HISTORY OF LIPPITT HOUSE
Heir to one of Rhode Island’s leading textile manufacturing families, Henry Lippitt (1818-1891) designed and supervised the construction in 1865 of a house at 199 Hope Street in Providence for his wife Mary Ann Balch (1823-1889) and their six children. Occupied by four generations of the Lippitt family for 114 years, the house is a three story, thirty room Renaissance Revival villa with Italian palazzo elements. Embellished with elaborate faux finishes, colorful stained glass windows, ornate woodwork details, and surviving original furnishings, the house is also significant for its pioneering heating and plumbing systems.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, Lippitt House has one of the best preserved Victorian interiors in America, allowing visitors to step into Providence’s Golden Age. Opened to the public as a museum in 1993, Lippitt House Museum offers guided tours, special exhibitions, lectures, art installations, concerts, and family programs. Following the Lippitt family's example of public service, the Museum's cultural programming promotes civic engagement, the arts, and history of Providence.
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In 1875, the Lippitts employed six live-in servants to run this 30-room house and possibly more servants who lived independently, such as gardeners and coachmen. None of the servants were older than 30 years of age and none were native Rhode Islanders — three out of the six were born in Ireland and part of a major rush of immigration during this period.
EXPLORE LIPPITT HOUSE THROUGH 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
Governor 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. Mary Ann 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.
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