OSWEGO – SUNY Oswego A May 2022 history graduate, Gabrielle Belmont recently curated her first collection, titled “The Perfect Woman: Women of the Gilded Age”, on display where she recently interned, the Richardson-Bates House Museum in Oswego.
Belmont hopes to one day work in a museum and curate collections full-time, and the project equipped with a donation of artifacts from members of the Bates family could represent the first step towards that dream. The collection, with items donated by Sarah T. Barber (Florence Morley Bates’ granddaughter and Sally Bates’ daughter), takes an important look at the life and role of women in the North during an industrious time in Oswego .
“As you browse through the images, you will see that I make extensive use of Florence’s life and personal effects in the exhibition to represent the roles and changes of the growing middle class (which includes her relationships with her servants)” , Belmont said. “The collection also contained personal effects and photos of the other woman who lived with the original family – Harriet Richardson-Bates and Naomi Richardson. I have used their history and possessions alike to find out more about their lives and their place in society as upper-class women.They are a classic example of an upper-middle-class family that benefited from Oswego’s industrial activity.
Many of the modern roles women fill today were formed or strengthened during the Gilded Age, which historians note as the second half of the 19th century. Belmont notes that while the family featured in the exhibit portrays the role of upper-class women in the Gilded Age, it also used other Oswego women to portray other roles that women filled, such as factory workers and servants, to get a full picture of not only what women did, but also how they were affected by their class.
“I really think gender and class co-exist,” Belmont said. “In my opinion, I think it’s hard to separate them, especially in a time like the Golden Age when layering was so prevalent.”
Using this collection of local history, Belmont explored women’s dress, family structure, and roles in society. Belmont encourages viewers of this collection to take note of how this era paved the way for the modern era.
“The Golden Age serves as the foundation of modern society,” Belmont said. “The modern housewife comes from this time, the working woman comes from this time – the dichotomy of roles continued in this time. My biggest goal is to show how that era still impacts modern society today.
Oswego, a booming port city in the Gilded Age, is home to many lessons that individuals near and far can learn from. Belmont notes both his interest and his gratitude for being able to maintain a collection in the town of Oswego, both because of its rich history at that time, and because it matched his interests at that time of American history.
“My goal as a future American historian and as a hopeful curator is to teach others about nations in an entertaining, truthful, and insightful way,” Belmont said.
“The transformations made during the Golden Age still affect us during this time, and through this we can learn from the good and the bad,” Belmont noted. “Through gender roles and this exhibition, in particular, I have sought to relate the drastic changes to how this has impacted women’s place in society through both expectations and pressure. about women, the struggles faced by lower-class women, but also the empowerment and motivation of women that still fuels the struggle for equality that we see today.
Belmont expresses its gratitude to institutions such as the Richardson-Bates House Museum, which is owned and operated by the Oswego County Historical Society and strives to preserve and protect local history.
“Working with this collection and interning at a local museum helped me realize how critical examining local history and individual lives is to understanding the big picture and a larger narrative,” Belmont said. “Tangible items such as artifacts and archives are essential for learning and acting as physical representations that help history come to life. Museums – unless they are large institutions – are often overlooked, but museums are essential for teaching others about history in a way that can be fun but also enlightening.
The Richardson-Bates House Museum is located in the City of Oswego at 135 E. Third St. Currently hours of operation are 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from April through December.