Bringing the Victorian era to life, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum hosted a Valentine’s Day celebration and tea on Saturday afternoon. Thirty-four girls, aged from 6 to 12, enjoyed Victorian stories, taffy pulling, crafts, and a full tea service. “We try to show them what Victorian kids would have been doing,” said Susan Laser, museum educator.
The museum invited Joan and Mack Swift, both teachers, to tell stories with which Victorian children would have been familiar. The husband and wife team called “Tales in Tandem” tell the stories together, both playing different parts and voices. Mack Smith said, “We like to think it makes us different.”
The children also learned how to pull taffy, a sweet activity that was popular for girls during the era. With safety in mind, the girls were given finished candy and “we just gave them a little piece to play with while we explained what a taffy pull is,” said Laser.
“The girls will pull some taffy into different shapes, like hearts, and wrap them in wax paper to take home,” added Heather Sutton, education coordinator for the museum.
The girls also participated in a craft event, creating marbled autograph books.
“This was something that was popular with girls," Sutton said. "We marbleized the front and back of what will be the covers of their books. During the tea they can pass them around for each other to sign.”
The simple project involved trays of shaving cream, with small drops of food coloring. After swirling the food coloring into the shaving cream, the covers were pressed into the cream, allowing the color to seep into the paper.
“We then scrape the shaving cream off the paper and it dries in a couple of minutes,” Sutton explained.
The celebration ended with a three course tea service in the Don W. Wilson Hall of the Library and Research Center (LARC) building. It included finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts. Each table was laid with a pink tablecloth set for four girls, with a name card for each seat.
Originating in England in the 19th century, the Victorian era came to America in 1875 as a popular fashion.
“We lagged a bit, but everything you know about the British Victorian era was about the same here. It was a little different after it crossed the water and came here,” Sutton said.
“What Americans take from the Victorian era was the arts, the architecture, the clothing, and fashion.”