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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 14, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 17
Students Curate Exhibit on 'Little Strangers' in Maryland

1820s engraving by J.P. Maygrier, published in 'Midwifery Illustrated,' 1833.
Photo courtesy of Welch Medical Library, JHU.

By Heather Egan Stalfort
Johns Hopkins University Museums

Welcome Little Stranger: Pregnancy, Childbirth and Family in Early Maryland is a student-curated show devoted to customs surrounding childbirth at the turn of the 19th century. Opening at Homewood Museum on Thursday, Jan. 17, and on view through Sunday, March 30, the exhibition examines practices, traditions and politics concerning childbirth and childrearing in Maryland, especially Baltimore.

The show is the culmination of an undergraduate seminar, Introduction to Material Culture: Pregnancy, Childbirth and Family in Early America, taught at Johns Hopkins during the fall semester by Homewood curator Catherine Rogers Arthur.

The title of the exhibition comes from a common saying of the Federal period, "Welcome, little stranger," used to refer to an unborn or newborn baby. This coy message is found on layette pincushions — customary presents for a new mother at the time — and also was used by Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton in letters to his son. Charles Carroll Jr., who built Homewood as his country house in 1801, and his wife, Harriett Chew Carroll, had seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood.

Drawing on correspondence, newspaper ads, journals and a rich array of visual source materials of the Federal period, Welcome Little Stranger explores early practices associated with pregnancy, childbirth and family in relation to the Carroll family of Homewood. Themes include family planning and birth control; midwifery and the development of obstetrics; infant care, clothing and nutrition; and children's educational and recreational activities.

Objects on view will include images of midwives, re-created children's clothing, feeding equipment including sterling silver baby bottle nipples, obstetrics manuals, forceps, cradles, diary entries, family portraits, locally published children's literature and toys. Period rooms will be set to depict what Homewood would have looked like in the months before and after childbirth, and quotes from Carroll family writings will help to bring the experience to life.

"We're making an effort to illustrate the similarities and differences between the time of the Carroll family and present day," said Chelsea Gonzales, a freshman in the Whiting School of Engineering and one of the class's eight students, who met weekly in Homewood's wine cellar to discuss their research and findings and plan the exhibition.

The material culture seminar is part of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Museums and Society Program, an interdisciplinary 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 seminar to be repeated in successive years, with different topics contributing to an ongoing understanding of early 19th-century life at Homewood.

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.). Museum admission is free for members and Johns Hopkins faculty, staff and students with ID; $6 general admission; $5 seniors; $3 students, children over 5 and JHU alumni and retirees.


Related Programs

Reservations are required for all programs; call 410-516-5589. Visit for up-to-date information.

Family Days
Saturdays, Jan. 16 and Jan. 26, and Friday, March 21, at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Classic children's stories, traditional games, hand-cut silhouette portraits, and tea and cookies. For children ages 5 to 13 and their parents or grandparents. Free with museum admission.

Speaker Series
Wednesdays at 4 p.m.
Exhibition open prior to each lecture. Cream tea served from 3 to 4 p.m. $6. Free for members and students.

Feb. 27: "Midwifery and Reproduction in Early America," Mary E. Fissell, professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins

March 5: "Three Generations of Carroll Family Women," Sally D. Mason, assistant to the director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and editor of the Carroll family papers

March 12: "Women, Gender and Sexuality in Early America," speaker TBA


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