Listening to the “Voices from the Back Stairs”

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While the glamorous lives of homeowners and their families are elaborately depicted during tours of the magnificent mansions of the Gilded Age, the servants who lived and labored there are often overlooked or completely absent from these portrayals. The result? An embellished, yet inauthentic picture of everyday life in some of history’s most famous homes.

Marble House 

Marble House 

Those looking for a more realistic representation of what life in these homes was like for all of their inhabitants won’t want to miss Dr. Jennifer Pustz’s upcoming lecture at Rosecliff, “Voices from the Back Stairs-Domestic Servants in New England.” Dr. Pustz is Historic New England’s museum historian and is the author of, Voices from the Back Stairs: Interpreting Servants’ Lives at Historic House Museums, a revealing glimpse beyond the parlor and into “back stairs and kitchens”, otherwise left unseen and untold.

The grand and gracious homes of the Gilded Age may have seemed effortlessly elegant, but no small amount of work was happening behind the scenes to cultivate that admirable effect. In setting out to write the book, Dr. Pustz sought "new ways to authentically interpret the lives of people whose presence at historic houses is often ephemeral but are as significant as those who employed them." The result? A compelling account of the oft-overlooked diversity of domestic service at three New England homes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Elms, photo courtesy of gavin ashworth

The Elms, photo courtesy of gavin ashworth

While servants have long been cast in silent supporting roles, Dr. Pustz’s lecture promises to bring their stories to the fascinating foreground. Visit the Preservation Society of Newport County to register for this event ($5 for Preservation Society members, $10 for the general public) which will take place on Thursday, March 31st at noon at Rosecliff.