At the Farm House Museum
January 30 - October 31, 2023
The Growing Up Victorian exhibition shows an aspect of the American Frontier that is often overlooked. Children were an integral part of the daily lives of Americans during the Gilded Age (1870-1900). Children would help out with both household chores and, if they were on a farm, farm duties and responsibilities. Roughly two-thirds of all child labor that took place in the Gilded Age happened on farms and homesteads. By the early 1900s, six out of ten farmhands would be the sons of the farmer himself. Some of the duties the male children would take part in would have included feeding chickens and other livestock, collecting eggs, planting, and picking and stringing vegetables for drying. This was quite common throughout America at the time including in Iowa. As the girls in the family got older, they would start to take over common household duties such as cooking, sewing, taking care of younger siblings, cleaning, laundry and much more. The amount of work that children did at home left little room for fun as the secondary priority soon became schooling.
In the mid to late 1800s nearly half of all children received no formal schooling or education of any kind. By eighteen-ninety a law passed in Massachusetts that required children from the ages of six to ten to attend school. When children were in school it was nothing like it is today. Many children would be ushered into the ever so famous one room schoolhouses where they would spend their day learning from their teachers, have an hour break for lunch and roughly fifteen minutes for a recess, then venture home. Recess is where many children would play games with their friends and enjoy just being kids.
Games, toys, and recreation are always a big part of any child's life, this was no different for children in the Victorian era. Unlike today where children most often play inside with electronics, children back then did not have the same luxury. Many games played at school or at home would most often be games either made up on the spot or games that can be played with minimal equipment, such as an easy game of tag. Toys were also different from what we see today. Examples of these toys would be porcelain dolls, tea sets, game balls, dominos, yo-yos, rolling hoops, and books. This period of time has come to be known as the “Golden Age'' for children’s literature as evidenced by the generation-defining titles published in this era including Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Mark Twain’s famous book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Childhood and play are essential parts of understanding life in Victorian America, leading to decoding and how adolescents were shaped from a young age with both an ethic for hard work and creativity in play. Growing up Victorian is curated by intern Travis Berhenke and will feature traditional toys and games, educational tools, with a closer look at what life was like for a child in the late 1800s in America.
Find full descriptions of programs on the University Museums Calendar. All programs are free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged but not required. Events listed below will be at the Farm House Museum unless otherwise noted. Programs are subject to change. Check the University Museums Calendar and Facebook page for the latest events information.
with intern Travis Berhenke
Thursday, March 2, 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Join intern Travis Berhenke (History ’23) for an in-depth look at the Growing Up Victorian exhibition that he curated at the Farm House Museum. Explore themes of education, literature, chores and play from 1880 to 1910 in this historic home setting.
Sunday, March 5, 2:00–4:00 p.m.
Play the part of a Victorian Era child by discovering children’s entertainment from the 1880s through the turn of the century. Children and the young-at-heart can participate in games of the era and see the types of toys and dolls that were popular. Treats provided.
Victorian Fables, Follies and Fairytales
with Tina McPherson and Alisha Abner
Sunday, March 26, 2:00–3:00 p.m.
In-person and livestreamed (livestream link coming soon)
Gather around the fireplace in the Farm House Museum parlor to hear Victorian fables, follies and fairytales. These stories are a bit darker than children’s stories of today. This in-person program will be livestreamed.
Friday, April 7, 5:00–7:00 p.m.
Try something new for date night by exploring the Farm House Museum during these special evening hours with friends, family, or that special someone.
Saturday & Sunday, April 15 & 16, 1:00–4:00 p.m.
Farm House Museum and Christian Petersen Art Museum
Having trouble getting to the museum during the week? Enjoy the University Museums’ central campus locations and spring exhibitions during an open house weekend, Saturday & Sunday, April 15 & 16 from 1:00-4:00pm.
Wednesday, April 26, noon–1:00 p.m.
In connection to the Growing Up Victorian exhibition at the Farm House Museum, join Museums Docent Rae Reilly on an art walk centered on depictions of families and domesticity in the Art on Campus Collection.
Funding for the exhibition and associated programming is generously provided by Carol Pletcher.