The Dean House

The Dean House Master Bedroom

Written by Wanda Nelson

Untitled Document

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More than any other room in the house, the master bedroom seems to contain the private history of the people who lived here so many years ago. In this room children were born and nursed and rocked to sleep. When illness or injury struck, family members were nursed back to health in the massive bed. The walls in this room could tell many a story about the everyday life of the people who have lived in the Dean House.

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The massive bed

The massive bed dominates the room. Thought to have been designed by Charles Eastlake in the late 1800s, the exceptionally high headboard and the ornate, machine-carved tooling are indicative of his Medieval Gothic style that was so popular during this period. The three-drawer dresser is also a good example of his popular style. Marble came into vogue after 1865 as a covering for dressers, commodes and washstands, The most popular marble colors were either white or brown like this dresser.

The commode

The commode held a pitcher and a bowl that was the wash basin of its time. While there might have been a fire in the ornate cast iron stove at bedtime, the fire would almost certainly be out by morning. Imagine getting up from your warm bed, breaking the ice in the pitcher, pouring the water into the basin to wash your face and hands for the day. Peek into the door on the commode to have a look at the slop jar where you could dispose of your water. If you were a man, your shaving brush, the shaving mug to hold your shaving soap and your straight razor would be waiting for you.

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The iron stove

The iron stovethat burned wood could heat water for the morning ablutions as well as heat the room. Move the ornate wrought iron top to find the burner space for the teakettle on top of the stove.

If the lady of the house wanted to curl her hair, she simply lit the kerosene lamp on the table and inserted the curling iron in the top of the chimney. When the curling iron was hot, she opened it up, put her hair between the two pieces of hot metal and wound her hair up tightly. Instant curls! Oh, and the little tool with a hook at the end is what she used to button up the buttons on her shoes.

The small rocker


upholstered in needlepoint, was made especially for women and was probably used to sit by the light of the window and do handiwork. If you look closely, you'll notice that the rocker can be folded flat.

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The cradle

The cradle was called a "spool" bed because of the turned spindlews along the sides. If baby was fussy, the rocking of the wooden cradle made a squaking noise that might have lulled baby back to sleep. If the baby was dleeping quietly, a peg could be inserted to keep the cradle still.

The Dress

The dress on display was made from an authentic copy of an original dress in the costume collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The pattern is dated 1857. It is a two-piece afternoon dress with a full skirt and a Basque bodice that is boned in the front. There is a very full, round hoop topped with flounced cotton petticoat that was worn to support the skirt. Women always wore a white collar and white under-sleeves with this dress. The original was worn at the inaugural address of President James Buchanan on March 4, 1857.

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It took over seven yards of materials to make the dress. It was made especially for Marjorie Elliot, a former Board member who help with the restoration of the Dean House


Upstairs, out of sight of visitors and other family members, women were free to sew, knit, crochet, play cards, read, and maybe loosen the stays in their garmets for a little while. Women rarely had idle hands, because they made almost everything they needed for their homes. The rugs in this room were either hooked with woolen yarns or braided from woolen fabric. Women cut old woolen clothing into strips, sewed them together and braided them into warm rugs. The bedspread on the bed was crocheted by hand. The embroidery on the pillow shams, called "redwork," was done by hand. The linens on the commode and on the tables were crocheted and embroidered by hand. All time-consuming work that enhanced the beauty of the home.

The Blanket

The red and white blanket on the bed was made in the "Monkey Wrench" quilt pattern. In her book, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, Jacqueline Tobin says that this pattern meant "turns the wagon wheel." According to African-American oral tradition, quilt patterns were used as an underground railroad code. Tobin says, "Quilt code is a mystery-laden, secret communication system of employing quiltmaking terminology as a message map for black slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad." When a quilt made with the "Monkey Wrench" pattern was put outside to air, this was a prearranged signal for slaves planning to take part in an escape. The message was, "Get ready to go!" While this particular quilt was probably never used for this purpose, the lady of the house most certainly aired her quilts on the porch railings of the DEan House on a fine, windy summer day.

The Sewing Machine

The sewing machine in the corner, made by the Singer Sewing Machine Company, was used to make most of the clothing that all the members of the family wore. If you peek in the drawers of the machine, you will find old spools of thread wound on wooden spools, old zippers, cards of buttons and other sewing necessities. Also, you will find a darning egg--a wooden device women inserted into socks to hold them taut when she wove darning cotton through the holes in the family's socks. Women spent many an hour working the treadle of this machine with her foots sewing shirts, pants, undergarments, household items and outdoor apparel.

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Leisure Time

Even the most industrious women must have found time to rest. Look at the items on th etable. Can't you imagine a quiet Sunday afternoon in the country, after the big noon dinner was served and the dishes done, when the lady of the house would retire to her bedroom to  read her "Luther's Catechism," or another book, play a little solitaire with her playing cards, or do a little hand sewing? Maybe she would take a little rest under the blue woven coverlets stored on the end of the bed.

The picture on the wall might be an example of the type of counted-cross stich she worked on in her spare time. The sentiment says:

What's friendship but the sweetness

Of an olden, tender song,

A fondness that remembers

A little kindness long.

What's life without a friendship

That time has proven tue!

And all the cheer and comfort

That I have found in you.

Maybe the lady of the house invited her best friend up to this serene room to site in the ornate chairs by the table and share cheer and comfort. Can't you just imagine that scene?

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