For decades, the Homewood Museum’s tours at Johns Hopkins University have fixated on the gilded lives of the Carroll family, one of Maryland’s most famous and historically rooted bloodlines, and the Federal-period arts and architecture of their opulent home.
But starting next month, those tours will dive equally into the lives of the Conner and Ross families, who served the Carrolls as slaves.
Julie Rose, the museum’s director and curator, told Baltimore Fishbowl it’s part of a national trend for museums—some of which have worked decades to preserve the furniture, architecture, art and other cultural relics of their original dwellers—to re-frame what that history means in the 21st century, in which inequality remains widespread. (Baltimore, of course, remains starkly segregated).
“We’re now taking another look at the historical significance in the context of social history,” she said. “We’re looking at humanness and the human stories.”
This was precisely the work that brought her to the Homewood Museum, which sits on the JHU campus at 3400 N. Charles St. Rose previously worked at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, documenting slave communities’ experiences and “expanding and elevating their story and historical presence.” She took over as Homewood’s curator in 2017.
The museum had already received funding in 2016 from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and private donors to document Homewood’s formerly enslaved community. The new exhibition is the product of five years of research by staff, who dug through letters and other archives of the Carrolls, Rosses and Conners. (The museum has also recently exhibited findings about Baltimore’s role in the 1800s slave trade.)
The re-worked tours will include 11 stops through the property–including areas like the service wing, wine cellar and dining room–that’ll concentrate on not just the aesthetics, but how the slave families interacted with the Carrolls, who descend from wealthy landowner, U.S. senator and Declaration of Independence signee Charles Carroll.
There should be lots of contrast at play. Rose pointed to an example of how women from the Ross and Carroll clans would be pregnant or raising children at the same time. Their offspring would have been playmates at one point, but one would go on to inherit the privilege of a wealthy, white Maryland family and head off to boarding school, while another would be born into slavery and learn the service trades of his or her parents there at Homewood.
It’ll also focus on the misogyny and abuse that women endured in early America, including some of the well-off Carrolls. “It really is a site that helps us understand the idea that the beautiful architecture and the beautiful furnishings give the impression of the harmonious household… but in fact life inside the household is very complicated.”
The new tours begin this Friday and will be free for all of February. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon-4 p.m.