Diana Cumming embroidery project, 1907 (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 2010 - December 2011
Detail, Judge Magazine, 1912 (Private Collection)
State Historic Site
FOR THE WOMAN who didn't have to work for a living, the domestic arts - cooking, sewing and gardening - were a means of creative expression; activities that could be indulged in when there was nothing more important to do. Beautifully decorated cakes, impressive flower gardens or intricately embroidered tablecloths showed how talented and artistic the maker was, but were not created for monetary gain. For women who had to earn their way in the world, however, a thorough knowledge of the domestic arts could mean the difference between living a life of comfort or one of abject poverty.
Before the advent of refrigeration, a good cook’s abilities were tested daily by the availability of needed goods at local markets and dairies. Although Eula Kendrick (or later, her daughter-in-law Diana) decided what type of meal was to be served on any given day, the cook was the one who knew which meats, fruits, vegetables or other products were in season and what could be done with them.
Most meals at Trail End were not elaborate – John Kendrick preferred simple foods and his son Manville had a “delicate” stomach. Sometimes, however, as in the case of a 1930 dinner party hosted by Manville and Diana, Trail End’s cook was allowed to go all out:
The Kendricks always tried to have a cook on staff; Eula Kendrick disliked cooking and tried to avoid it whenever possible. Like her mother, Rosa-Maye Kendrick was not much of a cook, either. But she wasn’t above trying – especially cakes. Her diaries reveal that she often spent an entire morning making fancy cakes. On August 22, 1922, she noted, “My morning pretty much occupied with voting at primaries & making a Lady Baltimore cake” (a two-layer white cake with a fruit/nut layer and white boiled frosting). In 1924, she spent the morning of her brother’s birthday baking an angel food cake, which, according to Rosa-Maye, Manville cut and ate “with grace.”
Rosa-Maye and Diana played at cooking and housekeeping because they wanted to. Other women, however, did such work because they had to. The life of a housemaid, cook or laundress was hard, but there were only a few occupations available to unskilled female workers in the early 20th Century. One way to get away from physical labor in the kitchen, butler's pantry or laundry room was to develop a skill. For some women, it was nursing or secretarial school. Others turned to needle, thread and fabric.
While every woman, rich or poor, learned to sew, they did so for different reasons. For the wealthy, sewing – generally embroidery and needlepoint – was an artistic endeavor. For working class women and those teetering on the brink of poverty, knowing how to sew could be the key to basic survival and, if they were so inclined, financial independence.
Before the introduction of manufactured clothing, a woman was responsible for making all the clothes in her household – or having them made by someone else. While men (tailors) usually made men’s suits, seamstresses were responsible for almost everything else. A good seamstress, one who could mend clothing and linens as well as make new ones, was an attractive addition to almost every large household.
By the 1920s, ready-made clothing could be purchased from stores and catalogs, but it was fairly expensive. For a young woman wanting to look her best, making her own clothes was the most affordable way to go. Patterns were available by mail order and fabric could be purchased at local stores.
Women who were adept at sewing or cooking often joined homemakers’ clubs. Usually sponsored by the Agricultural Extension Service, these clubs provided workshops on such varied topics as gardening, canning and dressmaking. Particularly tasty foods, fine examples of needlework, prize vegetables and flowers could then be entered in the annual County Fair.
In Europe and America, the idea of gardens dedicated to flowers did not become common until the 19th Century. Unless they were particularly lovely, flowering plants that weren’t edible or good for anything else were usually tossed aside as weeds.
Until it was landscaped in 1914, the grounds at Trail End consisted of bare dirt, rocks and lots of weeds. Once the trees and grass were established, it was time to begin thinking about the flower gardens. The sunken rose garden on Trail End’s south lawn was soon full of roses, Sweet pea was planted around the Carriage House walls, and many different kinds of iris occupied the long beds leading from the house to the sundial.
While a large garden south of the courtyard had some vegetables, it was mostly a cutting garden – a garden that is not artistically arranged, but rather contains row upon row of flowers that can be cut and placed in vases around the house. Original plans called for a greenhouse to be placed in that location, but it was never built.
At Trail End, the groundskeeper did the bulk of the gardening – although Eula, Rosa-Maye and/or Diana may have dug up the odd weed or planted a bulb or two.