CTExplored/Inbox

Radical Victorians

Welcome to the latest issue of CTExplored/Inbox, your bi-weekly newsletter from Connecticut Explored with the latest stories, the newest Grating the Nutmeg podcast, programs and exhibitions from our partners to see/watch this month, and more! 

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Fall 2021: Radical Victorians

In the new Fall 2021 issue, former Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Executive Director Briann Greenfield explores the meaning of Stowe’s home. The house, she writes, where Stowe lived for the last 23 years of her life, “has meant many different things in its time as a historic artifact. Distinct, though not mutually exclusive, these assorted meanings point to the usefulness of history.”

Usefulness of history? I’m not sure we usually think about history as useful. And that’s what’s so intriguing about the story Greenfield, with the assistance of Director of Collections and Research Beth Burgess, lays out. The story lays out four eras of the museum, including its early years when the nascent “house” museum swam against the tide of mid-century Modernism by celebrating the then-deeply unfashionable Victoriana, for example.

But more recently, it’s “Stowe’s radical insistence on empathy,” Greenfield writes, that propels the organization forward. Since the 1990s, the Stowe Center has connected with contemporary movements, including Feminism and Social Justice, inspiring and inviting visitors to engage in the world around them, as Stowe did in her time.

Wong Kai Kah, top right. Possibly the first Chinese baseball team posing in front of the Chinese Educational Mission headquarters, Collins Street, Hartford, 1878. Courtesy of Simon Leung

In his story in the issue, Simon Leung tells us how his great great grandfather, then 12 years old, came from his home in China to Connecticut in 1872 to live—in fact, not far from Stowe’s home—with David Bartlett, the headmaster of the American Asylum (now the American School for the Deaf) and his wife Fannie Bartlett. Wong was one of 120 boys sent to Connecticut between 1872 and 1875, as Leung writes, by the “Chinese Imperial Government to study English, science, western technology, communication, transportation, and warfare in the United States.”

Wong attended Hartford public schools and then Yale College in the midst of “torrents of anti-Chinese feeling in the U.S., culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882,” Leung writes. “For the first time in history, a race was barred from entering the United States.” But by then, the young men had been recalled back to China by a government that “had begun to question the worth of the mission and the resulting Americanization of the boys.” But that’s not the end of the story or of Wong’s association with the U.S.

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The Latest from Grating the Nutmeg

Episode 125. Precious Memories Captured in Hair
21 minutes. Release date: September 1, 2021

Join Mary Donohue, assistant publisher of Connecticut Explored, for a discussion with historian Dr. Helen Sheumaker about Sheumaker’s Fall 2021 story about Victorian jewelry and wreaths made from human hair. Dr. Sheumaker is the author of Love Entwined: The Curious History of Human Hair Work. She teaches history and American Studies at Miami University of Ohio. Find out more about this now unfashionable way to remember your loved ones!


Programs and Exhibitions to Enjoy This Month

Visit Nowashe Village

Celebrate the harvest season at Nowashe Village, an outdoor museum of Indigenous life operated by the Friends of Wood Memorial Library & Museum. Enjoy a multimedia self-guided tour, exhibition of artifacts, and access to educators who can answer questions. “Explore More” programs feature Indigenous presenters. Open Saturdays, 1 - 3 p.m. through November 13. 

Nowashe Village, 787 Main Street, South Windsor. Nowashe.org

Magician Albert Walker Celebrated

Albert Walker was a 19th-century farmer—and amateur magician—living in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Through his myriad odd jobs, Walker illustrates a pivotal moment in Connecticut history: Changes in technology, economics, and labor during the Industrial Revolution redefined work and leisure. Visit Albert’s Odd Jobs: Making a Living in the 1800s, a special exhibition on view September 16, 2021 through April 30, 2022, to learn more.

Connecticut Historical Society, chs.org

New Haven Photos Online

Old photographs fascinate and educate. The New Haven Preservation Trust is gradually making 5,000 photographs taken between 1979 and 1983 available on its website. These images form part of New Haven’s Historic Resources Inventory, a monumental survey of the city’s historic buildings and places. Visit nhpt.org/historic-resources-inventory to explore this fascinating album of images.

Witness Stones Installed

Two commemorative Witness Stones memorials recalling the lives of Pink Primus and Stepna Primus, two enslaved persons who once lived in New Haven’s Morris House (now the New Haven Museum’s Pardee-Morris House) were installed by students of the Cold Spring School and the Foote School this spring. Working with the Witness Stones Project, students pieced together timelines and interpreted the information which offered a glimpse into the lives of this married couple. Find out more at witnessstonesproject.org/tag/pinkprimusct51/.

New Haven Museum, newhavenmuseum.org

Sol LeWitt Print Exhibition

The New Britain Museum of American Art presents Strict Beauty: Sol LeWitt Prints, opening September 18 (new date). Connecticut-born conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (1928 – 2007) is best known for his programmatic wall drawings and modular structures, but alongside these works he created a body of more than 350 print projects comprising thousands of lithographs, silkscreens, etchings, aquatints, woodcuts, and linocuts.

New Britain Museum of American Art, Nbmaa.org


Editors’ Picks

Stories we love from back issues to read now. 

Chinese Exchange Students in 1880s Connecticut,” Summer 2007. Frederick Gunn School student Michelle Wong’s earlier story about the Chinese Educational Mission.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Most Famous American,” Summer 2011

The LeWitts Raise a World-Class Artist,” Fall 2019

Albert Walker: A Touch of Magic,” Winter 2007-2008


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