Frances Trollope Visits the Ohio Historical Center to Dish about Domestic Manners of the Americans

At Ohio Village, September 1974

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been going to the Ohio Historical Center. When I was growing up, I had birthday parties in the Ohio Village, ate at the Colonel Crawford Inn and walked gingerly around the two-headed calf and the mastodon. Later, I worked for four enjoyable years in the Archives/Library, where I got started in my new calling in the company of talented, supportive, interesting and fun-loving librarians, archivists and museum professionals. Soon, I’ll be a regular at the Center again, spending some Saturday mornings processing the manuscript collections I like so much.

Earlier this month, we spent an entertaining hour at the Center with Frances Trollope. As we kept Mrs. Trollope company while she waited for the Lady Franklin, the steamboat which was to take her to Wheeling, West Virginia, she told us about her experiences in Cincinnati. Mrs. Trollope’s performance in the Ohio Historical Center’s “Echoes in Time Theatre” was so fascinating that I’ve been reading more about her ever since.

Born in 1779, Frances Milton married Thomas Anthony Trollope in 1809. Later, with six children to support (including the future novelist, Anthony Trollope) and a failed attempt at farming, the Trollope family fell into debt. To try to turn around the family fortunes and take a break from her moody, calomel-taking husband, Mrs. Trollope travelled to America in 1827 with three of her children and a French artist to help build Nashoba, a Utopian community in Tennessee. When things didn’t work out there, the Trollope party moved to the thriving city of Cincinnati, where they spent two years organizing theatrical performances like “The Invisible Girl” and Dante’s “Infernal Regions.” When her Egyptian Bazaar (also known as “Trollope’s Folly”) wasn’t as successful as she had hoped, Mrs. Trollope left Cincinnati. She spent the next year traveling along the East Coast, collecting anecdotes for a book she planned to write about her experiences in America, with plenty of coverage devoted to the lack of refinement she observed in American society. She returned to England in 1831, finished her book and became the best-selling author of Domestic Manners of the Americans in 1832.

Exterior, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, Maryland, June 2007

Domestic Manners of the Americans traces Mrs. Trollope’s travels from New Orleans to Nashoba to Cincinnati. Once she settled in the “Metropolis of the West,” she attended parties, visited museums, took an excursion to Big Bone Lick and a village of “shaking Quakers” in Kentucky, collaborated with the young sculptor Hiram Powers, and was on hand for President Andrew Jackson’s visit to Cincinnati. True to the tastes of her time, she even heard a lecture on phrenology. But most memorable is her description of Cincinnati’s method of collecting garbage. The law forbade throwing refuse at the sides of the street; instead, residents were instructed to put their trash in the middle of the street so that the pigs who roamed the city’s thoroughfares could dispose of it more easily.

Washington Monument, Baltimore, Maryland, June 2007

After leaving Cincinnati, Mrs. Trollope chronicled her experiences in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Niagara Falls. As I read Mrs. Trollope’s description of the “handsome” city of Baltimore, I thought about my own visit there to attend a rare books and manuscripts conference in 2007. I, too, saw the first architectural monument built to honor George Washington, which was finished in 1829, around the time Mrs. Trollope saw it. And like Mrs. Trollope, I was impressed by the Catholic Cathedral, known today as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and considered one of the world’s best examples of 19th century architecture. Attending Mass in the church that was designed by Benjamin Latrobe and completed in 1821, Mrs. Trollope was struck not only by the neatness and elegance of her surroundings, but also by the beautiful, splendid appearance of the ladies who filled the cathedral.

Interior, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, Maryland, June 2007

Despite persistent family misfortune, Mrs. Trollope continued writing after Domestic Manners of the Americans, eventually authoring 35 novels and five travel books. She died in Florence in 1863.

Mrs. Trollope is this month’s featured character for the Ohio Historical Center’s “Echoes in Time Theatre,” so you can join her for “Pigs in the Streets!” during a few more Saturday afternoons.

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