March 11, 2010
Victorian era frugality provides food for thought

Written by Aimee Rose Formo, Morris-Butler House Program Coordinator, heirloom gardener, and backyard chicken enthusiast. This program was supported in part by an Indiana Humanities Council grant.

In 1832, Lydia Maria Child offered sage advice to city dwellers:  “If it be practicable, get a friend in the country to procure you a quantity of lard, butter, and eggs, at the time they are cheapest.”  She dedicated her American Frugal Housewife to “those who are not ashamed of economy,” and much of the book highlights the problems that faced urban dwellers in the 19th century, problems that continue to trouble us today.  By growing or buying locally, re-purposing every scrap, and never being afraid to do a little work, the Victorian housewife could make the most of the family budget.  Victorian cooks cooked everything from breakfast to hair conditioner in their kitchens, and we can easily do the same.

On Friday, March 5, Morris-Butler House Museum (1204 North Park Avenue, Indianapolis) opened an exhibit that focuses on sustainability.  NATURALLY, VICTORIAN explores the effortless sustainability of a frugal 19th century household, and what the Victorians can teach us about being green in the 21st century.  Leading up to this exhibit opening, the museum has made a commitment to take small steps to be greener:  switching each burnt-out light bulb to a CFL, keeping the water heater on a lower setting, and turning off the lights in the museum’s 16 rooms when tours are not in progress.  We’ve also begun working with caterers to stay true to the spirit of the Victorian era, serving local foods made from authentic recipes or ingredients at our many annual dining events.  The exhibit opening reception featured some authentic foods from 1886 and visitors viewed the display of herbal and patent medicines, canning supplies, and domestic gadgets.

Naturally, Victorian isn’t just a display, though.  We hope that visitors will return throughout the year to learn from the past at hands-on demonstrations and get a taste of the Victorian period at dining events throughout the year.  I’m looking forward to our Green Spring Cleaning workshop on April 13th.  Interested in coming?  Visit for details on other upcoming events, or give the museum a call at 317-636-5409.

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