Carving a New Path

Chair with carving done by Rose Nichols
Chair with carving done by Rose Nichols

Carving: Rose Standish Nichols
Chair frame: Irving & Casson-A.H. Davenport Co.
Made: Boston, Massachusetts, 1910-1940
Materials: Oak, cane

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.100.1 here:

Rose carved the decoration of this chair back in the early twentieth century.
Rose carved the decoration of this chair back in the early twentieth century.

Rose, Marian, and Margaret, the three Nichols family daughters, represent the meeting of Beacon Hill tradition and the emerging New Woman of the twentieth century.[1] They were raised in a traditional nineteenth-century upper class Boston home, but Dr. and Mrs. Nichols educated their daughters at a progressive school.

After moving to the house at 55 Mount Vernon Street, Marian and Margaret attended a private school founded by Mrs. Pauline Agassiz Shaw.[2] Boston private schools at this time were typically all boys or all girls. While girls fortunate enough to enroll in city, rather than rural, schools were taught a curriculum similar to boys’, the coursework was almost exclusively academic.[3] In contrast, at the innovative Mrs. Shaw’s School boys and girls were educated together, and the students learned to work with their hands in addition to customary academic lessons. This included woodworking and book binding. We know that Rose and Margaret both studied woodworking, and both pursued this into adulthood.[4]

This image from Gustaf Larsson's sloyd textbook shows a class of young boys at their workbenches. At Mrs. Shaw's School, boys and girls learned sloyd together.
A class of young boys at their sloyd workbenches. At Mrs. Shaw’s School, boys and girls learned sloyd together.

Mrs. Shaw’s School taught the educational sloyd woodworking method to its students. Sloyd was a system of instructing children in woodworking that was founded on the principle of holistic education — employing the hands to better the mind.[5] The program’s creators believed that students would develop stronger character by learning values like self-reliance, patience, and an appreciation for hard work through learning carpentry.[6]

Otto Salomon, a nineteenth century Swedish educator, studied and adapted the ideas of a Finnish education reformer and brought them to his teachers’ school at Nääs in the 1870s, where he began to train teachers for educational sloyd.[7] The teaching system entails a process of increasingly complex model making, where students learn new skills and the use of new tools with each model, or project.

This page from Gustaf Larsson's sloyd textbook shows the range of models used as the sloyd system developed.
This page from Gustaf Larsson’s sloyd textbook shows the range of models used as the sloyd system developed over time.

One of Salomon’s trainee teachers, Gustaf Larsson, brought sloyd to Boston in the late 1800s. Mrs. Shaw’s School hired Larsson in 1889 to teach its students sloyd, and named him the director of the program in 1891.[8] The Nichols family moved to 55 Mount Vernon Street in 1885, so it was around this time the girls attended the school and learned woodworking. In her memoirs, Margaret recalls that of her courses, sloyd was “[t]he most fun of all.”[9] She wrote of making several models like a window wedge, flower stick, and sleeve board, all of which can be found in Larsson’s textbook, Sloyd for the Three Upper Grammar Grades.[10]

Plan for the wedge model from Gustaf Larsson's sloyd textbook
Plan for the wedge model from Gustaf Larsson’s sloyd textbook

Later in life, Margaret opened a carpentry shop called Pegleggers in her home. She worked with two other women making reproduction antique furniture using accurate period tools.[11] Margaret also taught woodworking to immigrant children living in settlement houses so they could support themselves with a trade.[12]

Detail of the lower rail's crown and scroll decoration
Detail of the lower rail’s crown and scroll decoration

Rose enjoyed woodwork as more of a hobby. She used her skill to ornament pieces that would decorate her home. Four chairs displayed in the museum’s library are her work and date from the early twentieth century. Rose was influenced by the Colonial Revival decorative style of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Colonial Revival looked back to older, “traditional” American forms and coincided with the Arts and Crafts Movement that valued handmade pieces rather than manufactured objects. For these chairs, Rose combined the American desire to look to the past with English inspiration. Rose would have seen many examples of English traditional designs while researching the formal gardens of England’s great houses for her first book. Rose completed the carving on the chair pictured here, modeled on an original seventeenth-century English chair on view in the museum’s dining room. The original beech chair is from the late 1600s but decorated in the Jacobean style of the earlier decades of that century.

The two child-like figures are called
The two child-like figures are called “putti.”

Rose’s work on the oak chairs closely follows the English Jacobean model’s scrolls, daisies, putti (cherub-like figures), and expertly turned stiles, legs, and stretchers.

Rose Nichols and her sisters were women of many talents. As “New Women,” they pursued physical, intellectual, and career interests that had been closed to most women who came before them. Some of these pursuits left physical objects, like Rose’s carved chairs, but their important social, political, and civic work had more intangible effects. To learn more about the Nichols daughters’ activism, please visit us at the museum!

By Collins Warren, Summer 2015 Intern

Collins is a master’s student in history and museum studies at Tufts University. During her internship with the museum, she is assisting with collections management and research, as well as giving tours. One of her favorite pieces in the collection is the caricature sketch of Rose drawn by her uncle, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, which is displayed on the desk in Rose’s bedroom.

[1] To learn more about the concept of the “New Woman” in the American Progressive Era, visit the National Women’s History Museum’s online exhibit:

[2] We know from Arthur Nichols’s family expense records that Rose attended Miss Folsom’s finishing school in 1889, and from letters and memoirs that Marian and Margaret both attended Mrs. Shaw’s School. While it is likely that Rose also went to the Shaw School for a time after moving to 55 Mount Vernon Street because she was just one year older than Marian, we have no definitive documentation of her attendance.

[3] Stephanie Kermes, “‘To make them fit wives for well educated men’? 19th-Century Education of Boston Girls,” Boston Historical Society,

[4] Margaret Homer Shurcliff, Lively Days: Some Memoirs (Boston: The Board of Governors, Nichols House Museum, 2011), 7-8, 43.

[5] Doug Stowe, “Educational Sloyd: The Early Roots of Manual Training,” Woodwork, August 2004, 67,; David J. Whittaker, The Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd: Head and Hands in Harness, in collaboration with Gisli Thorsteinsson, Brynjar Olafsson, Aki Rasinen, and Esa-Matti Järvinen (New York: Routledge, 2014), 25.

[6] Whittaker, Impact and Legacy, 34.

[7] Whittaker, Impact and Legacy, 15, 26, 32-33; Stowe, “Educational Sloyd,” 67.

[8] Stowe, “Educational Sloyd,” 68.

[9] Shurcliff, Lively Days, 8.

[10] Ibid.; Gustaf Larsson, Sloyd for the Three Upper Grammar Grades, teachers’ ed. (Boston: George H. Ellis Co., 1907).;view=1up;seq=73

[11] “Pegleggers” business card, courtesy of the Shurcliff Family, Nichols House Museum.

[12] Shurcliff, Lively Days, 44-45.

Robert, A Nichols Family Servant

The Butler’s Pantry at the Nichols House

By Jacklyn Linsky, Research Intern, Spring 2015

From 1891-1893, the Nichols family hired a servant named Robert whom they believed to be an excellent employee until 1893. In a letter from May 25, 1892, Elizabeth Nichols writes, “With two horses and a stable to take care of Robert will not have much time for other work but he seems willing and anxious to do all he can and I am glad that he is here”[i]. But in 1893, Robert had an argument with Elizabeth.  According to family letters, Robert was pocketing money that should have gone towards care of the animals. Elizabeth decided that it would be best to fire Robert immediately and told Arthur it was the right thing to do. To prove the truth to her husband, Elizabeth does some investigating and writes: “July 10th, he asked for money to pay for shoeing, feed, express etc. so I told him to give me a written statement which he did, and I accordingly gave him $10.24 of which $2.80 was to pay a meat bill which he brought. I have enquired and find that he paid the latter, but the items for feed are incorrect and where he put down $3.16 for feed from July 1st to 10th, he not only did not pay it but the charge on the miller’s book is only $2.55”[ii].

During his tenure as the Nichols family’s chore-man, Robert’s situation with the family was reliable and he was paid more than the other servants. In fact, Elizabeth had thought about raising Robert’s wages in a letter to Arthur stating, “I would not bother you about this only I want to know whether you think best to pay more than the $50 per month. I know that the ordinary wages for a working man here is $1.50, without board, and as he is getting more than that I doubt the wisdom of going still higher”[iii]. However, Robert did not believe that he was being treated fairly by the Nichols family. Robert was upset at the idea that he was not allowed to take his meals at the table, however, no other servants did. Robert was also not paid for four days that he took off to see his family, although he claims that part of this time was spent working for Arthur. Robert felt as though he should have been paid for the work he did for Arthur.

Unlike female servants, male servants did not live in the house. This gave them more freedom in the sense that the family they worked for could not call on them at all times. They did not live in the house because it was considered inappropriate to have male servants living in the home with young women. Robert was in a unique situation in that he did not live in their home, but for a period of time lived on the Nichols’ Cornish, New Hampshire property with his family.

In general, the Nichols family treated their servants well. The three live-in servants (a cook and two maids) each had their own small rooms on the fourth floor across from the youngest daughters’ bedrooms. In 1919, Elizabeth wrote, “I am considering what must be done to the house besides the cleaning, and the first will be to have the maids’ rooms in order. For that some painting must be done as I looked at them when I was in town and found them pretty shabby”[iv]. In the end, Robert was fired from the Nichols family’s service and was replaced by Eugene Saunderson[v].


Hutchinson, June. “The Back of House or Below the Stairs: The Nichols Family Maids”

Hutchinson, June. “The Back of House or Below the Stairs: Male Employees in the Nichols Household”

[i] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 25 May 1892, folder 32, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters-Elizabeth Nichols.

[ii] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 16 July 1893, folder 34, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

[iii] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 5 July 1893, folder 33, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

[iv] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 9 September 1919, folder 49, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

[v] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 24 July 1893, folder 34, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

Ancestral Pride

Susannah Nichols
Susannah Nichols
Timothy Nichols
Timothy Nichols
Thomas Johnston
Thomas Johnston

Companion portraits of Timothy Nichols III and Susannah Towne Nichols
Benjamin Franklin Mason (1804-1871)
Created: Boston, 1835
Materials: Framed oil on canvas

Portrait of Thomas Johnston
Attributed to Robert Feke (ca. 1705 – ca. 1750)
Created: Boston, 1741-1750
Materials: Framed oil on canvas

On display at the Nichols House Museum

(To see these objects in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.368.1, 1961.368.2, and 1961.266 here:

“The following memoranda have been made with the desire of gathering and preserving so much of our family history as can be collected from existing sources.  It is unfortunate that this work was not undertaken by one of an earlier generation, when descendants of advanced age were living, whose remembrance went back to Colonial days, and who might have communicated facts and reminiscences now irrevocably lost. 

To other hands must be assigned the task of tracing our English ancestry.  The writer is happy to have carried back our pedigree to the immigrant ancestor, and trusts that in the solution of this problem he may be considered to have contributed his share toward the elucidation of the family genealogy.”

Arthur H. Nichols in his Preface to his compilation of Some Descendants of Richard Nichols of Ipswich. Boston, 1910

As a new family settling in on Beacon Hill in 1885, the Nichols family was keen to establish themselves as a prominent family with strong Bostonian roots.  They accomplished this by emphasizing their ancestry, as Arthur and Elizabeth Nichols could both proudly trace their ancestors back to Massachusetts in the 17th and early 18th century, respectively.

The practice of completing family genealogies was popular throughout the nation during this time, but particularly among New Englanders, as families sought to emphasize their European ancestry and New England roots as a way to secure their social status as an established American family. This passion for genealogical research was supported by the foundation of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in 1845, followed by the establishment of the National Genealogical Society in 1903.[i]

By 1910, Arthur had joined the New England Historic Genealogical Society and completed a genealogy of his family, successfully tracing his roots to a New England colonist, Richard Nichols, who settled in Ipswich, MA, in 1638.

Proud of his family history, Arthur peppered his genealogical account with anecdotes including the following description: “The Nichols family are characterized by their large frame and sound constitution and are remarkably free from tuberculosis, cancer, insanity, and other hereditary disorders.  They are of phlegmatic temperament, industrious, frugal, in intellect above mediocrity and always capable of earning a living.  Not one of our line has been an inmate of the poor-house or penitentiary.”

The family’s ancestral pride is evident within their home at 55 Mount Vernon Street, as three ancestral portraits are part of the permanent collection.  For many years, companion portraits of Arthur’s grandparents, Timothy and Susannah Nichols, hung in the entry.  The portraits were commissioned by Arthur’s uncle, Charles Nichols, in 1835, and inherited by Arthur during the early 1900s. Rose kept the portraits in the entry hallway, making the family history immediately apparent to anyone as they entered the home.

Another ancestral portrait, acquired by Rose in the 1930s, was that of Thomas Johnston – an ancestor of Elizabeth Nichols, and a Massachusetts colonist in the early 1700s.  Johnston was a skilled artisan – he painted many portraits, japanned furniture, engraved maps, and cut gravestones – but is well-known in Boston for installing the organ and organ case in Old North Church.   It is clear that this portrait was important to Rose, as she briefly moved it to the parlor from its location in the dining room, in order to feature it in a photograph that would be published in an article for J.P. Marquard’s “Holiday” magazine.

By leaving the family home as a museum open to the public, Rose secured the Nichols family a lasting place of prominence on Beacon Hill for decades to come.

By Allison LaCroix, Collections Intern, 2015


[i] “About NEHGS,” New England Historic Genealogical Society,; “About NGS,” National Genealogical Society,

A Grand Tour

Untitled bronze ibex, by Giorgio Sommer
Untitled bronze ibex, by Giorgio Sommer

Animal Figurine (Untitled)

Giorgio Sommer, foundry of (1834-1914)

Created: Naples, Italy, late nineteenth to early twentieth century

Material: bronze

Dimensions: 6.5″ x 5.25″ x 1.938″

On display at the Nichols House Museum

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.493 here:

Rome, June 5, 1931

The [boat] landed us at Naples on June 1st.  The afternoon of our arrival we three at the S. Lucia took a motor drive and tea at the Bertoline high above the Brittanique [sic]…  The next day Aunt Nourse went with us to Herculaneum and Pompeii.  After seeing a little of the best in both places + lunching at Sorrento we returned to Naples in time for Miss Jones and her maid to catch the five o’clock train to Rome.  My last day in Naples I took the boat to Sorrento, where Giuliana Benzoni met me at the dock and motored me to her mother’s quaint villa remote from the town and with a superb view of the Bay of Naples… After that I shall go to Venice to stay until the last of June. For July I have made no definite plans.

-Excerpted from a letter from Rose Standish Nichols to her sister Marian Nichols, Collection of the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University

Rose Nichols loved to travel, as did many Americans of the nineteenth century with the means to do so. Europe was a favorite destination of hers, and she would stay for months at a time. These trips would be both for pleasure and for work, as many of the manor homes and gardens she visited found their way into travel articles for publications such as House Beautiful, and also served as inspiration for her commissioned garden designs. Her three books exclusively feature European gardens, thus elevating her travel to more than a vacation.

The tradition of visiting Europe for educational purposes began in the late 16th century when young, wealthy gentlemen traveled with a tutor throughout Europe on what became known as “The Grand Tour.”[i] The Grand Tour served to complete a classical education with the ultimate experience of seeing in-person ancient art and ruins. By the nineteenth century, it became easier for more people to travel to Europe due to advances in transportation and the increasing broad interest in ancient cultures and Renaissance art.[ii] As the twentieth century opened, Rose Nichols was one of the pioneering women who traveled to Europe to further her artistic and professional career, as so many men had done before her.

In addition to inspiration and education, another tradition of The Grand Tour was returning home with souvenirs, such as antiquities or pieces of fine art. However, a booming business in reproductions of ancient pieces catered to those who could not afford the originals.[iii] Giorgio Sommer, a well-known photographer, also ran a bronze foundry in Naples, Italy, which created replicas of famous ancient and Renaissance works- see his descriptive 1922 advertisement here.[iv]

The small figurine of an ibex at the top of this post was one of these so-called “Grand Tour Bronzes,” bought as a souvenir by the Nichols family after a trip to Italy. Rose must have particularly enjoyed this particular piece… not only did she own this small replica, but she incorporated a pair of much larger ibexes in her garden design for The House of the Four Winds in Lake Forest, Chicago.[v] This garden itself was inspired by the Generalife Gardens at The Alhambra in Granada, Spain.[vi] Rose’s European travels made a lasting impression, informing her of the broader world and providing inspiration she and her clients appreciated.

House of the Four Winds, c. 1908. Smithsonian Institution, Archive of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection
Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archive of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection

[i] The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. “The Grand Tour”

[ii] Indiana University Art Museum. “The Grand Tour: Art and Travel 1740-1914.”

[iii] Holman, Thomas S. “Souvenirs of The Grand Tour: The Collection of Thomas S. Holman.”

[iv] Cook, Thomas. Cook’s Traveller’s Handbook,  Naples and Environs. “Giorgio Sommer,” 1922.

[v] For information on garden design in American, visit Smithsonian Institution, Archive of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection: For more on Rose Standish Nichols gardens, please visit our website for more images and a listing and description of all known gardens attributed to her:

[vi] For comparison, view the image for the Generalife “lower gardens:”

By Assistant to the Director Ashley Jahrling Bannon

A Trip to the Mountains

Untitled View of Mount Ascutney, Henry Fitch Taylor, c. 1908
Untitled View of Mount Ascutney, Henry Fitch Taylor, c. 1908










Untitled Landscape of Mount Ascutney

Attributed to Henry Fitch Taylor (1853-1925)

Created: Vermont, c. 1908

Materials: Oil, canvas, wooden board
Dimensions: 8 1/8” x 10 3/8”

On display at the Nichols House Museum

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.125 here:

For the artists and families who summered in Cornish, New Hampshire, at the turn of the twentieth century, the surrounding mountains defined the landscape, particularly the view of Mount Ascutney. The landscape inspired myriad designers, artists, and writers, and provided a perpetually dramatic backdrop for everyday activities.[i]  Artist Henry Fitch Taylor and his wife, Clara Davidge Taylor, owned a home in Cornish and participated in the life of the colony, whose members included sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish, and architect Charles Platt. The Taylors knew many Cornish residents, including the Nichols family, who owned a home called Mastlands (due to the tall, straight white pine trees on the property which were harvested to serve as masts of sailing ships) where they summered from 1880s-1930s.[ii]

Mastlands, summer home of the Nichols family

The view of Mount Ascutney influenced how homes and gardens were designed in Cornish so that the dwellings could take advantage of the best views possible.  A visit to Cornish in 1906 by the horticulturalist and author Frances Duncan led her to observe:

“[Most] Cornish folk have wisely taken to the hills, and overlook the valley and Ascutney, each with a view of his own; for there are views and to spare at Cornish… [but] Rare is it in Cornish that the garden runs an opposition show, or challenges comparison with the loveliness of the mountains.”[iii]

The veranda at Mastlands

Although the gardens in Cornish were the pride and joy of the homeowners of the colony, they were designed to accent the spectacular natural beauty of the mountains surrounding the area. Rose Standish Nichols wrote in 1911 of her first garden she designed for her parents’ summer home:

“But when seen from the safe distance of the piazza, where we live most of the summer, [the garden’s] deficiencies of detail are lost in space and the masses of bright-colored flowers against the gray background of stone wall, with the exquisite contours of purple Mount Ascutney rising high above the dark pine forests in the distance, fill one with a sense of abiding peace and beauty.”[iv]

A view from the garden at Mastlands, designed by Rose Standish Nichols
A view from the garden at Mastlands, designed by Rose Standish Nichols

Rose’s mother could not have agreed more- she wrote home to her husband in 1886, “The lovely views of Ascutney and the hills are a constant delight.”[v]

Henry Fitch Taylor was one of America’s first Impressionist painters and later was one of the first to embrace the early modernist movement.[vi] His works spanned from oil painting to cement carvings to carved wooden panel sculptures. Always interested in pushing boundaries in the art world, he was also instrumental in organizing the ground-breaking 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, often referred to as the Armory Show, in New York City.[vii] Taylor was a member of two New England art colonies, the Cos Cob Art Colony of Greenwich, Connecticut, and the Cornish Art Colony, where he spent the later years of his life.

This small oil painting may have been painted en plein air, outdoors, with the view of Mount Ascutney directly before him. The paint is quite thick in some places and thin in others, but the bright colors (since darkened with age) are suggestive of Taylor’s interest in color and color theory. Although the Nichols House Museum does not know how Rose Nichols’ came to own this painting, it evidently meant a lot to her. She had it hanging in her bedroom at the time of her death in 1960.

Taylor’s small, colorful oil painting of Mount Ascutney is a little reminder of those vibrant, creative Cornish summers the Nichols enjoyed, on display in the Boston home.

1964 RSN bedroom
Rose Nichols’ bedroom at 55 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, Massachusetts, c. 1964

Interested in learning more about the artists of Cornish and Rose Nichols’ time there? The Nichols House Museum is hosting a lecture Tuesday, October 28 at 6:00 p.m. entitled “Life at Mastlands: Rose Nichols and the Cornish Art Colony” by Margaret Dimock, the museum’s inaugural Julie Linsdell and Georgia Linsdell Enders Research Intern. Please call the museum at 617-227-6993 to reserve a seat for this free lecture.

Mount Ascutney, located in Windsor and Weathersfield, Vermont, is located across the Connecticut River from Cornish, New Hampshire. It rises 3,144 feet, and is geographically termed a “monadnock” or “inselberg”- a mountain or rocky mass that has resisted erosion and stands isolated in an essentially level area[viii].  Although not the only mountain able to be seen from Cornish, Mount Ascutney is distinctive for its granite outcroppings along its peak. Mount Ascutney and surrounding areas became a Vermont state park in 1935.[ix]

By Ashley Jahrling Bannon, Assistant to the Director of the Nichols House Museum


[i]  A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin, exhibition catalog. University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, Durham: Mark-Burton Inc., 1985.

[ii] Hutchinson, B. June. At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and Her Family. Board of Governors, Nichols House Museum. South Korea: 2011. Pg. 79-114

[iii] Duncan, Frances. “The Gardens of Cornish.” The Century Magazine. Vol. LXXII, no. 1. May, 1906.

[iv] Nichols, Rose Standish. “How Not to Make a Flower Garden.” House Beautiful, September, 1911. Pg. 104.

[v] Hutchinson, At Home on Beacon Hill, 79. Elizabeth to Arthur, July 9, 1886.

[vi] Oaklander, Christine I. “Cos Cob’s Surprising Modernist: Henry Fitch Taylor, An Exhibition at Bush-Holley Historic Site September 30 to December 31 2005.” The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich.

[vii] Oaklander, “Cos Cob’s Surprising Modernist.”



A (Small) Dinner Party

Nichols House Museum-  1906 menu
Nichols House Museum- 1906 menu

Menu, Club Dinner, March 28, 1906

Menu card

Made: Boston, Massachusetts, 1906

Materials: Paper, ink, graphite

In the permanent archival collection of the Nichols House Museum

Visitors often comment on the small size of the Nichols family dining table—it seats six people. The elegant room with tall ceilings and golden walls understandably conjures images of large, elaborate parties. The Nichols family did host large events from time to time, such as their daughter Margaret’s wedding reception when they hosted 235 guests, but they also entertained for small groups more regularly at their Beacon Hill home. Each family member held dinner parties for their friends, or even to honor and welcome visiting dignitaries and international guests. Arthur Nichols often hosted dinner parties for his doctor friends, signified by the designation “Club Dinner” on some of the menu cards, which are preserved in the Nichols House Museum archival collection.

Each course on the menu cards is separated by a simple drawn line, and the courses roughly follow the order suggested in Fannie Merritt Farmer’s popular 1906 cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, available on Google Books.[i] The courses would have been prepared in the kitchen by the cook, laid on a sideboard in the dining room by the kitchen maid, and served by William (Arthur’s manservant). For large events, the family hired wait staff to serve at table. Arthur Nichols loved good food, often describing his favorite meals in letters to his family.[ii] This menu from March 28, 1906 may have incorporated some of his favorite foods to impress his guests.

Below is a brief description of the unusual (to twenty-first century eyes) food included on the menu:

White Soup, Farina balls: Creamy almond soup with wheat dumplings. Farina is still sold in stores today as a hot wheat cereal.

Planked Shad Roe: Shad is a fish from the Chesapeake area, which, when cooked on a plank of wood in front of the fire, is imbued with a smoky flavor. Its roe, or egg sack, is considered a delicacy.[iii]

Potato Balls: Mashed potatoes with optional additions mixed in, such as sliced ham, onions, eggs, and herbs; then they are shaped into balls and fried in oil.[iv]

Sweet Breads: This is a term to describe the edible organs of various animals, often the thymus and pancreas glands of calves and lamb. Sweetbreads are described as both sweeter and juicier than regular cuts of meat and are considered delicacies. For a modern take on sweetbreads, visit this Serious Eats blog post.[v]

Tomato Salad: This dish is probably a composed salad, such as a whole tomato that has been cored, filled with creamy dressing or cheese, and placed on a bed of lettuce.[vi]

Guava Jelly: Guavas are fruit originally from Central and South America and are high in pectin, making them perfect for jellies and candies. This cheese course gets a tart, strawberry-like accent with the guava jelly.

Sherbert and dulces: For the dessert course, sherbet, as defined by Fannie Farmer, is “water ice [frozen fruit juice, mixed with water and sugar] to which is added a small quantity of dissolved gelatin or beaten whites of eggs.”[vii] “Dulce” is Spanish for “sweet,” which may refer to either candies or even small cookie-like pastries.


[i] Fannie Merritt Farmer, The Boston Cooking-school Cook Book, 1906.

[ii] B. June Hutchinson, At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and Her Family, 2011. Page 47.

[iii] “Planked Shad,” midatlanticcooking, August 20, 2012.

[iv] Farmer, Boston Cooking-school,, 313, 315

[v] Chichi Wang, “The Nasty Bits: Sweetbreads,” Serious Eats, June 14, 2011.

[vi] Farmer, Boston Cooking-school,, 333-334

[vii] Farmer, Boston Cooking-school,, 433


By Ashley Jahrling, Assistant to the Director

Much More than Mourning

To the memory of Lucy C. May1961.161 -- 2

Needlework Picture

Made: Possibly New Hampshire, c. 1800

Materials: Silk, metal threads, paint, glass

On display at the Nichols House Museum

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.161 here.


A Multi-layered Artwork

Look closely at this piece of needlework embroidery. At first glance, it is a depressing scene. A young woman grieves for her siblings —Thomas (10 days old), Lucy (4 years, 8 months), and Abiel (6 weeks). However, to early nineteenth-century eyes, this piece was much more than a reminder of human mortality.[i]  Although the artist is anonymous, this advanced needlework offers insight into early nineteenth-century American society, including the education available to women, patriotism in the new country, and even how local economies were affected by female schools in their communities.

Nineteenth-century Female Education

The young woman who made this piece likely attended a school where she learned fancy, decorative embroidery. Around 1800, many female schools opened around the country to teach well-to-do young women music, painting, and embroidery alongside literature, geography, and other subjects (depending on the school teacher’s curriculum). Creating a needlework picture, such as this one, showcased the student’s skill and patience with a needle and thread — not only with basic stitches, but with fancy embroidery, too.[ii] She would be well-prepared to decorate her future home’s textiles and family’s clothing.

1961.161 -- 2 detail urnAmerican patriotism and classical imagery

Girls spent months completing needlework pictures with subjects and motifs reminiscent of classical and/or religious designs. The mourning scene, with common motifs such as urns, a weeping willow tree, and female mourners in long white dresses, were inspired by ancient Greece and Rome, which were popular democratic symbols in the new American republic.[iii] The refined figure of the young woman who values family was a respectable, appropriate, and common image of its day. Its popularity began with similar images that commemorated the death of George Washington in 1799, an event which sent the whole country into mourning.[iv] The image pervaded popular culture and was used as inspiration for family mourning pictures such as this one.[v]

Social Refinement

Proud parents hung their daughters’ schoolwork in the parlor, signaling to visitors (and potential suitors) that the family was prosperous enough to send their daughter for extra schooling.[vi] The family also showcased their daughter’s skill, emphasizing the importance of education in their lives.

Mixed Media 1961.161 -- 2 detail windmill

The skillful embroidery of this piece is its central achievement. However, there is more here than embroidery, and more than one set of hands. Before the embroidery was completed, the pattern was initially drawn, painted, or printed onto the cloth, and student and teacher worked on the design and color choices. After the needlework was completed, other artisans helped to finish the piece. A local portrait painter likely added the painted background, face, and floral details after the embroidery was finished, as seen by the blue paint on the stitched windmill and roof in the lower left corner. The frame was also made especially for the piece by a professional framer. This popular style of a gilded frame with black and gold reverse-glass painting highlighted the light colors of the needlework. Because its production involved purchasing silk threads from the store and hiring painters and framers as well, this one needlework hints at the school’s centrality in its local economy. And of course, the parents had to pay extra for the project’s materials and labor!

Overall, this piece is much more than a memorial to the untimely passing of the May children. It exemplifies a time in American history when needlework was at the intersection of female education, patriotism, and community.


[i] Betty Ring. Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework 1650-1850. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1993. “The majority [of mourning needlework pictures] appear to have been made as a record and a decoration, rather than an expression of current grief, and they were the result of fashion rather than melancholy.” 21.

[ii] A modern-day tutorial on different embroidery stitches:

[iii] Fenimore Art Museum blog on the trend of mourning pictures painted in watercolors:

[iv] For information on the national mourning period after George Washington died, please see and

[v] For an example of a similar piece in the American Folk Art Museum: and to see their wider collection of early American needlework:

[vi] To see the type of Federal-era rooms needlework like this would inhabit, check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s article and pictures: