Welcome to Staatsburgh State Historic Site's blog! Learn more about the Gilded Age home of Ruth and Ogden Mills!

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Suffragists, Socialists & Socialites: Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month - a month-long celebration of history-making women and their accomplishments! Here at Staatsburgh, there are plenty of stories of remarkable women, groundbreaking achievements, and their contributions to local, national and international history.

François Flameng. Ruth Livingston Mills.
1909. Oil on Canvas. 
Of course we have to start off Women's History Month with our very own Ruth Livingston Mills. 

As a woman born into New York's high society, Mrs. Mills attended many charity events and contributed money to a variety of causes. Charity was one avenue for these ambitious society women to focus their energies, since many were not allowed careers in the era. According to newspapers, one of those causes was the fight for female suffrage - the right to vote! Activists and reformers such as Ida B. Wells, Dr. Mary Walker, and Jane Addams campaigned across the county for the right to vote during the Gilded Age.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Masquerade! Paper Faces on Parade!

The Christmas season is always a grand affair at Staatsburgh!  The site has elaborate decorations that evoke the decadence and over-the-top nature of the Gilded Age. Quite often, the holiday decorations are aligned with a theme and in 2022 that theme was masquerade.  Masks adorned various Christmas trees and tables throughout the mansion and the strains of Phantom of the Opera's 'Masquerade' could be heard in the dining room (hence the borrowed lyric in the title of this essay.)  Masquerade balls evoke a sense of mystery and opulence that was most commonly associated with 16th-century Venice and the Carnival. Since wearing a mask could act as a disguise, there was an element of thrill and intrigue about not knowing the identity of your dance partner.  Although masquerade balls fell out of fashion the following century, they became popular again in 18th-century Europe.  Given that Gilded Age décor frequently copied 18th-century European tastes and styles, it was only natural that masquerade balls were once again part of entertaining .  

Banquet table in the Dining Room, December 2022

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

"My Dear Gitty,": What Margaret Lewis Livingston's Letters to her Daughter Reveal about the Mother of 12

Could letters serve as a gateway to the mind?  To a person's innermost thoughts and feelings?  Is it possible to peer into the psyche of a person by reading their letters?  Maybe, maybe not.  In retrospect, we cannot know how much a person pours of themselves into their correspondence.  Are they truthful or reserved?  Do they have an agenda? Did the writer consider their legacy when composing letters that would potentially shape the way they are remembered?  All of these questions come into play when historians explore primary sources such as correspondence.  

At Staatsburgh, we often lament the lack of letters and personal papers left behind by the Mills family.  While the family donated estate lands, outbuildings, the mansion and its furnishings to New York State, any personal papers were removed by the family.  Letters from Ruth and Ogden Mills do exist in the archival collections of the recipients and there is always more to find.  Even though correspondence to or from Ruth and Ogden Mills is thin, a treasure trove of letters from Ruth's grandmother, Margaret Lewis Livingston (1780-1860) exists and were recently annotated and published by Mary Mistler.  This essay will share some of the insights about Margaret's life that can be gleaned from reading through all of these letters.

The annotated book of letters from Mary Mistler and Staatsburgh's typewritten transcripts of the letters.  Mistler's book is currently available for purchase in Staatsburgh's gift shop!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Enslaved & In Service II: A New Nation

If you're just joining us, consider going to the Introduction for Enslaved & In Service: here! Missed the last post? Find "Part I: Colonial New York" here.

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."
- Frederick Douglass,

John Trumbull. Declaration of Independence. 1826. Oil on canvas.
12' x 18'. United States Capitol Rotunda. 
Edited by Arlen Parsa and Zachary Veith to highlight enslavers depicted.
Courtesy of PolitiFact.

            At the conclusion of the War for Independence, Benjamin Rush stated “The American War is over, but this is far from being the case with the American Revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed.”[i] Benjamin Rush and others expected great social change on the horizon. Indeed the revolutionary rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal – had a resounding impact on every aspect of society, especially the growing discussion around enslavement.[ii] The words and actions of the Revolutionary generation demonstrate a paradox between owning humans and espousing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of the forty-seven men depicted in John Trumbull's painting, "Declaration of Independence" (above), thirty-four enslaved people. Among those thirty-four men, indicated with red dots over their faces by documentarian Arlen Parsa, are Morgan Lewis' father, Francis Lewis (indicated by a yellow diamond) and his brother-in-law, Robert Livingston (indicated by a blue square). Despite how Benjamin Rush and others saw the American Revolution as a social revolution, the conditions for enslaved Black people in the early republic barely improved.[iii] The same men who declared "all men are created equal" enforced a racial hierarchy that denied basic human rights to Black and other non-White people.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Hidden Treasures of the Collection: Brunswick Panatrope Records

Two months ago, I wrote this post about Staatsburgh's Brunswick Panatrope that is located in the Main Hall.  This music player, which dates to 1927, has one original record inside the player.  Was this disc the last piece of music the family listened to while using the Panatrope?  What else did they listen to?  I always wondered about the rest of their music collection and I am happy to report that I discovered two binders of additional records in storage!  What can these records tell us about the family's musical preferences and the role of music in their lives?

Staatsburgh's Brunswick Panatrope