Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
901 South Bond Street, Suite 540
Baltimore, Maryland 21231
Phone: 443-287-9960 | Fax: 443-287-9920
January 9, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Heather Egan Stalfort
(410) 516-0341 ext. 17
Opens at Homewood Museum Jan. 29
Next to Godliness: Cleanliness in Early Maryland is a student-curated focus show exploring the myths, manners and material goods of personal hygiene and cleanliness in early 19th-century Maryland. On view at The Johns Hopkins University's Homewood Museum from Thursday, Jan. 29 through Sunday, March 29, this entertaining and blush-worthy exhibition illuminates a taboo subject that isn't found in history books, offering keen insight into the daily lives of early Marylanders, from the way they smelled to what a typical trip to the bathroom entailed.
A free, public opening reception will be held Wednesday, Jan. 28 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Homewood guests will be privy to the back story of a time before public sanitation systems and laws, and when scientific theories about germs were just developing. The title of the exhibition is based on the ancient Hebrew proverb, "cleanliness is next to godliness," which was later adopted as a Christian ideal. The lighthearted mantra for keeping fresh and tidy belied the often life-or-death importance of hygiene to people of the day: When Charles Carroll Jr. built Homewood as his country house in 1801, he deliberately chose an airy, woodsy haven so he and his family could flee humid summers in downtown Baltimore, where epidemics of yellow fever and cases of ringworm were causes for concern.
The exhibition is on view to visitors during regular guided tours of the museum, offered every half hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday (the last tour departs at 3:30 p.m.). The exhibition is free with museum admission: $6 adults; $5 seniors; $3 students, Johns Hopkins alumni and retirees, and children over 5; free for museum members and Johns Hopkins faculty, staff and students with ID.
The way the exhibition was assembled is as unique as the subject matter itself. Next to Godliness is the culmination of the undergraduate seminar, Introduction to Material Culture, taught at Johns Hopkins during the fall 2008 semester by Homewood director and curator Catherine Rogers Arthur. The class of 10 students met weekly in Homewood's wine cellar to discuss their research, findings and exhibition planning, which centered on such themes as bathing, shaving, dental care, cosmetics, feminine hygiene, standards of personal cleanliness, and housekeeping.
Acting as curators, the students spent the term researching period sources like newspaper ads and housekeeping manuals, and examining surviving objects, including a fancy French traveling bidet c. 1805 with a silver-plated basin that belonged to Betsy Patterson Bonaparte; a rare pewter bedpan c. 1815 marked by Baltimore pewterer Samuel Kilbourn; and a night table (or commode) c. 1800 with an early flush mechanism and a Carroll family provenance.
The material culture seminar is part of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Museums and Society Program, an interdisciplinary course minor that helps undergraduates establish meaningful connections with local and regional museums.
Funding for the exhibition was provided by the late Anne Merrick Pinkard, whose contribution to Homewood also makes it possible for the undergraduate seminar in material culture to be repeated in successive years, with different topics contributing to an ongoing understanding of early 19th-century life at Homewood.