“Our Greatest Victory” – An Emblem of the Women’s Pacifist Movement

In the drawer of a marquetry dressing box in Rose Nichols’ bedroom, a little metal pin was found during a cataloging project completed by the Nichols House Museum in 2007. The pin was removed, examined, described and safely tucked into a box in the museum’s archives along with pen nibs, sewing tools and other odds and ends found in small drawers throughout the house. Unlike some of the buttons, buckles and sharpened ends of pencils that occupy the same storage box, this tiny object, measuring just over an inch, is anything but small in its significance in Progressive Era history.

The crest-shaped pin shows the winged goddess of Victory standing atop a globe that is inscribed with the words “NOBIS MAXIMA VICTORIA,” Latin for “our greatest victory.” The reverse of the pin reads “UNION MONDIALE DE LA FEMME” which translates from French as, “The World Union of Women.” This organization, also known as the Universal Union of Women for International Harmony, was founded on February 9, 1915, in Geneva, Switzerland. The group calls for widespread peace, the expansion of education, and global communication between the many women’s peace organizations that had been established during the Great War.[1] Their founding document, adorned with the same icon seen on the pin, was signed by their thirty-six charter members beginning with their founder, Clara Guthrie Cocke. Their founding statement reads:

We have established upon the common basis of womanly compassion which we shall endeavor to manifest justly: in rational thought and act. We shall battle in love for a permanent peace. We shall strive for the mutual education of women and for the consequential advancement of humanity. On the belief that women are created to love and not to hate we engage to devote ourselves to increase this love throughout the world to expel the evil born of hatred to extend this love to our sisters of every nation in life and every country and to spread internationalism by the establishment of a means of communication between the women of the entire world.[2]

The World Union of Women Act of Foundation, February 9, 1915

Clara Guthrie Cocke, an American woman, established the organization’s headquarters in Geneva as it was a location that would enable many pacifist organizations to converge. Members of both conservative and progressive opinions could therefore work together toward a common goal—spreading peace and compassion across the globe.

In an article printed in the October 1915 edition of Jus Suffragii, the monthly journal published by the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Cocke issues a call for membership. In just a few months, the organization expanded from thirty-six members to over 5000 throughout Europe. The World Union of Women had grown this membership to promote a four-pronged mission: “to work for permanent peace based on justice and right; to forward goodwill to the world; to sow love instead of hatred; and to take as active a part as possible in forwarding the work, and gaining for it members and supporters.”[3]

Photograph of Clara Guthrie Cocke (d’Arcis) by François Frédéric Boissonnas, 1920

Clara Guthrie Cocke’s 1915 article, which begins under a line drawing of the organization’s crest, describes the membership’s illustrative pin. “The assembly adopted as an emblem the badge which is now worn high and low. This was taken for the statue of Victory of Olympia, and symbolizes the force and beauty of united womanhood traversing the world, over which she holds the mantle of pity and compassion.” While there is no known record of membership, the presence of this pin in Rose Nichols bedroom dressing box suggests her involvement with the World Union of Women.

Rose Nichols was no stranger to the pacifist platform in the early twentieth century. It is known through photographs and correspondence that Rose was a founding and active member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. This organization was established at The Hague Congress, also known as the Women’s Peace Congress, in the spring of 1915.[4] The World Union of Women was also represented at The Hague Congress, which creates a link between these organizations beyond their aligning missions and common membership.  Whether the World Union of Women was ultimately dissolved into the still-active Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is unclear but what is undeniable is that thousands of women, in the early twentieth century, including our own Rose Nichols, were determined to spread peace, education and compassion across the globe.

[1]Hämmerle, Christa, Oswald Überegger, and Birgitta Zaar. Gender and the First World War. N.p.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 180. Web.

[2] World Union of Women, Act of Founding. 9 February 1915: Geneva, Switzerland. Wikimedia Commons. Web.

[3]Cocke, Clara Guthrie. “The World Union of Women.” Editorial. Jus Suffragii: Monthly Organ of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance 1 Oct. 1915: 10-11. Web.

[4]“History.” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2016. <http://wilpf.org/wilpf/history/&gt;.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist




Rose Nichols’s Masterful Needlework

Bed Hangings
Materials: Wool thread on linen
Artist: Rose Standish Nichols
Date: Circa 1890

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.505.1a here: http://nicholshouse.pastperfect-online.com/36637cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks

Rose Nichols never stayed idle long. In addition to her professional work in garden design, she had several favorite leisure activities to fill her time. July’s post detailed Rose’s skill at woodworking, a hobby which may surprise some visitors, but Rose also excelled at needlework, which was a more “traditional” pursuit for young women in the nineteenth century. Rose studied needlework on her own as a young adult, but during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, many girls of the middle and upper classes in America learned stitching and embroidery as part of their early education and as an introduction to household work.[1]

They displayed their talents through embroidering their clothing[2] and in the decorative pieces they made, which could be used to ornament their homes. In the colonial period and into the 1800s, many young girls stitched samplers to demonstrate their literacy and moral education. Samplers commonly featured the alphabet, numbers (1-10), and/or a Bible verse and the maker’s name cross-stitched on canvas with silk thread.[3]

These crewel stitches, illustrated in a twentieth-century guide to crewel-work, show that Rose must have had keen eyes and nimble hands. This backstitch is a simple beginner stitch.
cretan leafcrop
Cretan Stitch, Leaf

As these young girls learned more complicated stitching, they moved on to crewelwork.[4] Crewel is a form of embroidery which typically uses wool thread on linen.[5] Many of the typical crewel stitches and design motifs were developed in England just after the reign of James I in the seventeenth century.[6] After the basic stitches, crewel stitches can be quite complicated, using the weight of the wool thread to create elaborate textured designs.[7] Crewelwork went in and out of fashion with decorative needleworkers over the next two hundred years, until the Victorians revived crewel stitching in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.[8] Bed hangings were a common household textile women embellished with crewelwork.[9]

Weaving Stitch

full viewAs a young woman, Rose Nichols hand-stitched the crewelwork on the bed hangings pictured here (right). These hangings decorate the four-poster bed in Rose’s room at the museum. As a professional garden designer and lifelong gardener, Rose loved to decorate with floral designs. The pattern she used for these hangings was inspired by a Queen Anne-period textile Rose saw at the Museum of Fine Art here in Boston.

flower detail
Detail of Rose’s crewelwork

samplercropLater in her life, Rose also stitched this sampler (left), on display in the parents’ bedroom at the museum. While one hundred years previously samplers were created by young girls to illustrate their education and status, by 1911 they had become sought after decorative items. This change was influenced by the Colonial Revival, an American decorative arts and cultural movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which shaped Rose’s taste in interior design.

As its name suggests, the Colonial Revival emphasized a return to the cultural values and design features associated with the American colonial era. During the age of booming industry in the United States, supporters of the Colonial Revival believed in the value of the pre-industrial lifestyle, including making things by hand, like embroidery pieces.[10] Original colonial samplers became collectibles, and in the early 1900s, sampler stitching became a leisure activity for middle-class women. Popular women’s magazines printed many pages of patterns for women to replicate.[11] Rose based her 1911 sampler on a Spanish sampler made by Rosalia Escolar in 1842. The 1842 original is in the textile collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

To see Rose’s bed hangings and sampler, and many more examples of her needlework, please visit us at the Nichols House! To participate in our Community Embroidery Project based on Rose’s work, visit the museum after September 20.

Crewel stitch examples from Pleasures of Crewel: A book of elementary-to-elegant stitches & new embroidery designs by Jo Springer (New York: Golden Press, 1972).

By Collins Warren, Summer 2015 Intern

[1] Candace Wheeler, The Development of Embroidery in America (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1921), 53; Beverly Gordon, “Spinning Wheels, Samplers, and the Modern Priscilla: The Images and Paradoxes of Colonial Revival Needlework,” Winterthur Portfolio 33, no. 2/3 (1998): 165.
[2] Ibid., 45.
[3] Ibid., 53-54.
[4] Ibid., 48.
[5] Jo Springer, Pleasures of Crewel: A Book of Elementary-to-Elegant Stitches & New Embroidery Designs (New York: Golden Press, 1972), 1-2.
[6] Ibid., 7.
[7] Ibid., 30.
[8] Ibid., 9.
[9] Gordon, “Spinning Wheels,” 165.
[10] Ibid., 170.
[11] Ibid., 175-176.

Who is “Diana of the Tower”?

Diana of the Tower by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
“Diana of the Tower”
by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The multitalented Rose Nichols and her two sisters, Marian and Margaret, were heavily influenced in their artistic endeavors by their famous uncle, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Married to their mother Elizabeth’s sister, Augusta, Rose’s “Uncle Gus” was the most renowned sculptor of his day. The Nichols family kept a home in Cornish, New Hampshire, where they would escape the hot Boston summers to the mountains of New Hampshire. While in Cornish, Rose spent a lot of time at her uncle’s home and studio. The Cornish Art Colony, a place of inspiration for many New York City artists, writers, and politicians, was a very dynamic social and creative environment for Rose and her summers there would greatly influence her in her life and career. The Nichols House Museum has several of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ works in its collection, including two pieces the artist personalized for his niece.[1]

The museum’s “Diana of the Tower” is a reduced version of one of the sculptor’s most famous works. Commissioned by the prominent architect Stanford White in 1892, Saint-Gaudens sculpted “Diana” to stand as a weathervane atop White’s new Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Diana of the Tower” atop Madison Square Garden around 1905 From Wikimedia Commons via The Dunne Archives
“Diana of the Tower” atop
Madison Square Garden around 1905.
From Wikimedia Commons via The Dunne Archives

There have been four incarnations of New York’s Madison Square Garden with White’s design being the most extravagant. Made of gilded copper and standing 42 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, “Diana” was the tallest point in the city skyline when she was installed at 347 feet. Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was the first statue in history to be lit by electric light and during the day she shone bright enough in the sun to be seen across the Hudson River in New Jersey.[2]

Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Augustus Saint-Gaudens
From The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, edited by Homer Saint-Gaudens

Personal friends with the architect, Saint-Gaudens and Stanford White consulted and collaborated together frequently on various projects including the Farragut Monument in Madison Square Park, the Adams Memorial in Washington D.C., and the Boston Public Library. White designed many of the settings for Saint-Gaudens’ sculptures throughout the height of his career.[3] When looking for the crowning piece to his new Madison Square Garden, White approached Saint-Gaudens with the exclusive commission and the promise to absorb all of the costs.[4] In 1890 Saint-Gaudens set to work on what would become his most recognized sculptures.

The most remembered and celebrated version of Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was actually the second to stand on top of Madison Square Garden’s tower. The original sculpture designed by the artist was much larger and installed 1891.

First version of
The first version of “Diana of the Tower.”
From Wikimedia Commons via Redlemur

Standing at 18 feet tall and weighing nearly 2,000 pounds, this first design was too poorly balanced to turn properly in the wind and disproportionate for the building.[5] She was taken down in September 1892 and Saint-Gaudens brought her to Chicago to be exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, where he served as an artistic advisor and head of the fair’s sculpture committee. Placed atop the dome of the Agriculture Building, the bottom half of the first “Diana of the Tower” was lost to the fire that destroyed the fair grounds in July 1894 after the close of the exhibition. Her top half found its way to the basement of Chicago’s Field Museum for a time before it disappeared.[6]

The original
The original “Diana” atop the dome of the
Agricultural Building at The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
From Wikimedia Commons via The Project Gutenberg

Saint-Gaudens’ second version of the statue was a 13 feet tall complete redesign with a slimmer and more feminine figure. Installed in November 1893, Saint-Gaudens also corrected the elements that prohibited the first weathervane from turning.[7] The artist’s only nude female figure, “Diana of the Tower” brought notoriety to White’s Madison Square Garden. Some praised the work and others condemned it. The Philadelphia Times denounced “the depraved artistic taste of New York” and one New York newspaper remarked that there had been, “a marked change in the character of the frequenters of Madison Square … formerly this beautiful park was the gathering place of children … in their place the Square is thronged with club men armed with field glasses.”

Collier’s Magazine cover satirizing Comstock’s adamant public displeasure of Saint Gaudens’
“Created by St. Gaudens. Purified by
St. Anthony Comstock”
Collier’s Magazine satirizing Comstock’s adamant public displeasure of “Diana.”
From American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

Her nudity particularly offended Anthony Comstock the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public. In reluctant acceptance to Comstock’s very public disapproval, White asked Saint-Gaudens to fashion his “Diana” a metal drapery to “cover her modesty,” but it was lost in the wind only weeks after being installed.[8]

With the rising popularity of the sculpture, “Diana of the Tower” was the first large work Saint-Gaudens made reductions of. In 1895, the artist obtained a copyright for reproductions and produced three different editions of the work.[9] The Nichols House Museums’ reduction is an early version, dated 1894 and marked with the artist’s name and the foundry in Paris where it was cast, but with no copyright mark.[10]

“Diana of the Tower” atop Madison Square Garden around 1900
“Diana of the Tower” atop
Madison Square Garden around 1900.
From American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

Stanford White’s luxurious Madison Square Garden, despite being the host to some of the biggest and most elaborate shows and events, never could turn a profit and in 1925 it was demolished to make way for the New York Life Insurance Building. Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was removed from the tower and placed in storage. The search for a new home for her in New York City proved difficult and after seven years she was gifted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Today she stands greeting visitors at the top of the museum’s grand staircase.[11] In recent years, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has undertaken the task of regilding the sculpture for the first time since she stood as the highest point in New York City.[12]

The Nichols House Museum is fortunate to have such outstanding works by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in its collection. Come discover more about the sculptor’s extraordinary life and career through his connection to Rose Nichols and her family at the Nichols House Museum!

Diana at the top of the grand staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art From Wikimedia Commons via Sailko
The freshly gilded “Diana” at the top of the grand staircase at
the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
From Wikimedia Commons via Sailko

See this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection here.

“Diana” on the second floor landing at the Nichols House Museum

By Danielle Cournoyer, Summer Intern 2015

Danielle is a graduate student in history at the University of Massachusetts Boston on the public history track. While interning at the Nichols House Museum, she is working on several public outreach initiatives as well as giving visitors tours of the house and its collection. Danielle is interested in progressive era Boston and New York City. Her favorite room in the house is Rose’s library.


[1] Read more about Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ life in Cornish at http://www.nps.gov/saga

[2] Burke Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay: The Life and Works of Augustus Saint Gaudens (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985), 210-211.

[3] For more about Saint Gaudens’ collaborations with Stanford White read: David McCullough’s article “Adventures in Paris.”

[4] Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay, 212.

[5] Ibid. 217.

[6] John Dryfhout, The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982), 194.

[7] Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay, 216-217.

[8] Ibid. 209-210; Paula M. Uruburu, American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 67-68.

[9] Dryfhout, The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 34. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Diana, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1985.353.

[10] View a remarkable image of a model of “Diana” in Saint-Gaudens’ studio (with Boston’s Robert Shaw Memorial in the background) in the Museum of the City of New York’s Collection.

[11] David Dunlap, “A Gilded Goddess Would Rather Be in Philadelphia,” New York Times, January 22, 2014.

[12] For a behind the scenes look at The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s regilding of “Diana” visit the PMA webpage on the conservation project.

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: http://nicholshouse.pastperfect-online.com/36637cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks

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: https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/progressiveera/statuswomenprogressive.html.

[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, http://www.bostonhistory.org/pdf/Kermes%20article_final.pdf.

[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, http://dougstowe.com/educator_resources/w88sloyd.pdf; 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). http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89097455919;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: http://nicholshouse.pastperfect-online.com/36637cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks)

“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, http://www.americanancestors.org/about; “About NGS,” National Genealogical Society, http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/

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: http://nicholshouse.pastperfect-online.com/36637cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks

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” http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grtr/hd_grtr.htm

[ii] Indiana University Art Museum. “The Grand Tour: Art and Travel 1740-1914.” http://www.iub.edu/~iuam/online_modules/grand_tour/index.html

[iii] Holman, Thomas S. “Souvenirs of The Grand Tour: The Collection of Thomas S. Holman.” http://www.skinnerinc.com/news/blog/souvenirs-of-the-grand-tour-thomas-s-holman-collection-auction/

[iv] Cook, Thomas. Cook’s Traveller’s Handbook,  Naples and Environs. “Giorgio Sommer,” 1922. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t2c82g388?urlappend=%3Bseq=162

[v] For information on garden design in American, visit Smithsonian Institution, Archive of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection: http://gardens.si.edu/collections-research/aag.html. 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: http://www.nicholshousemuseum.org/rose_nichols.php.

[vi] For comparison, view the image for the Generalife “lower gardens:” http://www.alhambra-patronato.es/index.php?id=31&L=2

By Assistant to the Director Ashley Jahrling Bannon