Port Allen: Popular notions of "upstairs-downstairs" relationships bring to mind grand estates where a small army of bustling, uniformed staff catered to the lavish lifestyles of American "robber barons" or the British gentry. A new traveling exhibition, December 9, 2012 through February 2, 2013 at the West Baton Rouge Museum, offers a different view. Developed by Maymont Foundation, this 14-panel exhibition presents a distinctly southern perspective on domestic service at the turn of the twentieth century.
"From Morning to Night: Domestic Service in the Gilded Age South" tells the story of a predominantly African American labor corps—barely a generation removed from slavery—that worked primarily in white households as cooks, maids, laundresses, nursemaids, butlers, and chauffeurs. Often hidden from view, and largely hidden from history, their labor made their employers' lifestyles appear effortless. With nearly 70 photographs and illustrations, interpretive text, and numerous period quotations, the exhibition reveals the daily rhythms of service as well as its broader context in the turbulent Jim Crow South. The exhibition's focus on everyday interactions between black and white southerners gives visitors an intimate view of this pivotal period in American history. Those who made their living "in service"—whether as a maid of all work or as part of a specialized staff—faced long hours, low pay, and hard work. Domestic workers often struggled to balance employers' expectations of long days or live-in service with the needs of their own families.
"From Morning to Night" was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and developed with the assistance of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Museums. It was curated by Elizabeth O'Leary, consultant to Maymont Foundation and Associate Curator of American Arts at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She is the author of From Morning to Night: Domestic Service in Maymont House and the Gilded Age South (University of Virginia Press, 2003).
The West Baton Rouge Museum is located at 845 N. Jefferson Avenue, Port Allen, LA, 70767. For more information please call (225) 336-2422 x15 or visit www.westbatonrougemuseum.com.
West Raton Rouge Museum