Tuesday, March 17, 2015

6 Livingston Babies We'd Like to Sqeeze

A big part of our interpretation at Clermont is home life.  The Livingstons were, by definition, a family.  Their lives were filled with the giggles, cackles, and cries of babies--especially when many generations had large families.  Here are just a few of the Livingston children who can help put a face on that aspect of daily life around here.

Honoria Livingston, 1909: Eventually growing up into the grand dame of Clermont the Museum, Honoria was part of the last generation to be born at Clermont.  Her mother Alice had the help of nannies to care for her, but she was not a distant figure by any means.  Alice's letters show that she worried over Honoria's first solid foods, played with her, and put her down to nap, making Honoria a central feature of Alice's day-to-day life.

Catherine Livingston, 1873-4:  Catherine was Honoria's half-sister, but was older than her by some 36 years.  She was their father John Henry's first child, but her mother passed away only shortly after she was born.  Catherine (named after her mother) spent years living with her Hammersley aunts until her father finally remarried, creating a household suitable for raising children in again (the guidance of only a father may not have been considered enough for so small a child).

Catherine eventually grew up and moved to England, where she changed the spelling of her name to Katherine to avoid the Irish associations and prejudice that apparently went along with the "C."

My kudos to the photographer for catching a beguiling twinkle in baby Catherine's eyes.

Eddie, 1872:  Alright, I have to admit, I don't know anything about "Eddie" except his name and the date of the photo, but that thick mass of hair and more twinkling eyes made him too endearing to leave out.

Don't miss his pretty white dress: baby boys and even boys up the age of 6 or 7 wore dresses (often white) for centuries--reaching into the late 1920s in some families.  Instead of suggesting femininity, dresses were indicating childhood in this case.

From a practical standpoint, keeping very young boys in dresses made it easier to change diapers in an age before snaps and elastic made clothing easy to put on an take off.  Before ultrasounds let us know the gender of a baby before it ever escaped the womb, selecting a gender-neutral  style (or just making dresses gender-neutral) also meant that you didn't have to have two complete sets of clothing waiting for your baby's birth.

Robert Clermont, 1908:  Katherine (also pictured above) grew up and got married and had her own kids in the first decade of the 20th century.  Here's Robert, her third baby doing his very best to wriggle out of her arms while she tries to get a formal portrait taken.

Robert was the inheritor of the most weighty boys' name in the Livingston family.  In the tradition of the founder of Livingston Manor, the Judge, the Chancellor, and plenty more, Robert had big shoes to fill.  Thankfully, the many distant cousins who also inherited the name Robert were all across the Atlantic Ocean in America, eliminating the inevitable confusion of never knowing who was actually being called when someone yelled out his name.

The best touch in this historic image is undoubtedly Robert's bare toes and just a hint of his baby belly hanging out.

Unknown, circa 1900-1905:  Alice Livingston loved photography, and she liked to experiment with her own studio set-ups.  This unknown baby way tucked into a photo album next to pictures of her father and her sisters so there is a chance that this pudgy little child is her niece or nephew (back to the problem of gender neutral baby clothes).

The photograph's clarity gives us a chance to get a really good look at the fine lace insertions and trim along the dress's hem--and of course, more chubby, bare baby feet.

But the inclusion of the toy drum is also helpful in recreating the noise of having a baby in the house.  The a-rhythmic tap, tap of a baby playing with a drum would have also been accompanied by the crashing noise of it being repeatedly dropped as it was carried around the house.

Eliot Hawkins, 1934:  
Eliot Hawkins was Alice Livingston's grand nephew, and he really is bordering on a toddler here.  Nevertheless, he has escaped the clutches of dresses and is instead clad in the other early 20th century uniform of boyhood--shorts.  His cute--or maybe mischievous--smile, pudgy fingers, and arms full of stuffed toys were captured by Alice Livingston as he visited her at Clermont one day.

Like Honoria, Eliot grew up and became an important part of turning Clermont from a home into a museum.  Not only did his memories flush out our interpretation of his family heritage, but he has continued to commit countless hours to the Friends of Clermont, who support us every day at Clermont.

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