HISTORY OF LIPPITT HOUSE

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Heir to one of Rhode Island’s leading textile manufacturing families, Henry Lippitt (1818-1891) designed and supervised the construction of a house at 199 Hope Street on the East Side of in Providence for his wife Mary Ann Balch (1823-1889) and their six children. The house was occupied by four generations of the Lippitt family before opening as a museum in 1993.   

 

MISSION

Lippitt House Museum preserves its structure, collections, and grounds as a benefit for all, and contributes to the cultural vibrancy of the community by making the site a source of public education, enjoyment, and civic engagement. 

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Lippitt House, ca. 1880
Lippitt House, ca. 1880

View from the northwest corner of Hope Street and Angell Street, site of the current Wheeler School complex.

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Stenciled and grain ceilings
Stenciled and grain ceilings

The walls and ceilings throughout Lippitt House have elaborate decorative paint schemes. Photo by Richard Prull.

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Music Room center floor medallion
Music Room center floor medallion

Elaborate parquetry floor designs in the Hall, Dining and Music Rooms add another level of high style design to Lippitt House. Photo by Richard Prull.

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Lippitt House, ca. 1880
Lippitt House, ca. 1880

View from the northwest corner of Hope Street and Angell Street, site of the current Wheeler School complex.

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Following the Lippitt family’s example of public service, Lippitt House Museum promotes civic engagement and frequently works with community partners to develop programs that focus on civic education, immigration, labor history, and voting rights. Henry Lippitt served as Rhode Island Governor from 1875- 1877 and was both a respected business and political leader. Mary Ann Balch Lippitt was active in philanthropic and education reform efforts founding the Rhode Island School for the Deaf in 1876 and advocating for the oralism method of instruction for children who are hearing impaired at a time when many thought deaf children incapable of receiving a formal education.  

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Mary Ann and Henry Lippitt raised six children in a household that was filled with political ambition and civic activity. All three Lippitt sons served in elected office. Charles W. Lippitt (1846-1924) worked on his father’s gubernatorial staff and later himself was elected Governor 1895-1897. Henry F. Lippitt (1856-1933) served as U.S. Senator from Rhode Island 1911 -1917, while youngest son Robert “Linc” Lippitt (1860-1910) served in the Rhode Island General Assembly.  

The three Lippitt daughters, even though they could not vote in elections as young women, were still active members of their community. Abby Lippitt Hunter (1861-1945) was an accomplished amateur athlete while Jeanie Lippitt Weeden (1852-1940), who herself was deaf, worked with her mother advocating for the public education of hearing-impaired children. Middle daughter Mary “May” Lippitt Steedman (1858-1938) founded the Providence Chapter of the American Red Cross at the beginning of World War I.

Lippitt family WWII service members in the Drawing Room.

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

She, like other members of the Lippitt family, did not originally support passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which extended voting rights to women. However, May’s position evolved, and she later became the first woman to represent Rhode Island on the Republican National Committee. By 1923, when the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress, May took a public stance in favor of its passage. Subsequent generations of the extended Lippitt family continued this tradition serving in elected, military, and volunteer civic positions.  

 

Today Lippitt House Museum encourages everyone to be active and informed members of our democratic society. 

ARCHITECTURE

 

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, Lippitt House is recognized nationally for its historical significance as well as its architecture and interior design. Henry Lippitt designed and supervised construction from 1863 until completion in 1865 of the Renaissance Revival brick and brownstone house. With three stories and thirty rooms, the house is also significant for its technologically advanced central heating and plumbing systems. Preserved in a remarkably intact condition with elaborate painted decorative wall and ceiling finishes, colorful stained-glass windows, ornate plaster details, intricate parquetry floors, and ornately carved woodwork, the house is noteworthy for its craftsmanship and is a statement to Providence's prosperity as a 19th century manufacturing and commerce center. 

 

The Lippitt House Dining Room has been described as the best surviving example of mid-nineteenth century dining iconography in America. It epitomizes the 19th century Victorian aesthetic with highly decorated, over-scale furniture featuring hunt and harvest imagery, which is also depicted in carved architectural details and in the still lifes hung in the room. The masculine symbolism of hunt imagery reinforces Henry Lippitt’s position as a modern industrialist acquiring wealth to fulfill his traditional role as the provider for his family.

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Lippitt House Dining Room c.1893.

EXPLORE LIPPITT HOUSE THROUGH

       

 

The Art of Dining: A Taste of Providence's Golden Age is an online exhibit that explores social customs and Victorian era dining etiquette. Discover how food and drink were integrated into Victorian life and the work needed to bring elaborate meals to table in a home like the Lippitts. This special exhibit is an adaptation of the 2017 in-person exhibit of the same name. The Lippitt House Museum blog hosts a series of “Taste of Providence” posts inspired by this exhibit.  

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THE ART OF DINING:  A TASTE OF PROVIDENCE'S GOLDEN AGE

        SPOTLIGHT VIDEOS 

 

Spotlight Videos take a closer look at details in and around the museum including furnishings, art, and architectural features. Hear stories about the people who lived and worked at Lippitt House, both family and servants, as well as insights into what life was like in 19th century Providence. Explore themes of industrialization, immigration, design influences, and civic life while seeing Lippitt House up-close.

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THE LIPPITT FAMILY

       HENRY LIPPITT

 

Henry Lippitt was born in Providence, Rhode Island on 9 October 1818 to Warren Lippitt and Eliza Seamans. His father Warren, originally a ship’s captain, inherited a large portion of the Lippitt Manufacturing Company founded in 1807 by Henry’s grandfather Charles Lippitt. Henry was educated at the Academy of Kingston, Rhode Island and then worked as a clerk in the cotton baling and printed cloth industry. By 1848, Henry along with his father and younger brother Robert purchased the Tiffany textile manufacturing mill in Danielsonville, Connecticut. In 1849, Henry and Robert purchased Connecticut’s Quienebaug Manufacturing Company and then the Social and Harrison Mills in Woonsocket, Rhode Island in 1854. As Henry’s fortune grew he invested in banks, railroads, insurance companies, steamship lines and mines. By 1866, he was worth over a half million dollars. Henry was elected Governor of Rhode Island in 1875 and served two, one-year terms.

 

Henry married Mary Ann Balch, daughter of a Providence apothecary, on 16 December 1845. Together they had eleven children: Charles Warren, Henry Merriman, Joseph Balch, Jeanie George Ernest, Frederick, Henry Frederick, Mary Balch, Robert Lincoln, Abby Francis and Alfred. Only six of their eleven children survived to adulthood.

       MARY ANN LIPPITT

 

Mary Ann Balch was born in Providence, Rhode Island on 7 October 1823, to Joseph Balch and Mary Ann Bailey. She married Henry Lippitt on 16 December 1845, and together they had six children who survived to adulthood. Mary Ann was a business person in her own right and owned and managed rental property in Providence. She also owned the house and furnishings at 199 Hope Street and bequeathed them to her three daughters at her death, giving her husband Henry life tenancy.

 

It was Mary Ann’s responsibility to supervise the servants and make sure the house operated efficiently. She often entertained and kept a detailed guest book of visitors received and visits she made. She played whist, a predecessor to bridge, bowled, and played the piano. Mary Ann was also well-traveled, taking trips to New York, Philadelphia, Maine and several European countries with her children.

 

Mary Ann was instrumental in teaching her daughter Jeanie, who became deaf at age four due to complications from scarlet fever, to read lips and continue to develop her speech. She was an advocate for the education of deaf children and was a leader in the American oralism education method and was the founder of the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, which is still in operation today.

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Henry Lippitt engraving
Mary Ann Balch Lippitt
 

IMMIGRANTS IN PROVIDENCE

 

Attracted by Rhode Island’s economic growth in the nineteenth century, European immigrants came to Providence looking for work and a better life. Between 1820 and 1860, the population of Providence increased 330%. While many immigrants found jobs working in area textile mills, others took positions as domestic servants attending to the needs of local families like the Lippitts.  

 

It was the norm for live-in servants to work about 100 hours per week with one evening and part of Sunday off. The average maid’s wages were $2 to $5 per week plus room and board. About 25 percent of urban households had live-in servants.

 

Some immigrants spent their entire working lives as servants. Others, like Lippitt family maid Katie  Pearce, looked for new positions. Katie found work as a dressmaker and later as a store clerk. This allowed her more autonomy and didn’t require her to live in the home of her employer.

 

Providence’s nineteenth-century immigrant history is still alive today in the city’s language, music, religious traditions, food, and cultural celebrations. Even though Providence is no longer a manufacturing center, immigrants still come here from all over the world looking for work and economic opportunity, sometimes fleeing wars and totalitarian regimes. 

 

Today, Lippitt House Museum partners with the Providence Public Library’s Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI), a program which provides English-language instruction for immigrant adults in community libraries. Through onsite guided tours and classroom outreach, the partnership connects recent immigrants to the stories of earlier immigrants, as well as the larger story of immigration in Providence.

Immigration from the Victorian Era to today

Providence's population grew exponentially in the 19th century  mostly due to immigration.

In 1850, 16% of Providence's  population was foreign born. Providence was the 17th largest US city with 41,513 residents.

In 1874, 56% of the Providence's population of 99,608 had foreign parentage. 

 

Today 30% of Providence's population (53,623) is foreign born according to the 2010 US Census. 

These facts were shared during the  #DayOfFacts social media campaign in February 2017.

Family of Gov. Charles Warren Lippitt, son of
Henry Lippitt, with nurse Annie Urquhart, c.1893