Exhibit Crashing Special Collections: Making History Come Alive With My Exhibit “Domestic Memory”

Henrietta McGuffey Hepburn

I am a Miami University graduate student in the History department. My exhibit, “’Domestic Memory’: The Journals, Correspondence and Artifacts of Henrietta McGuffey Hepburn” opened this month in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections and will remain in the exhibit cases through July 28th. My exhibit is focused upon a local woman and connects her life to the cult of domesticity, memory, and ideals of femininity in the nineteenth century.

Henrietta McGuffey was born to William Holmes McGuffey and Harriet Spining McGuffey in Oxford, Ohio on July 10th, 1832. She had a long and full life, and lived through many changes and challenging eras in American history. She married Andrew Dousa Hepburn in the 1850s and the couple had two children, Charles McGuffey Hepburn and Henrietta Williamson Hepburn. My exhibit focuses upon the connections between individuals, their material objects and the values of the society in which they lived.

I started the research that led to this project last spring. I read through Henrietta McGuffey Hepburn’s journals, reminiscences and some of her correspondence and knew that I wanted to use them in some way. My adviser and I decided that a non-traditional thesis would be a better fit for me. I really liked the idea of curating an exhibit. Henrietta McGuffey Hepburn’s written records of her life, primarily during the years between 1851 and 1910, are the heart of this project. Once I was familiar with what Henrietta had written I tried to locate photographs and material objects that had belonged to her or had been in use in her home.

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Curating an exhibit provided me with new experience in every stage of the process of installation. I was able to conduct extensive research at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections, the Miami University Archives, and the William Holmes McGuffey Museum.

Determining the themes that I wanted to show in the cases was a part of the process that required some flexibility. I wanted to show Henrietta McGuffey Hepburn’s connections to similar groups of historical women. It was also very important to me that this exhibit represents her home and her life. Henrietta was connected to some really important figures in Miami University history including her father, William Holmes McGuffey, and her husband, Andrew Dousa Hepburn, but I wanted this exhibit to tell her story.

I am really proud of how “Domestic Memory” has come together. I learned a lot of practical skills and was able to engage with the different types of sources that I used for this exhibit in creative ways.  This project gave me a chance to work closely with staff and volunteers in various departments on campus that I may not have even met if I had selected a different thesis project. No matter where life takes me next, I know that I will use the skills that I learned in the last year to make the ideas of this exhibit a reality in future projects.

Erin Toothaker
Miami University MA Class of 2013
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