"I could desperately use some help with the school tours -- we have 10,000 kids that come through here a year," she said. "I have three lovely ladies who help out, but 10,000 kids is a lot of talking for four people."

On a tour of the museum's farmhouse, participants got a quick lesson in how to be a good tour guide, or docent, from volunteer Vera Leister and volunteer coordinator Carol Shook.

A good docent knows her (or his) history, can tell stories about the farm or an artifact, but also listens to things visitors have to say. But not to worry -- docents don't have to know everything about the entire farm museum; they can specialize in one area.

"Our ancestors were really ingenious -- they used everything, and the way they used things was amazing," Shook said while describing such things as small covers over ceiling lamps that kept soot and smoke from dirtying the wall above.

Leister noted the difference in growing up in the 1800s, as opposed to today.

"We don't have the niceties and graces we had back then," she said. "You always wore gloves and a hat, you didn't sit down at the dinner table until your father sat and you always sat with both feet on the floor. You said, 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, sir' and 'please' and 'thank you.' "

To be a lady in society in Queen Victoria's day, you had a lot of rules to follow, some of which Butcher described later at tea.

"One thing every lady knew was that what was excusable for a gentleman would bring ridicule to herself," Butcher said.

During tea, Butcher gave her pitch for volunteers, and many of the women asked questions about the needs of the farm museum. But not all came to volunteer.

"I'm hoping they'll have some wonderful scones," said Irene Schneider, who attended with a friend, Joanne Kline. Both are from Eldersburg.

"We need to get away from the business of the world and wish we could spend more time having tea and being ladies of leisure," Schneider said.

She was disappointed that there were no scones, but expressed interest in joining the living history volunteers who portray characters from the late 1800s.

Caren Logan-Absalom learned about the tea when she called the farm museum for information for her job with the Committee for Children. Unfortunately, she lives in Towson, a bit far to travel for a volunteer.

"When they said tea, it sounded great. Personally, I think it's very interesting to learn about that time period," Logan-Absalom said. "I loved the program -- it was very informative. I was impressed with the docents and with Nicole."

jTC As Nicole showed, farm museum volunteers are not limited to adults. A second session like Saturday's will be offered April 5 for youths ages 12 to 15, with a parent. The program is free, but registration is required.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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